Introduction to Jazz

Many of my students, young and old, have never listened to jazz. The younger ones barely have any idea what jazz is. Jazz is a complex subject. It means different things to different people. I’m no expert on the subject. I’ve learned some jazz, but I’m not a jazz musician.

There’s been so much written about jazz that I don’t need to say any more. I can point you to lots of people who have spoken and written about it. But it isn’t important to understand jazz. The important thing is just to listen, and try to really experience it.

I want to start with jazz that’s accessible. I want to start with familiar rhythms and harmonies. So I’m starting out with a couple of piano jazz crossover hits from the 1960s. Many 1960s radio stations played these tracks alongside rock hits like “Be My Baby,” and “Surfin’ USA.” Both songs below are instrumentals. There were lots of top 100 instrumentals in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Many were movie themes like “A Summer Place,” or “Midnight Cowboy.” The last instrumentals to chart were “Axel F” from Beverly Hills Cop in 1985, “Miami Vice Theme” in 1985, and also from Miami Vice, “Crockett’s Theme” in 1986.

Cast Your Fate To The Wind – Vince Guaraldi (1963) If you’re new to jazz, this track is about as good a place as any to start. This song won the Grammy in 1963 for Best Original Jazz Composition. Vince wrote and recorded all of the music for A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965. At Christmas time, it’s one of Starbucks’ biggest selling CDs.

The In Crowd – Ramsey Lewis (1965) This live recording went to number 5 on the Hot 100. It’s based on a simple blues piano hook that every piano player should know.