If you ask four friends about jazz music, one will tell you: “It’s so inspiring and pure. Especially, er, Miles Davis. He’s incredible.” Ask more questions and it will turn out that he bought a Miles Davis record ten years ago to impress a girl, and he’s only listened to it once. He can’t tell a trumpet from a teapot.
What about the other three? One says “it’s all a bit random.” The next remembers a wedding ruined by jazz: “The saxophone guy played non-stop solos, like there was nobody else in the room. We ended up taking our drinks into the car park.” The last is still bearing the scars: “At school, they sent us to a contemporary jazz workshop. A man tore up pieces of paper into a microphone. He was really into it. He had his eyes closed. It lasted an hour.” This was a long time ago, you say. Have you not been tempted to give jazz music another chance? “No, I bloody haven’t.”
And yet there are people who love it. Are special powers needed to understand it? Is the brain of the ‘jazzer’ really different to yours?
Broadly, you enjoy music. You could waste a whole rainy afternoon watching the coverage from Glastonbury on TV. So what is it with jazz? You can stand outside and listen for as long as you want, but you can’t get in. Is it because of the jazz-people and their secretive, nocturnal underworld? Or is the music just impossible for all but a chosen few?
JazzJanuary will get to the truth.
To find out whether jazz music works on normal people, you need:
Some normal people. A team of jazz-testers of different ages and tastes will be subjected to various performances, to see what they think. They come to this music with clean hands: none has previously watched any of the JazzJanuary bands, nor set foot in any of the performance venues. JazzJanuary is grateful to Matt, Evie and Oliver Barrow, Joff Bird, Dan Butler, David Crease, Andrew, Joseph and Jack Gilmore, Andréa Grosbois, Ziya Hakki, Kate Harrison, Sophie, Charlie and Emma Smith, Jamie Swannell, Reena Tan, Finn Toop and Alex Watson.
Some jazz-advisers, to give the testers a chance. JazzJanuary is grateful to advisers Karen Cheney (music teacher) and Joel Barford (session drummer) for help with the test programme, for attending some of the performances and answering a lot of questions.
40 tickets have been booked across nine performances at six venues. You can find out what happens here.
Story and photos: Matt Pannell