Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Correct Methods of Jazz Education

At least half our house likes Ike
I gave up trying to influence my daughters’ musical tastes several years ago. When they were tiny, they had no choice other than to dance to the vinyl tracks I played them every night after bath-time. I compiled for my older daughter, who was four at the time, a cassette of her favoured singalongs. It included The Pogues and Ian Dury, and one day, without my knowledge, she put it in her lunch box and took it to play to her little friends at kindergarten.

That same afternoon a thunder-faced teacher met me at the door to ‘Children In The Shoe’, demanding to know why I was allowing my child to listen to “filthy, obscene” music. “I had to literally run across the room and turn it off!” she scolded. I mumbled that I’d no idea how she had such an item in her possession. This craven lie foundered on the cassette’s label, in adult handwriting, which read ‘Xxxxx’s Favourites’. I suspect it was only my daughter’s generally carefree demeanour that prevented the kindergarten from making a call to social services.

In a few years, both daughters realised their contemporaries were all listening to Shite FM, and for a long time resented me for having shielded them from the common
experience of market-driven auto-pop. My younger daughter, now 14, still refuses to listen to a single note of anything I own, and spends car journeys with headphones rooted deep into her ears. A few weeks ago, though, my older daughter, now 16, casually mentioned that she was interested in jazz music. Did I have any CDs that I could lend her?

At this point, as a parent, you have two choices. You can jump up and down ululating, and high-fiving yourself in the mirror, and shouting, “Yeeeees! She gets it! It’s all been worthwhile - the sleepless years, the crying years, the whining years, the door-slamming years! I did it! We are going to spend the rest of our lives talking about Coltrane’s Impulse recordings!” And she would turn around and walk away and never listen to a single note of jazz music for the whole of the rest of her life.

The other choice is to remain completely calm and take a deep breath. You can do this, Dad. You can no longer attempt to be hip, but you can at least don the pretence of cool. “Sure, I’ll look something out for you,” I said. “No more than five CDs,” she warned, knowing how enthusiastic I can get. And so I spent longer than I should have perusing my collection, and working out what era and style of jazz would best appeal to a novice listener. It was way too soon for Ornette, and even Coltrane. I stuck with Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Ike Quebec, Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus.

This morning I tentatively asked her how she’d been getting along with the music. She loves them all, especially Ike Quebec. I resisted the temptation to hug her immediately and tell her just how much I love her. And once she’d gone to school, I also restrained myself from going back to my shelves and taking out another 20 CDs to leave on her desk. Remember, old man, you’re trying to be as cool as a sombre and protracted Miles Davis trumpet solo.

At this point, I remember with some guilt the way I treated my Mum when she used to try and play me bits of classical music when, at the age of 14, I developed a retrospectively embarrassing taste for the rock-classical crossover collective Sky, who had a UK chart hit with a dweeb-friendly version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue. She’d no sooner drop the needle on a piece of Mendelssohn, assuring me that I would certainly love it, than I would skedaddle out, bolt up to my room, and put on the loudest, brashest record to hand. Our house walls were thin enough that I knew it would drown out the beat-free delicacies downstairs. Little bastard.

So Mum, 33 years later, I’m very sorry about that. And I’m sorry about the ‘copulating carrots’ blog entry from last week that you thought was as obscene as Billericay Dickie and Boys From The County Hell sounded to your granddaughter’s kindergarten teacher. It probably wasn’t smart and it wasn’t funny, and I needn’t think I’m too old to have my arse skelped. But you know that eventually I got round to appreciating Mendelssohn. Especially his Meeresstille und Glückliche Fart (hur hur).

You can never please your parents all of the time, or even much of it. But the scarcity of the moments when you do really intensify their worth. Cue strings, or a melancholic saxophone…


AMD said...

That is a moment of triumph indeed.

My son is open to suggestion, and we share a love for The Beatles. But he absolutely refuses to listen to '70s soul. He's a keen guitarist, but will not countenance the notion that Ernie Isley was a genius in his field.

Still, I have a video of him at age 3 singing along to Steely Dan's "Barrytown", so I have proof that he once had good taste.

Rod Warner said...

Early indoctrination does help sometimes... my daughter was subjected to Charlie Parker and the gang, backwards and forwards in time, from the year zero plus a lot of post punk American hardcore. All avoided fairly quickly as she grew up. Teen flirtations with boy bands were the usual pattern, until she started listening to Frank Sinatra a lot (I suspect the influence of my late mother who was a big Frank fan and who used to play poker with my daughter when she was looking after her during younger years, plus the odd swig of whiskey apparently, from about the age of ten). From Frank to Basie - then all sorts but a fondness for thirties big band swing especially. Big soul fan as well. Became very eclectic in her tastes. When she was 17 I took her to New York and we ended up on the Lower East Side at John Zorn's club listening to Misha Mengleberg and company. I thought it was just out of duty to old pop but she said she really enjoyed it. Blimey, thought I... They always surprise you...

No Good Boyo said...

That teacher should thank you. Listening to dimwit nursery rhymes earns you crow attacks, as Hitchcock established in "The Birds". Do you think those feathery thugs would have ventured near a schoolroom blasting out "Time is Money (Bastard)"? Carry on.