product designer, cyclist, armchair urbanist

How to Listen To Jazz

Jazz doesn't need you to like it.

When you're listening to jazz, you have to give the band some time. Let them work it out. Don't worry about it. Let yourself come around to it. Jazz is confident, so it'll pull through.

Listen live. To understand it, you have to see it live. You have to try to feel the drummer's feelings by reading their face. You have to watch the guitarist’s fingers and move with the trumpeter to really understand.

Jazz isn't always what you hear. Listen for what you don't hear. Think about how soft the brush is right now. Why did the bass pause? Why is the saxophone pulling back? Jazz is edited, so there's poetry in the omissions. Listen for the white space and it will sound twice as good.

Jazz isn't just math. You can’t always reduce it to algorithms. It's more like magic. You have to wait for the magic. It always comes. It rolls more than rocks, and it carries you along.

Jazz is about respect. Listen for the respect. The band doesn’t compete. They all pull the weight. They watch each other. Nods and taps and shouts. They’re in the trenches together, sweating it out. They’re working hard for you, building up a sanctuary for you to sit in and rest and feel your spirit lighten. They respect one another. They respect you. Just sit and wait.

I like jazz because it makes me feel a certain way. It's difficult to play, and it's difficult to listen to, but it always makes me feel a certain way.

I walk out of the jazz club with my head high and my shoulders square. The lights of the city seem bright—the lucid notes of the guitar solo. I feel my sense of purpose roused, moved by the rasping saxophone. My life feels simple and strong—steady like the double bass. I feel cleansed from the drivel that I danced to on the radio yesterday. I’m connected to a legacy of legends.

If you need to feel that way, listen to jazz. Start with the classics. Listen without expectation, and wait for the magic.