I discovered jazz last year when I happened to catch Jamie Cullum’s jazz hour on BBC Radio 2, as it echoed through my family kitchen during dinner. I couldn’t name the songs or artists, nor could I sing along, but every week I’d tune in and cook whilst listening to Cullum interview new jazz musicians from across the world. A year later, and I still never miss a show.
Now I’m no music aficionado. I have the same understanding of music as Cher from Clueless – who when asked whether she liked Billie Holiday cried, “I love him!” – and an iTunes library that seems to be stuck somewhere in 2003. But for me, jazz just clicks. You don’t need to understand it and that’s the beauty of it. It takes you to another time and place, of glamour and cocktails in 1930s New York, when in reality you’re stuck in the library on windy Tuesday night with a flask of coffee and a stack of reading.
I have always found Classical music more intimidating. Like the unapproachable intellectual in your tutorial, Classical makes you feel like you need to have done a lot of background reading before you even begin listening. Jazz is like the easy-going, friendly face sitting to your left, with the red socks that poke out from the bottom of his trousers and slightly disheveled hair. It's not self-conscious or particularly hard on the ears; it's actually a pleasure to listen to.
Last week, I went to a Jazz Works gig at the Barron Theatre, a rather unforgiving venue that reminds me of my high school drama studio, with sticky tape on the walls and odd theatrical props scattered about the place. However, it was the music we’d come for, not the location. You could hear the sound of the saxophone drifting down the dark North Street as you approached. We came in to find a few enthusiasts tapping their feet to the beat and whooping applauds as the band came to the end of the set. The rest were there to listen and appreciate something new.
I’d come to listen to Brass Monkey, a new student quintet made up of David Graves on the trumpet, flanked by Neil McKenna on the saxophone and accompanied by Marcus Ker playing the bass, Stefan Maurice on the piano and Florian Wriedt keeping time on the drums. What struck me about Brass Monkey's performance was how well they worked as a whole; their sound was smooth, mellow and harmonious with one another, jittery notes interspersed with the jaunty throb of the bass and syncopated rhythm of the drums.
One thing I’ve learnt about jazz: you never know what’s going to come next. One minute it’s just the drums, next they are all playing together, and suddenly it’s all quiet for an octave-jumping, lively solo from the trumpeter. Each song gave a member of the quintet his chance to shine, with some particularly impressive solos by McKenna on the saxophone. That’s another nice thing about jazz, it’s very polite, everyone gets their turn.
A personal favourite of mine was an improvised piece put together by the bass player, Marcus, which was quite upbeat and (excuse the adjective) jazzy. Suddenly, you forgot about the chipped walls and just listened to the music.
So, whether you’re a jazz fan or not, I recommend getting down to one of Brass Monkey’s gigs. It’s the perfect introduction for all the those jazz novices out there. You never know, maybe they’ll be on Jamie Cullum one day and you can say you heard them live first.