Night in Tunisia (YGtCTO Music #15)

Song written by Dizzy Gillespie
Performed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

Music is a mystifying art form. Multiple sounds, altered just so, organized for perception- the human ear becomes a conduit; memories and emotions blossom. So, what are we saying when we say we like or dislike a particular bit of music? I suppose the two most visceral reactions are happy feet and boredom. Physical pain from volume probably fits in there too.

So, I wonder about all those comments people make about not liking a particular form of music. I realize that it can make it easier to choose a radio station in the car if you rule out certain things, but then we leave the car and let those decisions define us forever after.

“I don’t like jazz.” I have probably heard that statement more than “I don’t like rap music,” which is saying something. When and where I grew up, the dividing line was “I hate country and western music,” which slowly morphed into “I hate disco.” After all, we need to define our own boundaries before anyone else does.

I was just as culpable, but deeply suspicious of any doctrine. It certainly seemed like Ringo was listening to country music. The Kinks were cranking up their guitars. All those English bands sounded like they had a thing for our parents’ music, which we disdained. Something about musicians allowed them to draw on all sorts of influences from around the globe, but we listeners would not permit ourselves the luxury of free roaming.

Unfortunately, checking out new art forms can be a lot like walking into a room where everyone shuts up soon as you appear. Without a guide, you can end up with the stuff that everyone thinks is crap, or at least turns out to be the worst introduction. Jazz can present one of the more difficult mazes to navigate. Only the rarest person can face recordings by Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra without any preparation and come away with a hankering for more. (I dare say it would be like trying to make heads or tails of John Cage without program notes. You might recognize the intention that exists behind it all, but you would be at a loss to settle on a meaning.)

Thelonious Monk had given me that impetus where I needed to hear more. I played the music regularly and tried a few other things, but just could not find that certain something. I have no idea how I cam to be in front of the tv for a PBS special about Art Blakey, but he was brilliant. He talked about rhythm and history and explained music in a way that made sense. The man changed the way I thought about art. Before I saw it in so many others, I saw in Blakey the need to treat your art form as something both beyond you and implicit in your everyday life. I don’t know that we need to restrict that sentiment to only those arts we practice. We can find it in how we treat the arts we appreciate.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 257 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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