what is jazz?
Well, I don't know.
The wrong way.
Some time in about 1987 or 1988 I listened to record reviews on the radio (remember the great radio station SWF 2? - could be received in south western germany, a few years later SWF merged with SDR to become a watered down S2 Kultur and then an even worse SWR 2 - SWF 2 also had the wonderful and unforgettable Saturday night book review program Soiree Neue Bücher - Neue Texte - dude, this was an arduous two and half hours, but worth every minute - after the merger I stopped listening to radio). Some sligthly weird music was capturing my attention. A quartet, saxophone, piano, bass and drums, doing some rather old fashioned hard bop (a term I didn't know at that time). But with a twist. I liked it that much that I went to the record store the other day and purchased my first Jazz record ever: The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet interpreting some of Sonny Clark's music.
Well, that first record soon was followed by a second and a third and so on. I got The Big Gundown, Spillane, News For Lulu, Spy vs Spy and eventually Naked City. In short, I got hooked to listening to John Zorn.
Do I have to say more?
Well, I said that I don't know what jazz is. - It just turned out that starting with John Zorn hasn't been that bad since I got to know many other musicians through him.
In May 1992, I had the opportunity to experience Naked City live, at the Jazzhaus Freiburg. The next few years I went to concerts frequently, mostly in the Freiburg area, often at the Waldsee, where I saw Tim Berne, Eliott Sharp, James Blood Ulmer, Thomas Chapin and lots of others.
Indepedently and unknowingly I accompanied a friend to two Cecil Taylor concerts in summer 1988 at the Bechstein Haus in Berlin. Great stuff. I was relieved when I could see Cecil Taylor performing in summer 2008 in NYC. Fantastic guy. Still not used to get applause.
Cecil Taylor at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, June 2008 (Photograph by Michael Strube - pleasing effects happen when you don't read the manual of your new camera ...)
In 1997 I moved to Philadelphia and started exploring the NYC jazz scene. First, I went to the Knitting Factory (which was much more jazzy in the 90s then later), then, soon after it opened, to the Tonic.
From Philadelphia I used to go to NYC for two days every other week using the SEPTA and with transfer in Trenton, N.J., the New Jersey Transit local trains. The first night I went to two shows, at 8pm, 10pm or to the midnight show (e.g. Sex Mob at midnight at the Tonic or John Zorn, Mike Patton and Ikue Mori at a Knitting Factory midnight show). The second night I just went to the 8pm show at the Tonic, then rushed with the F line to Penn station and hopped on the last New Jersey Transit train to Trenton to arrive in Philadelphia at 1am. Fun times, indeed.
Two concerts from that time I don't want to miss: John Zorn, Bill Laswell and Dave Lombardo, later joined by Yamatsuka Eye, at the South Street Seaport Atrium in summer 1999. While I thought this would have been the main act, the hall filled even more after they were finished. And after a while the Boredoms entered the stage ... The second one, two years later: Masada Live at the Tonic.
No, this ain't jazz. Isn't it?
Yes, exactly. I highly recommend to go to concerts whenever possible. There may be good concerts in your area. In Heidelberg, for example, we are blessed with what I call the biggest Jazz festival in Europe held annually over six weeks in October and early November. Lots of mainstream. I'm fine with that, because it pays the bills, so that they have enough money to get the good stuff. Also, whenever some vacation or business trip in Germany or Europe is approaching, I check Saudades's schedule (they bring a lot of good music over here).
Poor Little Tonic, Summer 2008
New York became much more difficult after the demise of the Tonic. You could go there whenever you wanted, there was some interesting concert going on. The Stone is some sort of successor, but unfortunately much more serious. Good music, but not that much fun any more. A couple of places worth checking out (in alphabetical order): The 55 Bar, The Cornelia Street Cafe, The Jazz Gallery, The Kitchen, Le Poisson Rouge, The Village Vanguard (caution: this is a classic, often crowded with tourists, still, if the music is good, definitely a place to go), The Zebulon (if you know similar good places, I'd be grateful if you'd send me email!). Finally, plan your trip well in advance by visiting All About Jazz which recently screwed up their webpage since I don't find the PDF of their monthly magazine any more. The magazine had a comprehensive but dense listing complete with all addresses.
Avoid going to places like the Blue Note, Iridium, etc. Cost an arm and a leg. Diners and waiters won't let you focus on the music.
(A draft of this has been sitting on my disk for more than ten years ...)