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Time Redeems an Entire Genre

One of the Jazz Greats: Billie Holiday

When I was growing up, I knew everything. And to make it even more irritating, I had an opinion about absolutely everything. Anyone who knows me now may not find this difficult to believe. Age and a little wisdom have cleared some of the fuzziness from my perspective and I can see instances where I was mistaken (read: complete idiot).

As a kid, one of my earliest memories of music that didn’t really ring my bell, was while riding around in a car with my mom and hearing stuff like “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright. Even then I thought the song sounded bizarre and had no idea what might spawn such mysterious lyrics and sparkly music. Much more approachable was the music of my grandmother (ever the Hank Williams fan), which was never, ever heard without her own personal accompaniment. Many times I stood on her feet as she danced us around the living room and together we belted out “HEEEEEYYYY good lookin’, WHAAAAAAATcha got cookin‘? Howzabout cookin’ something’ up with meeeee?” She could shake it with the best of ‘em.

Fast forward a few years and in the 80s, the parental music began to really strike a sour note with me. First of all, my dad was a huge jazz fan. I wasn’t. I remember Sundays especially seemed jazz-infected infused. We’d all have a big breakfast together, and he’d play Grover Washington Jr. or something similar, loud enough so he could hear it all over the house as he puttered around working on various hobbies and projects. Don’t ask me who it was, but he seemed to have a penchant for the type of jazz that wandered all over the place, no lyrics, no discernible repeating pattern, in short—nothing that a frustrated 13 year old could get into. I thought it sounded like complete, senseless musical chaos. It was obviously part of a huge plot to repel me and I retreated to the comfort of my walkman cassette player. If only he’d be into my music, we could compromise! How about DJ Jazzy Jeff? No? It was true at my house: parents just don’t understand. (You know I had to go there).

You Know What Opinions Are Like…

So now it’s many years later, and as luck would have it, my spouse is also a fan of jazz music. For a time, we regularly repeated this same convo:

Me: You know I hate jazz music!

Him: I think you like it.

Me: Don’t be ridiculous. Turn that crap off!

Him: You love Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

Me: Well some people would classify that as blues – you know I hate jazz.

Him: (his calm demeanor is unnerving!) You play the hell out of the old Squirrel Nut Zippers and what about that Miles Davis song you like so much?

Me: Those are flukes! Exceptions! SNZ would be like alt-jazz or something. Quit trying to convert me!

And on and on it goes. He with a smug grin and me doing my dead-level best to win a pointless argument. As time passes, I think to myself of more and more jazz infused or influenced music that I like. Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (which I first heard on Fantasia) and even a little of my dad’s stuff. It starts to dawn on me that I do have some good memories of Dad playing Christmas music for us on his baritone sax, of family Sunday brunches out where some never-famous jazz quartet went well with eggs benedict and mimosas.

I chalk it all up to a lesson in open-mindedness that took me decades to learn. You might think that just because Cats is lame that all Broadway music sucks, or that since the twang of George Strait is so damn irritating, country music has nothing to offer you. Don’t be like me—you never know what might grow on you as you discover more new (and old!) music.

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