St. Vincent DeJamz 4-14-14

DeJamz this week is hereby rechristened “DeJazz.” Allow me to take you on a journey through a true American art form, one era at a time, and be sure to check out my jazz show, the Essential Mix on Radio DePaul, Sundays from noon-2 p.m. (Yes, shameless plug).

1. Robert Johnson, “Kindhearted Woman Blues” – If you’re embarking on a jazz journey, you have to start at the beginning. Jazz as we know it originated from the blues, a form of music that utilized a loose sense of time and calland- response. The results can be enlivening, haunting or a little of both. Robert Johnson became the undisputed master of blues guitar after making these recordings in 1938, although his influence stretches back decades before, and lasted even longer.

2. Louis Armstrong, “St. Louis Blues” – Known as “The Jazzman’s ‘Hamlet,'” “St. Louis Blues” was among the first true jazz songs to gain massive popularity. This version, recorded in 1929 with Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra, is more in the Dixieland style of jazz, which incorporates blaring horns and a lively rhythm that accurately captures the spirit of New Orleans.

3. Benny Goodman, “Sing, Sing, Sing” – The Roaring Twenties catapulted jazz to popularity, but it wasn’t until the ’40s that it began to enter the mainstream. During that decade, big band swing was in vogue. Swing music hints at Dixieland in its quick pace, but with a larger band, it became much more intricate and allowed the personalities of individual members to shine through in solos. Even though this is what your grandparents might love, jazz still was not considered a serious art form for much of the swing era.

4. Thelonius Monk Quartet and John Coltrane, “Blue Monk: Live at Carnegie Hall” – It didn’t take long for jazz to have an identity crisis. Around the late ’40s, musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and others began experimenting with modal improvisation and unconventional song structures. Jazz purists at the time, including Armstrong and swing’s vanguard, mocked the new style, called bebop, as unlistenable and more importantly, un-danceable. The latter is certainly true, but with bebop, jazz musicians began to show off their amazing virtuosity. This live recording captures two legends performing together in their prime, and is widely considered a landmark recording.

5. Herbie Hancock, “Chameleon” – Fast forward through the ’60s to 1973, when jazz is almost unrecognizable. Music in general was evolving at an alarming rate, and to keep up with the times, many jazz artists looked to modern influences. Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters,” which opens with “Chameleon,” was a revolutionary album for its time. Incorporating a brand new instrument, the synthesizer, with jazz and funk tendencies, Hancock and company created a whole new genre: jazz fusion.

6. Hiromi Uehara, “Brand New Day” – Today, jazz is considered grandpa music by many, but it is still very much alive and thriving. Modern jazz musicians, like Hiromi, incorporate a wide spectrum of influences in their music to create what is still the cutting edge of sonic perfection. The fact that she is a piano prodigy doesn’t hurt either. Come to one of Chicago’s many jazz clubs and hear America’s soul for yourself.