Why is jazz great?

Listening to jazz opens up new vistas, gives you energy, expands your mind, soothes your soul and sparks your spirit! Every element in jazz has its counterpart in life. When used as a model, jazz can inform our lives toward living in the moment, connecting to the spirit within, and expressing ourselves creatively. Jazz listening is a life- long adventure - a bright, starry, infinite night. For confirmation on why so many people love jazz so much, please read these pages: Jazz Is, The Listener's Way, Mission.

Is jazz listening hard to learn?

It depends. If you learn on your own, it could be hard. If you learn through Jazz Insight, it's easy and fun. Like any skill, the art of listening requires attention and guidance to be done successfully. Would it be possible to enjoy a ball game, or build a garden, without knowing the elements and steps involved? Jazz is a prolific fine art. The jazz musician combines skill in composition, improvisation and performance with a knowledge of folk and classical elements from throughout history and around the world. To fully appreciate this scope, Jazz Insight is essential. Fortunately, the art of jazz listening is as much fun to learn as it is to do.

I already love jazz. What's here for me?

This is just the place for you! Every gardener, chess player or cook has a shelf full of books about their hobby. Jazz Insight can help you deepen your love for the art. We offer a variety of resources for enhancing your listening experience. These resources enhance all levels of interest and experience in the art of jazz listening. If you are already a fan, we are here for you!

I already know my favorite types of music, and I'm busy. Why should I bother with jazz?

Jazz has everything your favorite music has, plus more. In the time it takes to sit through a bad movie you can be acquiring an appreciation for a fine art. If you are American, jazz is part of your culture - America's original fine art.

Why should I have to "learn?" Shouldn't the musician play something I can like without any effort?

That is a great question. All artists want to connect, and to give something that can really be fully used. But at the same time, they want to be "true" - to the inner light guiding their creativity. They want to reach their full potential, and to offer you their best. By trying jazz, you might feel inspired and energized. It may mean going a bit "out of your box." Consider two games - tic-tac-toe and chess. You like tic-tac-toe. It's no effort. Would you be content to play only tic-tac-toe, and never try another game, like chess?

Why "explain" art? Doesn't it stand on its own merits?

We're not explaining the meaning of a work of art. That's done in art "criticism." Instead, we're offering insights into the art of listening. Our field is art "appreciation." As an informed, creative appreciator, you can take your perceptions in any direction. Art appreciation puts you in the driver's seat. You explain the art to yourself! The world's finest art museums try to enhance your appreciation. Next to the paintings, you'll find plaques containing art history, art criticism, art appreciation. . . or some combination of all three. Of course, the art stands on it's own merits. But another perspective can enlarge and enrich your own experience.

Is it really necessary to study jazz listening?

No. If you are able to tune in deeply to the feeling, you can enjoy jazz without any formal study. BUT, Jazz Insight's resources help you tune into the feeling even more deeply, and give you all the rest of it, too. Knowing about things like improvisation and song form won't diminish the pure, effortless pleasure one bit. It just gives you more to appreciate. Much more. Jazz listening is a multi-faceted, intentional activity. Any highly involved activity requires basic knowledge and skill. I learned chess when I was 9, and played my first game after an hour of instruction. However, nuance and strategy keep the chess enthusiast fascinated for a lifetime. To hone your game, there are books, websites, magazines, videos, classes, and clubs. Whether it's gardening, fly fishing, cooking, chess or jazz, there is always more to explore. BUT if you don't know the basics you can't play the game at all. It's that simple. After you get the basics, you can hone your jazz game, if you wish, through the other resources offered by Jazz Insight. The more familiar you get with jazz, or any pastime, the richer your experience.

Has listening to jazz ever been taught before now?

Jazz appreciation, like art appreciation, is focused on history. But jazz history has virtually no impact on the listener's awareness of the music itself. An example is Ken Burn's epic film "Jazz." We watched all 20 hours. There was no insight offered into listening. Likewise, approximately 99% of the books on jazz are historical or biographical. The jazz life is fascinating! There are a lot of unique people making this music. History is fun, and interesting, but anything you pick up about enjoying the art itself through a study of history will be indirect and incidental.

Occasionally, depending on the instructor, college or continuting education courses get into the actual content of the music. Several well known jazz artists have tried to connect the listening audience to the music through radio and television. Again, most of these programs focus in on the career and personal lives of guest, not how to listen. Perhaps the best known exponent of listener education is the octegenarian bebop pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, who has worked tirelessly to turn people on to jazz since the 50's. Wynton Marsallis also cares deeply about informing the listener. His 26 episode radio series called Making the Music was exceptional. Though technical, it did actually go into the music itself.

Other jazz artists who are actively bridging the gap include pianist Marion MacPartland, with her show on public radio titled Piano Jazz, and Nancy Wilson and Dee Dee Bridgewater, who also have radio programs on public radio. Jazz Insight's work is unique for several reasons: 1) In exploring the elements of the music, we use everyday language. A few basic music terms are provided. 2) We draw parallels between elements of jazz and corresponding elements in everyday life. 3) We give people direct experience through singing, playing instruments, moving and other interactions. 4) We provide a forum for dialogue and opportunities for questions and answers.

How do I know when I'm listening correctly?

That's a great question. There is no "correct." It is impossible to do it "wrong." Listening is your own creative art. It isn't about keeping track of things. Of course, if you just tune in to the feeling in jazz, you can become completely immersed in it. But, if you know that the players are improvising on a tune, the form of which repeats over and over, if you're aware of the ways the band members interact, if you know about "arrangements," and have some familiarity with the "language" of jazz improvisation - those traditional melodic fragments passed on, in the oral tradition, over the years, then you have a great advantage in receiving more of the meaning in the music. Ultimately, it will always be YOUR MEANING. Through resources like ours, you become aware of the elements, and of techniques for tuning in to them. But you always put those pieces together in your own way.

Why is listening so important?

We all study listening. Listening is a wonderfully subtle, fully alive activity. It's not automatic, like hearing. The instant we're born, we start observing our world, and trying to make sense of it. A baby learns to talk through intensive listening. This "study," though informal, is absolutely vital to survival. But the depth of your listening skill also affects the quality of your life - in every respect. Listening is life's most basic skill.

We apply listening skills from one activity to another. For example, the tone quality in an animal's voice can often describe how it is feeling. But crying is crying, and screaming is screaming, in any species. A car's tires may scream, conveying the emotion of its driver. We hear these signals easily, and use them constantly. A river, the sky, a plant, often have moods we "hear." Listening is observing with all the senses. In jazz listening, the ear and the heart lead, but the whole person - heart, mind, body and soul, is involved. Learning to listen to jazz will help you listen to life. Too few of us reap the rewards that an active study of listening affords: good sense, wise decisions, sure skills, inner peace.

Is listening ever taught formally?

Yes. Meditation is taught formally. Meditation is listening - paying attention - with a steady, calm focus. The focus can be a particular sound, an object, or simply the breath. Formal instruction helps mechanics listen for the right sounds in an engine, or hunters to listen for the sounds of their quarry. Musicians study all aspects of listening to the sounds they use: the feeling in the music, the interactions among musicians, the philosophy of the composer. The identification of pitches and their relationships to each other is called "ear training." College music programs have "listening lab" where song form, styles, textures, etc. are analysed and discussed.