I am often asked by newer jazz fans for advice in collecting good or classic jazz records. My answer; “only you can decide what a classic is” and “it depends on the path of collection you choose to adopt.” A jazz collection without the Miles’ Kind of Blue, Coltrane‘s Giant Steps, Hancock‘s Maiden Voyage, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers‘ Moanin’, Mingus‘ Mingus Ah Um, or Brubeck‘s Time Out albums may attract little interest, an unsolicited lecture or even ridicule. Owning Dolphy’s Out to Lunch, Ornette’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, Jarret’s The Koln Concert or Terry’s Haig and Haig albums can bring you instant respect from many. Such indicates a well-defined culture of acquisition that transcends the sounds of jazz..
“Academic jazz” is a phrase that startles me. What does it mean? Today jazz music, jazz dance and jazz poetry are mainstream academic subjects. Libraries of books on jazz theory, performance, improvisation, history, analyses, events, styles, and personalities abound. Many believe jazz, particularly in its bebop and Avant-Garde forms, are intellectual, making it suitable for academic inquiry. If public intellectual giants such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Cornel West, Jack Kerouac, Amiri Baraka, have been steeped in jazz and its expression, it has to be intellectual. Nevertheless, jazz music was not created in university departments or conservatories of music. It came out of Africa, a continent perceived as backward. Most of the earliest practitioners of jazz in the USA could not read nor write English or music. They learnt and played their musical crafts by ear. That said, we may be confronted with the question, does academic jazz or the jazz of academics’ matter?