Jazz is one of the truly American musical creations, dating back to brass bands of New Orleans and the blues of the deep south. While the genre may have peaked in popularity more than half a century ago, the legacy lives on today through live performances and classic recordings.
Everyone has a different entry point to the genre, and there’s no right or wrong way to discover it. Some enjoy the celebratory sounds of big band, while others prefer the cool introspection of west-coast jazz and bebop.
But when it comes time to actually dive into some music, what’s the best method to experience jazz today? Let’s talk about the best way to listen to jazz, and why each format has its own advantages.
On the Radio
Your local public radio station likely has jazz programs throughout the week, so find out when they happen and catch the shows when you can. In fact, this is how most people enjoy jazz music nowadays, especially in the car.
With the radio, you get a few key upsides. The music is varied, the audio quality is typically strong, and you have a trusted host guiding you through the experience.
Many radio stations also have online components that let you browse the selections and take note of music you like, so bookmark those pages on your browser, too. Before long, you may be a patron of your local station to help keep jazz alive.
Now that compact discs are a thing of the past, we’ve all turned to streaming platforms to hear our favorite music, including jazz. The conveniences of streaming are undeniable, allowing you to sample a wide range of tunes from all of history’s greatest musicians.
You can also discover curated playlists that include highlights from every era of jazz and give you the perfect snapshot of each subgenre. For someone brand new to the scene, streaming puts the power in your hands and requires little upfront investment.
The problem is that streaming devalues the music by making it so widely accessible and shortens our attention spans as well. There’s also evidence that the audio quality is lacking on most platforms, and you’re missing out on the truest form of the music.
With a focus on improvisation, jazz is best enjoyed live, even in an age when the genre is considered niche. Not every city has a jazz club, but you should keep an eye on the calendar to see if any shows come your way.
Tickets are generally affordable and clubs are intimate so that you can experience the music up close and personal. It’s exciting to know that no two jazz performances are exactly alike - something new happens every time.
The majority of the jazz greats may not be around anymore, but there are always new musicians and experienced veterans making the rounds and living the dream.
Compared to a purely digital signal, vinyl is always going to win out in terms of quality and feel. For jazz in particular, this is the most authentic and accurate way to experience the music, especially legendary recordings.
Jazz vinyl records from artists like Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, and Dexter Gordon now sound better than ever thanks to new pressings, remasters, and superior tech.
Even with a modest turntable setup at home, you’re getting the genuine jazz experience with vinyl. Besides, you can put your favorite album art on full display as you enjoy the music, and bring back a piece of the past to the present.
Of course, collecting vinyl can get pricey, and you’ll surely want to make some upgrades to your rig as well. But when you catch the jazz bug and experience the magic for the first time, you’ll see why people dedicate so much to the artform.
Stereo or Headphones
By now, you should know better than to play jazz from those standard laptop speakers or cheap earphones. If you’re listening to jazz out of your smartphone speakers, it might be a lost cause!
The real debate is between a balanced stereo system and over-ear headphones, both offering a unique listening experience for jazz.
The stereo fills the room with sound and creates that sense of “being within” the music, while headphones are best if you’re seeking out the most detail from every recording. When you have vinyl records, you’ll want to hear the music in every possible way, so try all methods available.
Keep the Jazz Coming
It’s time we got rid of the idea that jazz is outdated or obsolete. The music is alive as ever, and you just need to discover it for yourself. Try listening to jazz at work, at home, in the car - wherever!
With so many ways to enjoy this music, we’re confident it will be around for many years to come.