Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is the medium the message in jazz?

To what extent does the medium through which we listen to jazz affect the way we appreciate/learn/remember it?

I'm a 'CD-generation' jazz listener. I'm used to having complete sets of this or that, with alternate takes included, all accompanied by detailed booklets by verbose jazz scholars. When I was a teenager, I consumed music at an alarming rate - five or more CDs purchased in one go, each with around twenty tracks, would last me a week or two. That's a hundred tracks, or fifty 78 rpm records' worth of music.

My older musician buddies would proudly tell me of the excitement returning from the record store with a new 78. Just two tracks, to be played over and over again. And you'd have to wait for the records you wanted. Completing a set meant a tireless search, rather than a single purchase.

So what does all this do to a developing musician? Have I been helped or hindered by CDs? I don't know. An interesting thing happened to me late last year though; I finally obtained a proper record player, a 1960s valve radiogram, with which to play the collection of LPs and 78s I'd (almost unwillingly) amassed. Going through the process of choosing each 78 after another, I realised how similar this process is to choosing the next YouTube clip. In fact, many of the YouTube clips I watch include video of the actual record spinning!

How strange it is that we use new technology to film old technology, all in the pursuit of music that is decades-old. This aging music sounds fresh and exciting to me, regardless of the medium.

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