Continued from Jazzy Jeff…
As usual, Stevie Wonder came to the rescue.
I was listening to Songs in the Key of Life one day, and trying to decide if I should be embarrassed by the fact that the ridiculously cheesy “Saturn” had brought me to tears. (Okay, well, just tear-filled eyes, not full-on crying or anything! Geezâ€¦) I had always held what I believed to be a high musical standard, dismissing the schlock of modern radio and cultivating and studying the classics.
But here was Stevie, a consummate musical genius, flaunting any notions of what distinguishes good music from bad, by earnestly singing, without a hint of irony, “Don’t need cars cause we’ve learned to fly on Saturn.” And it only got worse when I saw Stevie attest in an interview that his favorite of his own compositions was by far his most saccharine and overplayed: “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”
My first conclusion was that Stevie simultaneously had immense talent and horrible taste. But I realized the common strain in his music was, quite simply, love. And then it hit me: if music was love, then all music was beauty, in all its forms.
Suddenly, the assimilated boy bands of top 40 and the auto-tuned twangers of modern country offered new horizons of lush pop brilliance. Up to this point, I had shunned the use of jazz as merely a backdrop, and insisted it be listened to, not just heard. But now I saw that music in any form held some sort of magic, and rather than seeming duplicitous, jazz seemed many-splendored.
In my new Wonderesque view of the world, jazz had become the paragon of music as love. In jazz, a simple folk song could be iterated into a dark and complex symphony. In jazz, peoples and cultures could be united through a seamless melding of Delta blues, Beethoven and a bossa nova beat. In jazz, one could console with the familiarity of an old tune and simultaneously confound with the distortion of a classic.
And, I finally concluded, jazz could just as easily brand your Starbucks as it could withstand scrutiny at Juilliard. The ability to be both neglected background and exposed foreground simply proves the strength of jazz.
And, well… shucks, love.