Find jazz complex, if not intimidating? Local drummer Tama Goh, who has been a member of the Jeremy Monteiro Jazz band since 1989 and who has performed alongside singers such as Sarah Brightman, Dionne Warwick, Frances Yip and Sandy Lam, shares a few tips on how to go about appreciating this harmonically sophisticated music genre.
Listen to the music.
There is plenty of enjoyment to be had even without deep diving into technicalities. Listen to jazz standards and classics such as "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "Alice in Wonderland" or the theme songs from The Flintstones and The Pink Panther. Better yet, start with the tunes by Evolution Quartet, a jazz band I am a part of. Our second album Pandemic Blues is an aural diary of life during the pandemic.
Develop appreciation for the album cover and get to know the period of music production.
Album covers provide a lot of contextual information that can help you understand the album, musician/band and milieu under which the music was produced, as will the period during which it’s produced.
Read up on the band and its members.
The background of a band and its members can be quite telling about an album and the sound it’s producing. You’ll also come to know how their lives and lived experiences colour the way they make music. For example, Pandemic Blues starts off with the uncertainty of life during the beginning of the pandemic but that is followed by a glimmer of hope.
Keep an eye (or ear) out for improvisation.
Improvisation is a big feature in jazz and is a playground for musicians looking for the freedom of creative expression. After the main melody, band members get to play their own solo through elaboration and paraphrasing—improvs are a way to appreciate a musician’s virtuosity, personality and mastery of an instrument. You might have seen audiences at jazz performances clap in unison at a well-executed improv.
Understand that blues and swing are also cornerstones of the genre.
To get an understanding of how that magic happens, listen to "C-Jam Blues" (12 bar blues). You’ll get a sense of the structure and how just three chords by the piano, drums, bass and improvisation maketh jazz.
Hum the melody of the tune.
While listening to a jazz piece, hum along and pay attention to the accompanying music, its colour and the emotions evoked. If you like a particular melody, you’ll want to check out other renditions of a song to see how the variation plays out.
Going for jazz lessons with a jazz musician might be a good way for a beginner to enjoy the music at a more leisurely pace. Learn to appreciate the sound and develop a ‘musical ear’ . As it is, music is an auditory art form.
Watch Tama Goh play live at Simply Jazz by TinBox, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 8:30pm.