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Jazz, the greatest soul food of all

By Nick BeJeaux
On February 6, 2013

  • With academic and university officials, President Crain cuts the ceremonial ribbon and officially opens the newly renovated Kinesiology Building. Crain joked that for such big scissors, they were not very sharp. Tony Romain

Someone is always going on about New Orleans, Mardi Gras and Louisiana's cuisine, but hardly anyone seriously talks about jazz music anymore.
Many college students dismiss jazz as "something for older people," or not quite their cup of tea. They dismiss it as a wordless cacophony of brass, strings and drums; instead, they prefer the defiant beats of hip-hop and rebellious melodies of rock music. These are art forms in their own right, but do they know where these beats and rhythms originated? Jazz music.
True, the golden age of jazz, at least in my mind, has passed us by. Oh yes, we hear it all the time when we go to NOLA for the weekend, and there are many contemporary musicians that compose great jazz. It has evolved into dozens of sub-genres like funk, acid, ethno, cyber or Latin. Jazz won't stay put and will keep moving forward, but do we appreciate it? Do we understand it? I think not.
The concept of jazz itself is difficult to define, like describing a chameleon; you never know what color it will take next. This fluid nature is due to the heavy emphasis on improvisation, which gives it the unique quality of being surprising and ephemeral.
My love of true jazz music was rekindled during the Christmas holidays when my childhood dream of owning a record player came true. Of course, when I got it, I had no records. Being of Generation Y, I scoured the Internet for what I wanted most: old records to go with my shiny, new Crosley record player. I found them, but the cheapest ones were around $40. I can't afford that, so I decided to ask family if I could borrow their records.
My grandfather handed me almost his entire record collection, heavy with Stan Kenton, whom I'm learning to love, and more familiar artists like Johnny Cash and Ray Charles. But of the two-dozen albums he gave me, there is one that was very precious to him, and it is now very precious to me.
George Girard's live album "Stompin' at the Famous Door" is the spark that set my love of Jazz ablaze. He's a masterful trumpet player and could very well be a missing member of The 27 Club, deserving to be mentioned in the same breath as Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. He died in 1957 of colon cancer, but during his time he was a formidable musician. His playing is intense and almost wild, but so precise. All it took was one listen to "Mahogany Hall Stomp," the first track on the album, and I was hooked. That wonderful feeling of discovery is still out there, waiting for anybody to find it.
So when you go to the parades in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, or wherever, listen to the sound of jazz, feel it. When you hear jazz music, you experience the raw intensity and passion of another human being, unrestricted by rules and form, and that is the greatest soul food of all.

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