Thursday, January 29, 2009
Listening to jazz on TV
It's an oxymoron, I know, but I like listening to jazz on TV. It's better than any online jazz radio station or channel.
Here's how it works: My cable provider, Cox Communications, offers about 40 channels of music under the name Music Choice. It runs the gamut -- rock, pop, heavy metal, showtunes, easy listening, blues, Christmas music... You get the idea. Jazz is on Channel 930.
Now, most folks find new jazz music by listening to the radio, Internet channels or services like Pandora or Dizzler. I like Channel 930.
First of all, it plays an incredible mix, and it's all straight-ahead jazz. Today, I spent an hour watching Channel 930. About half the music was new, at least to me: A trombonist named Bill Cantrall. A pianist named Eric Reed (OK, he's not new; he played with Wynton Marsalis in the 1990s. But he was new to me.) An organist named Jared Gold. Half was old: Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and the MJQ.
There are no videos, just static pictures, and every song includes notes on the artist, song, album and year of release. So, for example, Channel 930 played "Splat" by Jared Gold from his 2008 album "Solids and Stripes." It's so new and unknown that Allmusic.com doesn't list the CD. Amazon sells it, but there are no reviews. (I do wish Channel 930 had at least told me what instrument Mr. Gold plays. The solists on this tune were an organist and a saxophonist. I wound up having to look him up on Wikipedia.)
So what's the big deal? Well, there's a local jazz radio show I like, but the DJ only names the songs and artists every third track. If you're not paying attention, you miss it. On Channel 930, there's no missing the title or artist.
On most songs -- but not all -- the channel also throws up bits of trivia. For Eric Reed, for example, the channel noted that he was influenced by Edwin Hawkins, Art Blakey, Ramsey Lewis and Dave Brubeck, and that he played with Marsalis in the '90s. That's nice to know. I did notice, however, that for very new artists, there is no trivia at all, so the channel just tosses up any old thing about jazz. For example, on Bill Cantrall, Channel 930 offered such un-helpful tidbits as the origin of "soul jazz" (Cantrall is not a soul jazz artist) and details on the 1945 recording of "Koko" (this was not a cover of "Koko").
Over the course of one hour, Channel 930 played 10 jazz songs. None were smooth jazz or fusion or avante garde. I like that. One, by Monk, was a version of "In Walked Bud" that I had never heard before, with Jon Henricks singing the lyrics and scatting. I liked that, too. And the MJQ song included a soloist on Spanish guitar. I had never heard that, either. I enjoyed it.
It feels silly watching jazz on a big-screen high-def TV when there's no action, no videos, just static pictures and words. But it's good. It's a waste of TV, probably, but it's also fun and informative. Now, if they could only add videos.