When I heard the word “jazz” growing up, the image that usually came to mind was of sophisticated old-money types, sipping cognac and stroking their neatly-trimmed goatees while sitting in one of their three libraries. Jazz was a passionless vehicle for the intellectual elite to assert their superiority over the “common people.” This now frustrates me not just because jazz is more than elevator or lounge music, but because it has such a rich emotional and cultural heritage.
Look back to the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s American South. Musicians who are now ingrained in the American music canon like Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Count Basie, and King Oliver were living testaments to the preservation of the human spirit in times of strife. To live in a time and place where something as menial as the color of your skin could get you beaten or killed was horrifying. These men could have given in to despair, but instead they chose to celebrate life through their music. Listen to a recording of Louis Armstrong performing “Hello Dolly” or Roy Eldridge performing “Fireworks”; it is difficult not to smile. The ability to look beyond the troubles of life and circumstance — that is the heart and soul of jazz.
Unfortunately, hot jazz has mostly disappeared from American culture. Finding musicians who still perform in the style of jazz’s progenitors is a difficult and arduous task; however, the results are well worth it. Bands like The Cangelosi Cards and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks may not be well known, but they have kept the hot jazz tradition alive, reminding society why jazz became so popular in the first half of the 20th century and how it is the brick and mortar of today’s popular music. They perform cohesive, tasteful, and upbeat jazz with a nearly unrivaled passion. Jazz does not have to go hand in hand with sobriety and maturity. In fact, jazz seems to work best when performed with youthful abandon and an unabashed love of life.