While jazz’s complexity cannot be denied, much of the music remains accessible to all. The trick is just finding the right tunes and artists, those who have a universal appeal beyond the scope of the typical, admittedly somewhat limited, jazz audience.
Jazz music began as a popular art form. From its origins in the streets, bars, and brothels of the American South to the speakeasies of Prohibition-era Chicago to the dance floors of Middle America during the big band era, jazz successfully injected the masses with the infectious spirit of swing. After World War II, though, a major shift occurred in America’s beloved music. The innovations of New York musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie would be codified into the style known as bebop, one that emphasized angular melodies, complex rhythms, and virtuoso solos. The music’s primary venue then shifted from the dance floor to the jazz club, and big bands were replaced by small combos. In effect, jazz transformed itself from pop music into art music. Bebop was embraced not by the masses, but rather by a smaller group of devoted followers, including the urbane beatniks (protohipsters, if you will), who found inspiration in the music’s spontaneity and spirit of freedom.
In the post-bop era, the perception of many is that jazz is an elusive music, one that requires lots of “insider” knowledge to appreciate. While jazz’s complexity cannot be denied, much of the music remains accessible to all. The trick is just finding the right tunes and artists, those who have a universal appeal beyond the scope of the typical—admittedly somewhat limited—jazz audience. Below you will find my list of 10 jazz tracks for people who typically don’t like the form. Each of these songs has a strong emotional appeal. While they are all technically brilliant, they never lose the heart and soul amongst the musical intricacy. Many of these tracks are considered foundational to the “jazz canon”, that collection of tunes almost universally agreed upon as among the best work the genre has ever produced. These songs will serve as a “nonthreatening” introduction for those who have been avoiding jazz like the plague or haven’t listened to the music in some time.