One of the most common myths about jazz music that we hear (mainly from people who have never listened to more than half a sheet of jazz music, at most) is that jazz music is “too depressing” to enjoy. “I can’t get into those blues songs,” people often say. “I just don’t know why you would want to listen to that sort of melancholy music.”
Now, if you have ever met me or listened to the Scat Cats perform, you know already that I’m not a “Debbie Downer” kind of person. Put simply: I do not have the blues in any way, shape, or form. So it always surprises me when people who know me tell me they think jazz is too sad, slow, or depressing for them to handle, because I’m not a sad, slow, or depressing kind of person. Do you really think I would sing that sort of thing all the time? I can, sure, and it sounds great, but it’s not my main strain by any stretch.
So where did this crazy misconception about “sad jazz” come from?
Well, truth be told, there is a lot of slow, sad, bluesy jazz out there, and a lot of it is brilliant. However, a lot of people completely overlook the “happy jazz” that started it all: the hits of the 1920s and 1930s that had a bounce and (you know it) a “swing” to it as well.
When I think of jazz, I don’t just think of the blues. I think of the Big Band music of the swell, elegant, crazy 1920s. I think of the 1930s and George Gershwin, of the swing-era musicians and the bands they put together to bring jazz to the forefront of that musical age. And, of course, I think of the 1930s jazz trumpet/cornet genius Bix Beiderbecke, of Bing Crosby’s earliest vocal experiments, and the Rhythm Boys. They’ve all got bounce. They’ve all got swagger, and believe me, you will feel nothing but happy when you’re listening.
Not sure what or who I’m raving about? Let me give you a quick run-down before you go on your next Google search for these happy-jazz musicians:
- George Gershwin wrote I Got Rhythm, just for starters, and that wasn’t even his most famous piece. I mention it because everyone knows it, but not everyone knows it is jazz.
- Bix Beiderbecke, whose real name was Leon Bismark Beiderbecke, was part of America’s most popular dance band at the time, Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, and composed or played such classics as “Georgia on My Mind,” which you might have recognized as jazz, and “Riverboat Shuffle,” which you might not if you think jazz has to be slow, sultry, and sentimental. Now you know differently, and you should be happyyou were wrong!
- Bing Crosby is ubiquitous as a famous singer, but did you know he got his start thanks to a jazz-influenced rendition of “Old Man River” in 1928? It was his first number-one hit.
This list (and I) could go on and on, but I think you’re starting to get the picture. I just have to add one final thing: If you don’t believe jazz can be happy, then come hear the Scat Cats perform. I guarantee your toes will tap, your hips will sway, and your face will split wide open in a great, big grin.