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Random Musings

Learning Jazz

As in music, writing draws upon rhythm and pacing to set mood and tone and define the “players.” While most obvious in poetry, the "sound" of the written word, no matter the form, can impact the reading experience.

In my novel Jazz Dancing I seek to capture the feel of jazz through my choice of words and phrasing. I also strive to fill this work with the sound of jazz itself.

Because my novel unfolds against the rich tapestries of present-day San Francisco and 1920s Paris, when I learned that Stanford University was offering a class called, “Paris Jazz, 1917 to the Present” I jumped on it. Along with readings and discussions about jazz in Paris, we listen to recordings of the era. Ken Berman (www.kenbermanmusic.com), our teacher, often stops a piece to deconstruct it, describing specific qualities and characteristics of the playing. I find it fascinating.

If you’re interested in jazz and want to hear information about individual pieces or players—though certainly not at this deconstructive level—you can tune into KCSM (91.1FM in the SF Bay area, or listen live on http://kcsm.org). It’s one of the last 24-hour all-jazz stations still around, and it has no commercials. The last commercial all-jazz station—San Francisco’s legendary KJAZ—went off the air in August 1994 after operating for 35 years. Three former staff members of KJAZ have now combined their efforts and their personal libraries to celebrate the history and tradition of KJAZ via the internet: www.shoutcast.com/Internet-Radio/kjaz.

In listening to music, imagine the characters who might be listening with you and how that music would affect them. Conversely, in writing your stories, think about what types of music will best inform your scenes and characters.

Happy listening!
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