Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Heavy Metal =/= Jazz

Pop quiz, hotshot!  What does this:

and this:

and this:

have to do with this:

The answer?


I've heard the assertion made far too many times that heavy metal and jazz are "the same thing."  It always drives me crazy when people decide that their taste in music should be deemed as classy as the taste in music of an aging college professor.  "But dude, heavy metal is pretty much the same thing!  My friend told me!"  Your friend is wrong and dumb.  Now I'm going to do you a favor and submit a quick compare and contrast-style essay for you to read and realize that, if you think this is the case, you are wrong.

Heavy metal is frightening and loud.  Tonality hovers around the natural minor, phrygian, and diminished scales, which act to convey maximum evilness.  Tempos range from painfully slow to blindingly fast with a barren wasteland of unusable tempos in between, and vocals are handled by people who scream like escaped mental patients about God-knows-what.  Solos are meant to be played fast; shredding is key to a proper metal solo, and if you aren't capable of shredding, then you include no solos.  Imagery in heavy metal is vital; dead and undead things invade the vernacular, and darkness is revered.  Normal life takes a backseat to that overwhelming angry maelstrom that blasts from the speakers.  Guitars, drums and bass fill out the roster of a metal band, with shitty bands sometimes including keyboards and, if Bruce Lamont is in your band, you sometimes are forced to have a saxophone, too.  Song titles sound like these: "Hammersmashed Face," "Degenerate Binds," and "The Unbearable Filth of the Soul."  Song form skews more toward the popular song style, where there is no predetermined form and people just wildly throw stuff into the mix until they decide they are done.

In short, metal rules.

Jazz is the only form of music that can be called "purely American."  Dynamics are a fundamental part of the jazz experience, but volumes tend toward being soft and gentle.  Tonality in jazz includes all notes and all scales, but you'd be hard pressed to find any jazz song that would attempt to convey maximum evilness.  Usually they try to convey what it's like to walk through a park in 1942, or something similarly gay.  Tempos run the gamut here, also, but rarely get quite fast unless you're talking about the short-lived bebop era of jazz, which featured blazing tempos and solos that tooted and squalled wildly over drums and bass.  Vocals are usually handled by women, and they sing about walking around in a park in 1942, or something similarly gay.   Solos can be slow; in fact, Miles Davis built a career on playing slowly in a show of rejection to the bebop movement.  He started something called "Cool jazz," got quite into fusion in the 1980's, and could be said to be guilty of perpetuating one of the worst musical styles known to man: Smooth Jazz.  Bands always include horns like saxophone, trumpet, and trombone, and the occasional clarinet can be tossed into the mix as well.  Sometimes there is a guitar player, but he almost never shreds, and the bass and drums fill out the rhythm section and usually wear sunglasses to convey how cool they perceive themselves to be.

"To play well, you just have to do it.  And no, I'm not going to explain what I'm talking about."

Jazzy song titles include "On Blue Dolphin Street," "Giant Steps," and "Salt Peanuts."  Roughly 60% of jazz songs/pieces contain some variant of the word "blue" in the title; this is because heroin breaks your brain and renders it incapable of normal function, and jazz players thought the color blue was cool.  Form ranges from strict 12-bar blues forms with V/ii, V/V, V, I turnarounds to the popular 32-bar form to nebulous big band arrangements that include solis and triads in the trumpet.  These forms necessitate the long, meandering solo, because the written out part only lasts about 30 seconds before it has to be repeated.  If the solo is slow enough, it will be deemed "acceptable" by people who are into jazz.

Based on what I just presented, it doesn't seem that they are very much alike at all, does it?  Though metal and jazz are completely disparate forms of music, they do share one important characteristic that will continue to link them in an oblique and yet inextricable manner.  What I'm speaking of is the fact that both metal and jazz are player's forms, played by people who like the style specifically for the enjoyment of other players who like the style.  Both forms of music are pretentious and exclusionist, and have rendered themselves perfectly unlistenable to the greater population of the world.  Both genres take pride in listening thoughtfully and then denouncing artists or songs as "derivative," "generic," or "dumb."  Virtually nobody who partakes in these forms of music does not play an instrument, and then they never play anything but their chosen genre.  Jazz dudes are jazz dudes forever, the same way that metal d00dz will forever forsake all other genres (unless they're trying to be impressive or get a music degree) in favor of the br00talest music available at the time.

I've spent my time as a jazz boner, sitting around and trying to transcribe solos that make no sense, idolizing the playing of dead heroin-addicted men who don't even play the same instrument that I play, and I'm currently engaged in the lifelong pursuit of The Heavy.  I have studied both genres extensively, and been chastised from all sides for participating in both genres.  They both have their upsides and downsides, and it's not for me to say which is better, though I think it's clear that metal is way better.  But if you're ever sitting around smoking weed with your dudebros or hanging out on a cigarette break at band practice, do yourself a favor and don't talk about metal being "the same as jazz," because it's not, and it makes you look like you've never heard either genre.

Actually, I was wrong.  Both genres like creepy imagery, but jazz's interest in all things frightening to the eye ended at looking at Miles Davis in the 80's.  Gross!

No comments:

Post a Comment