If you’ve been around the music for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard jazz described as a language. And here at WBGO, both on the air and online, We Speak Jazz — an idea worth taking to heart during our Fall Fund Drive.
What does it mean to speak jazz? It’s not just a matter of the words that jazz musicians have brought into the lexicon, like “chops” or “killing” or even “cool” — though Jazz Night in America had some fun with that, in a recent video short.
There’s another, deeper level to “the jazz language,” as any musician will acknowledge. For one thing, it represents a history and a lineage. The alto saxophonist and jazz educator Jackie McLean used to stress that point: “I tell my students, ‘It’s an important tradition and you have to go back and hear this music and learn its language all the way through,’” he said.
Language also implies a syntax, a standard of fluency, evolving terms of usage. Stan Getz, another great saxophonist, applied that metaphor to improvisation: “You learn the alphabet, which are the scales,” he said. “You learn sentences, which are the chords. And then you talk extemporaneously with the horn.”
But if you are reading this now or listening to our broadcasts, it is also your language.
All of us at WBGO — from our beloved announcers to those of us working behind the scenes — consider it a privilege to speak this language with you. Together we are doing our part to keep it in active circulation. We’re in this conversation together, talking and listening, speaking and hearing.
But we couldn’t do any of it without your financial contribution. Please support our mission with your pledge during this fund drive, which feels more crucial than ever during a time when we need this music to speak loud and clear. You dig?