In my opinion, there's absolutely no substitution for listening to the music to learn the music. You need to spend your time listening, listening and listening some more. Like many others, I grew up listening to this music and continue to do more each and every day
Dave nailed it to the wallIn my opinion, there's absolutely no substitution for listening to the music to learn the music. You need to spend your time listening, listening and listening some more. Like many others, I grew up listening to this music and continue to do more each and every day. When I say listen, I'm talking about active listening. Not having it on as background music. Get involved in the recording as you would watching your favorite movie.
Get to know the history by getting to know the music and the players that created it.
Start at Louis Armstrong with the Hot 5's and Hot 7's and work your way up from there. Get to know what came from New Orleans, Chicago and New York. This will cover much ground. Small group jazz to big band back to small group.
Yes, it will help to get a Real Book and perhaps follow along the head and learning the structure of the song. But, in the real world recordings there are many times where the arrangement of what's actually played may differ from what is written in the Real Book.
If you want to get a sense of what happened from a high level historical perspective, while it's not a perfect collection, the Ken Burns Jazz DVD set will help. It doesn't cover everything (as it couldn't), may miss a lot, but it also does cover a lot.
Want to know drummers? Check out Danny Gottlieb's book on the Evolution of Jazz Drumming.
Listen to the PAS interview recordings with Mel Lewis http://www.pas.org/experience/oralhistory/mellewis.aspx these are free and a breadth of information.
Most importantly, listen to the music and watch recordings of them play it on YT. Access to information like this has never been easier.
^^^ ever wish you included something in your own post when someone else says it?^^^^Don't start with a list out of a book; start by going to some people's gigs and seeing what they're playing, and learn those. Or set up a session and see what the others want to play.
Actually, I'm noticing that a lot of younger players-- even ones with jazz studies degrees-- don't know a lot of tunes at all. So don't let fear of being the one clueless guy stop you from approaching people to play.