Listening to Jazz-Not as simple as it seems.


Diamond Member
I guess it's the evolution of all drummers to want to learn all styles of music. Jazz has always been one of those styles that drummers often struggle and often there is the suggestion to "listen to a bunch of great jazz". Sounds simple enough but really I found not so fast-jazz is a huge menu of music and some of it I just didn't get it initially-I'm like damn I must be an idiot cause I'm missing something. I watched this video and it really made some great points, I thought, that it's a maturation process and be patient in your musical journey. I remember as a young scientist I would read Scientific American because they are written for laypersons-getting a Science magazine was so technical and heavy jargon it was above my level of comprehension at the time (though admittedly 35 years of being an AAAS member there are some articles still above my comprehension level lol). I've been working my way backwards much as he described-though I jump around and mix it up to see if my ear is getting it yet.

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
It's a thing that I've seen a lot. People earn about othr kinds of music. Spend 10-15 eve 20 years learning the ind and out of that. Then they want to learn jazz as a novelty thing and want to narrow it down to a few scales that are supposed to fit over some chords and think there is some sort of secret that can turn you into a "jazz" player in 5 mins.

For drummers it would be like. Jazz. Thatr's spang-a-land isn't? I know about that rhythm so I know jazz. lol

Just saying "rock" is insanely vague. Saying "jazz" is infinetly more so.


Platinum Member
often there is the suggestion to "listen to a bunch of great jazz".

This is problematic because so much "great jazz" is VERY advanced, both rhythmically, and harmonically, and the groups are not interested in playing in a way that would allow untrained listeners to follow along. If you've only ever listened or studied rock and pop music, much of the jazz that was popular in the late 50s thru 60s, the zenith of its heyday, is essentially unlistenable. You can tell it's organized, and that it takes skill to play, but that's about it.

A beginner should start with vocal standards from the 40s, while reading the melody and chord changes. Then, explore the interpretations of famous improvisers. But first you'll need that reference point.


Gold Member
There's certainly lots to digest with some types of jazz.

I have been at live shows with some very talented jazz players, and when they are going nuts with the soloing, I wonder how many people can really hear, get, and digest what is happening.

It takes time. But, it's a beautiful form of music.


Diamond Member
Odd-Arne Oseberg oh yes a little bit of "spang a land" doesn't go far-and I think your observation is spot on. There is a lot of finesse in how it's phrased and done correctly too-as Tony demonstrated with the hi hat recently on a thread. Rock seems more forgiving in that regard. Like this video with an Elvin Jones lick Big difference how it sounds. Yeah I get your point Brentcn but back in my rock days jazz was just a novelty-I listened to it because it was "cool" but I didn't get it (I bought "Kind of Blue" said sounds great- and it sat in my album collection gathering dust till my apartment burned down in the 80s and I lost every damn album I had-man still gripes me. Anyways I only got interested in more recent decades listening to fusion and more modern stuff and I played in an orchestra so we did Big Band jazz Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, etc. So that started me on the curiosity trail. Spang a land. Gosh that reminds me of an embarrassing moment when I got myself in over my head auditioning for this jazz group-my swing was like a three year old trying to hit a piñata so needless to say I didn't get the gig. Just didn't have the feel they said. It was an off night and I realized I had to step up my game.


Gold Member
My exposure to jazz was sort of contemporary first and then going back in time.

I didn't listen to any jazz at all as a kid. My idea of jazz as a kid would have been Make The Knife - Bobby Darin. Maybe the closest I otherwise got to jazz was Chicago, but that wasn't traditional jazz.

Fast forward to working after college, and one of our colleagues brings us to a Pat Metheny concert. Never heard of him. When we arrive, the band had already started, and they were in the middle of a very bizarre piece. Can't remember the name, but it almost sound like circus music. I was wondering why I was there. By the end of the show, I was hooked, and that started me on a multi year journey consuming a great deal of Pat Metheny Band music. After that, I started looking back in time, and that's when I discovered Miles, Coltrane, and all the great artists. Incredible music and incredible playing, and I listened to a ton.

Very happy I eventually *discovered* jazz. Beautiful art.


Diamond Member
I can relate Frank Chicago, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Steely Dan, Jean-luc Ponty were my idea of jazz and similarly Pat Methany was an early one to catch my eye. Jazz is a beautiful art form-it has an interesting ancestry too, and drumming wise I consider the most challenging-least me personally. I've always felt if you can play jazz you can play anything after that-even metal as jazz cats were doing on one pedal what they doing on two today LOL.


Platinum Member
I think you should listen to what you're excited about. If you're not excited about anything, pick somebody you're supposed to be excited about and get excited about them, and then buy all of their records, as fast as you can absorb/afford them. That's all I've ever done anyway. I don't think having any kind of all-encompassing historical perspective should even be on the radar until you've been doing it for 10-20 years.


Honorary Lifetime CEO
Staff member
On my iPhone I have an app called Jazz Radio. There must be 20 varieties of jazz there from Smooth, to piano jazz, to guitar jazz. Pick one that you like and learn to play along with that. I have been exposed to a lot of music but when I listen to trumpet, piano, standup bass, and drums all playing what sounds to me like 4 different songs, I have to walk away. I know it’s me, and they are the best players, but I don’t get it.
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Gold Member
I did jazz in HS and thought it was fun. In college my teacher taught us the blues first and then chord progressions theory mixed in with some era history.

Never really had a hang up on learning jazz.

Super Phil

Senior Member
On my iPhone I have an app called Jazz. There must be 20 varieties of jazz there from Smooth, to piano jazz, to guitar jazz. Pick one that you like and learn to play along with that. I have been exposed to a lot of music but when I listen to trumpet, piano, standup bass, and drums all playing what sounds to me like 4 different songs, I have to walk away. I know it’s me, and they are the best players, but I don’t get it.

I'm with you. I admire the skill of the musicians, but i can't really get into the music.


Whenever people ask me how to "get into jazz", I recommend they start with the big bands. Basie, Ellington, Herman, Lewis etc... And whenever they inquire about "the point of those jazz solos", I play them Paul Gonsalves's solo with Duke at Newport :)


Platinum Member
I know it’s me, and they are the best players, but I don’t get it.

It takes a certain amount of training in order to "get" the stuff you're talking about. It also helps to understand the conventions of big band and jazz, and how ground-breaking groups were trying to upset those conventions.

For example, Bill Evan's trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian is pretty out there. But that's because they were deliberately trying to improvise as equals, rather than simply accompany the soloist or melody. They're listening and reacting to each other, and the conversation is DEEP. This is trio is arguably one of the all-time greats, but you'd be dumbfounded if you didn't already have some experience listening to, and even playing within, a piano trio.

Much of the jazz greats were so focused on advancing their art, that it truly takes a player's perspective to appreciate their accomplishments. And that's okay -- some art needs prerequisite knowledge and experience.


Platinum Member

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
There are many ways to go about it.

I don't really see the problem wih challenging yourself if you're so inclined.

I consciously listened to bebop all day long until it started making sense.

No matter where you start how many of us consume music today is part of the issue. Pick one album and give it a chance like we did in the old days when we bought a new cassette or LP and probably listened to nothing else for a month.


Gold Member
i think Miles Four and More is a great one to get into. I was mostly interested in hearing Tony in this context (my Tony consciousness started with Believe It), but absolutely fell in love with Miles Davis. I think his genius isnt hard to 'get'. His tone, his expressiveness...brilliant! One of very few musicians, if any, who played something that made me laugh....thats pretty damned expressive! Just to clarify I wasnt laughing 'at' Miles musical choice, more like laughing with it. Hard to explain. I need to pull out that album!


Silver Member
There are a few good threads on what to listen to when starting out.

For me the list of 'listen to these first' in Art of Bop (a great book for starting with Jazz) is a great place to start. I think the list is:

Art Blakey - Moanin
Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream
Art Pepper - Plus Eleven
Clifford Brown & Max Roach - 1954-55
Miles Davis - Milestones
Roy Haynes - We Three

I started with these and listened, listened, listened. Then more of the same artists plus others based on reading threads here at DW: Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Cannonball Adderley, Coltrane, Mingus. The search sort of takes you places to new players to listen to.

Three years in and I feel like I play some passable jazz, but in some ways I still feel like I'm just scratching the surface!

Rattlin' Bones

Gold Member
There is a difference between Big Band and Big Jazz Bands. Clark Terry's bands were Big Jazz Bands. Glenn Miller was Big Band. A lot of the great jazz players played in some Big Bands and then went on to smaller jazz ensembles, quintets, quartets, trios, etc., but they're different. Big Band swings. If you go to a Birdland dinner show with the house band playing, that Big Jazz Band not Big Band.

Being a Jazz drummer is just so much harder than any other genre to play. You can start with playing Blues by learning a few shuffles and fills to solo breaks for the other players, and if you have good steady time you can play with most any blues group. But jazz: forgetaboutit.

It's easier to get into big band jazz first. For me it was this album that did it:

Also the recording is high-end soundwise, which I liked as a hi-fidelity buff.

The track Dr Feelgood still stands out from this album.
My starting point was John Riley's book the Art of Bop Drumming, in the back he recommends ~5 albums and analyzes them in detail, I liked all but one of them. It does take some time to understand, though, and it helps to learn a bit of basic harmony, and some standards.