Having Standards

We all have awakenings to things or people we’ve taken for granted – perhaps it’s the happiness of a homecoming to a town you always knew, or seeing your long-time spouse across the room at a party suddenly refreshing you as to why you fell in love with them in the first place. Or, sometimes, it’s the music you’ve always heard that can seem the most alive and fresh when you open your ears a little more.

It’s so easy to take these “standards” for granted – go to a party, a jam, everyone knows them, everybody’s playing them, from the half hearted brunch background combo to pop stars trying to revive their flagging careers. It takes a new understanding of one of these tunes to wake us up sometimes to how great they are.

When my study of the music became much deeper, I was stunned at how little I knew these songs that I would have said were my mainstays. I was shocked at the nuances I’d missed, the carelessness with which I treated them. Familiarity does breed a false sense of knowing – and they are not the same thing.

This is not to mistake respect for this material as nostalgia, far from it. But until you can find the magic and charisma in one of the classic jazz tunes, something’s missing. The enchantment in spells woven by bewitched hearts, moonlight romance, and that feeling that makes you go “ding dong ding dong ding” – the music and lyrics that unabashedly embraced romance and joy and heartache with abandon, these are as fundamental to jazz’s expression as the quest for what’s new and never-spoken.

So, I now believe when I think I know something, I had best think again. There is no “mission accomplished” in art (or for that matter, anything else) – and although some compositions may have been completed for decades, they are far from finished. I can think of no greater reverence for hallowed repertoire than to visit it as if it’s never been heard before.

(So without further ado…Joe Williams with the standard “Alone Together”, and the not-so-standard “The Great City”)

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