Jazz on The Web: Up for a little Jazz Ed? Verve can get you started. 

I have remarked here before that discussions of jazz have a habit of turning on an understanding of its history. One of the glories of the jazz community, musicians and fans alike, is that its members approach jazz in a more informed way than fans of pop.

My friends and acquaintances notice how important jazz is to me and, because they quite naturally wish to partake in the delight, I'm frequently asked to come up with a list of seminal jazz recordings to get them started down the road to jazz literacy.

I've done it many times, and it's a daunting task. The reason is that I find my tastes changing with age and an inclination to salt the mine -- fed by my enthusiasm for a particular artist, sub-genre, tune or instrument -- must be resisted if I am to offer a fair view of a wealth of musical treasures.

Many of you, no doubt, also have been approached by others who are looking for something a little more musically nourishing than the latest single by Counting Crows.

Be of good cheer, my friends, for there is much help out here in cyberland. I've spent several months looking for websites on the Internet that can assist jazz neophytes and experienced listeners alike. From time to time, I expect to share with my SkyJazz readers the fruits of the research, which, as is true with most research, is continuing as I write.

If you are a regular visitor to SkyJazz, you already know of the great resources to be found here in the "Information" section of our website. A monthly roundup of happenings in the jazz world can be found under "Jazz News" and there are links to artists' websites, other jazz-oriented sites, and the featured "Discovery" artist of the week. The "While You Listen" section lets you browse as you enjoy our shows.  All this assumes a certain sophistication, a compliment we pay to our visitors in the hope they'll bring others along and keep jazz healthy.

But the beginner needs a more structured approach. And the Verve Music Group has a helpful section on their website at www.verveinteractive.com/jazzed/ titled "Jazz Ed." The section, it appears, was put together by jazz educator Dr. David Schroeder of the faculties of New York University and The New School, and edited by two men, Ben Young and Mike Charlasch.

I especially like the chronological nature of the entries, a feature that gives the explorer a pretty firm overview of the history of the music. In addition to 30-second samples by three or four artists to illustrate the music of each period, a "recommended listening" list at the end of each section makes available the titles a true pilgrim can further explore.

A quibble, however, is that the site is used as a marketing tool for the products of Verve and its subsidiaries, and that means some pretty important works won't be found or recommended for further listening. For example, while the fusion section's text mentions Miles Davis' "Miles In The Sky,"
"In A Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew," which were, of course, recorded on Columbia, the suggested listening list mentions only work by Chick Corea, Headhunters (sans Herbie Hancock), Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, all artists with albums on labels such as Verve Forecast, GRP and Blue Thumb that fall under the Verve umbrella. So this is not the final stopping point for the neophyte jazz researcher.  Still, the brief descriptions of the twisty path jazz has taken to reach the present day are helpful starting points for the beginner.

Taking up with the blues, the sites explores that genre as the root of jazz, and progresses through the early period up to the 1920s, dances its way through the Swing Era of the 1930s and '40s, takes a mambo down the Latin jazz corridor and then returns to bebop of the late 1940s and early '50s.
By the time we've found our way through the cool and hard bop periods of the 1950s and 1960s, the site wisely treats Third Stream as the important influence it is, having brought together elements of jazz with classical tradition.

Avant garde, bossa nova, groove, contemporary, smooth and vocal all get their due, so that, even if the recommendations are a bit skewed in the favor of Verve, there is value for the beginner in the exposure to various styles.

In summary, the site has the commercial aroma about it, but that can be forgiven on two counts: the textual descriptions are well-written and to the point, and the examples are well-chosen, if limited. Additionally, Verve has been dusting off the classic recordings from its impressive vaults for many
years now, and I've found them, for the most part, to be welcome additions to my music library.

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Do you have a favorite jazz site on the Web? If so, let me know and I'll take a look at it.