Classical versus Jazz – A classic explanation

Helen Daley

The story this month is borrowed from a jazz friend by the name of Doohira.

My pal Percy is a great lover of classical music, so when I set out to discover the true difference between classical music and jazz, naturally, I looked him up. He loves playing live too, especially after investing in some GRAHAM SLEE HIFI SYSTEM COMPONENTS to improve the sound quality of his orchestras performances.

“Percy,” I said, “what’s the difference between classical music and jazz?”

“My dear boy,” he replied, “the difference is everything. Classical music is lofty. It elevates the spirit of man. It nurtures the soul. The great composers of all time are immortalized by their compositions.”

Not much help there. That’s the same way I feel about jazz. So I went to a philosopher friend of mine. His response was even more obtuse.

“You see, the difference is in the experience. Classical music expresses the composers’ genius through the performance, but in the true existential sense one ‘does’ jazz. Do you see?”

Well, I thought to myself, music is probably as old as humanity. So I approached an anthropologist with my question.

“Very interesting question,” he said, puffing his pipe. “In the very beginning of civilization there were two distinct tribes called the ‘Melodies’ and the ‘Rhythms.’ Whereas they disagreed over the basic means of communication, they lived in relative peace and, dare I say it, harmony. Gradually the Melodies evolved into classical music creators and the Rhythms evolved into advocates of what we call popular music. Naturally one was dependent to a degree on the other, but one point of view tended to dominate. And that was the distinction.”

“What about jazz?” I asked.

“Yes, well, I’m working on that,” he puffed, and left abruptly.

Disconsolate, I wandered the streets of the city, wondering how to answer my question. As I passed a dingy looking tavern, I heard the wail of a saxophone. I entered and listened for a while to what I knew to be jazz, but didn’t know how to describe it. Presently a seedy looking individual, obviously ravaged by years of excessive alcohol consumption, lurched to a spot at the bar next to me. He ordered a glass of wine and turned to listen to the music.

“Ya know sumpin’ buddy,” he said, spray spewing from his rubbery lips. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Whereupon he laughed uproariously and lurched out.

I called the bartender over. “Give me whatever that guy was having,” I said.

Find out for yourself what that swing in jazz is all about by attending the August 16 Arizona Classic Jazz Society party as the Dixie Cats from Tucson play that great music from the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Era. The fun takes place at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, One San Marcos Place in Chandler. Cost is $10 for ACJS members; $15 non-members (become a member on the 16th and get in free; yearly membership $35 couple, single $25). For more information, go to or call 480-620-3941.