Sandy Burnett explains how he formed a jazz band just for his Idler online course
The fact that my Guide to Jazz is the Idler’s course of the week takes me back twelve months to when I got some of the UK’s finest jazz musicians together to record it at the wonderful Vortex Jazz club in Dalston. And it really was a memorable Monday morning – we were incredibly lucky to secure the Vortex as a venue, but less so with the weather. It was an unbelievably wet day, and the rainwater found a gap in the roof to stream down on to the stage where we were playing – we rescued the situation with a well-place bucket just in front of the bass drum, and happily the drips weren’t picked up by the microphones.
While I’d previously recorded my Idler Guide to Classical Music as a straight piece to camera, with the opportunity to listen to examples separately, this time round we set out to do things separately. The idea was to integrate the narrative of the course with live examples played on the spot – including one tune that I wrote on the Overground on the way to the session.
What I wanted to do with the Idler Guide to Jazz is to give people an insight into how this amazing music is made. Jazz can come across as rather abstruse and mysterious, it’s true, and that’s something I set out to tackle by lifting the lid on the creative process.
As an art form, jazz is just over a century old, and each lesson in the course shows how different styles of jazz work, proceeding mainly decade by decade. So the live examples played by the Idler Quintet include a classic tune from the Swing Era of the 1930s, a be-bop classic from the 1940s, something from the Cool School of the 50s, and so on. Before and after we play the tune, I lift the lid on how this music works, and flag up things to listen up for.
All music is a product of the culture of a specific place and time, and jazz is no different; its development in the C20th went hand in hand with social reforms and the changing situation in terms of human rights and racial equality. Although this course is a journey through jazz history, it’s not a social documentary as such; the main objective is to help listeners to understand various jazz styles and to understand what jazz players are doing. But that’s not to underplay the fact that the social context of this music is incredibly important; on a couple of trips to New Orleans pre-lockdown I could see the divisions of that society at first hand, even today. Scope for another jazz course in the years to come, maybe?
The Idler Guide to Jazz with Sandy Burnett is on sale at half price till Monday 29 June