002: jazz for the uninitiated, delightful crust, & photoshoot BTS
also, a new tea release for paid subscribers
jazz for the uninitiated
I hesitate to title this as such, since many excellent introductions to jazz already exist and I have neither a musical theory background nor the context of a historian (or any musical talent, as my short-lived childhood piano teacher can attest).
But, I like jazz and I’d like to write about it. There are subgenres, famous musicians, not-so-famous musicians, and nuances worth uncovering. At the very least, I’d like to share artists / songs worth listening to to help put experience to ear for those interested but uninitiated. This doesn’t intend to be a comprehensive, encyclopedic research paper on jazz but instead a pelican-like dive into specific topics interesting and relevant to our modern daily lives.
Why should I care about jazz? you may ask. After all, jazz often evokes memories of sad elevator music, 1-800- phone call holds, and the all-too-stereotypical dinner party music that movies play to offer a sense of high class, adult r e f i n e m e n t (shortly before the villain crashes through the window and wreaks havoc). It’s quiet, gentle, unoffensive, and — above all — speaks to generalities.
This is jazz, certainly, but not the jazz we’ll speak of. Our jazz is melodic yet provocative, deliberate yet playful. Our jazz is contextual, opinionated, and specific — like a good tea or wine or cracker choice, our jazz offers a repertoire of experiences that can accompany or shift a moment as needed. Our jazz can be intimidating from the outside (hence the snobbery to be a jazz enthusiast connotes) but richly vast if one endeavors to dig past the surface.
Googling “jazz” brings up a library of sounds, regional contexts, and musicians that seemingly have little connection with one another, except that they all involve at least one of a saxophone, a piano, or a bass. What’s the big deal? What ties them together?
The key tenet to jazz is improvisation. This is unique compared to most other music genres, which expect a band to write and plan their song ahead of time, or a composer to guide a symphony’s delivery. Jazz is instead about pushing the artists to contribute on the spot, to respond to what they hear, to play the energy of the room. Rather than rely on planned sheet music, the best jazz bands use their set merely as a guide post and create their magic on-the-spot, whether it be unexpected key changes or completely original solos, conceptualized in real time.
Perhaps we can illustrate this by comparing an amateur and the original. Consider the Chestermere High School Jazz Band (a random clip I found on Youtube) play John Coltrane’s song, “Blue Train.”
Then the original, still live.
The amateurs do their best, but it’s clear they’re focused on playing the “right” notes. The sound is flat and broad. Rather than listening to the room, they are focused on their own efforts that exists on the sheet in front of them (their conductor, more cognizant of delivery, charmingly shushes the drummer at 0:53 when the saxophonist begins their solo). We applaud them for doing their best to get through the song, not for any emotion their performance evokes.
The original perhaps needs only a little explanation to compare. The band is propulsive. They are soft at times and loud at others. There’s room for solos as well as a sense of cohesion. There’s tension. The ear hangs on for what’s next.
Maybe this comparison is unfair — after all, it’s a bit like comparing an amateur metal band playing out of their parents’ garage to Metallica (apologies to any Chestermere High alumni!). However, I think the comparison is less about instrument mastery and more to show what jazz can evoke. Mastery affords improvisation, which creates emotion. Therein lies the magic.
So, what if you’re just beginning to embark on your jazz journey but don’t know how?
The best course of action, as any reasonable music store employee will suggest, is to listen to a variety of sounds/subgenres and hone in on what you enjoy listening to. To start, I offer just three (equally melodic and unquestionably well-known) albums from a specific period, 1959-1964, when multiple jazz canons produced their seminal albums.
In my opinion, jazz’s nuances are clearest when listened to with intention. It’s one of those genres that your brain won’t notice or remember if you’re listening to it in the background. Consider listening during a moment when you’re visually undistracted (i.e. not at your computer) and make sure to note when the album finishes, since Spotify continues playing other artists’ music without pause.
Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue — requisite for any jazz neophyte
Produced at a pivotal moment in jazz history after the subgenre of bebop had matured. This album’s assemblage pushed forward a new sound that was looser and (music-theory-wise) technically more flexible for creative expression.
A double-edged appeal to this album is that there is no sequel: the band broke up shortly after recording it.
Listening notes: a perfectly air-conditioned room, blueberries in June
Pair with: an afternoon affogato, cold-brewed Sencha, Satsuki
John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme — Another “great” and one of my personal favorites
Not Coltrane’s first success but certainly one of his most moving — this album codified the era of “spiritual jazz,” a subgenre throughout the 60’s that spoke to awakening through music, particularly during a time of social change through the Civil Rights Movement.
Just when you’ve settled on his key motif in “Pt. 1” (the words A Love Supreme not yet presented but already echoing in your ear), he repeats it 36 more times halfway through the song to prove his point. Chef’s kiss.
Listening notes: dry-aged steak, shaved truffles
Pair with: extra sharp parmesan
Finally, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out — iconic for its unconventional use of rhythmic time and the best-selling jazz single in history
The album is best known for its biggest stylistic risk: its unique “time signature,” which departed from rhythms previously used. The quick-paced style is originates in Indian and Turkish folk traditions (and where Brubeck discovered it). The album’s first song, “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” was born in Turkey, while the group was on a world tour organized by the US State Department during the Cold War.
Listening notes: The Nutcracker, Dippin’ Dots
Pair with: sparkling Chenin Blanc
That’s it on jazz for now. Let me know if there’s a particular genre, album, or topic you’d like me to write about next. (Or, if you’ve listened to these and are ready for more, send me an email for more recommendations.)
Every time I return to California, I am re-astounded by the density of high quality, delicious, healthy food. Certainly there’s fine dining, but there’s also what I’ll call “social bites” — wine bars and local watering holes serving excellent drinks but equally excellent food to nibble on. We Californians love anything topped with a crisp frisée or slice of seasonal fruit.
During my latest stay in the Bay Area, we stopped by Slug Bar in Oakland for a quick glass of wine. I prefer Slug Bar to its predecessor, Snail Bar — not because Slug is better but because Slug is the low key sister bar that always has seats open. The food’s less done up but is, on all accounts, just as exceptional. These days, you can pretty much guarantee that most Bay Area food innovators collaborate with or pass through the doors of Slug or Snail.
We ordered Jose Gourmet’s fried mussels in marinade. While the crustaceans were as good as expected, the star of the plate was its most unassuming accoutrement: the bread. Chewy with a hint of ferment on the nose (though by no means San Francisco Sourdough in air quotes), with a delicious, crusty crust that had good pull but didn’t attempt to break your tooth, it was the sort of bread you’d make a whole meal out of just with a dip of olive oil.
The bread came from Estevan Silva, colloquially known as “estepan” per his Instagram, and as it turns out, he’s a former Quince chef who’s striking it out on his own as a baker (the Slug winetender not un-humbly noted that they were the only restaurant serving his bread). He sells his provisions in drops via Hotplate, the latest being a Japanese milk bread known as shokupan. If this was ever the time to get on the ground floor of a promising, San Francisco food purveyor and follow his journey, this is it (and if you were privileged enough to snag the shokupan, please report back with your review).
do not step on the flwowos (flowers)
A friend of Tekuno shared this micro-documentary of her most recent project, in which she worked for a year with a local primary school to inspire gardening and art-making.
It’s worth pausing to watch the full eight minutes.
The real reason I was back in California — well, one of the main reasons — was for a Tekuno photoshoot. We work with a lovely duo in downtown Los Angeles and this time had fun shooting our teas through plexiglass, as well as pouring matcha lattes into cups of all sizes. (I suppose this is something of a soft launch: we’re currently working on a new matcha powder that makes the best matcha latte you’ll ever have…!) Here are a few BTS, if you’d like to see…
PAID SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE
seasonal selection tea release no.01
Tea season! Pundits will know that spring harvests — starting around April-May of each year, depending on where in the world the tea is grown — evoke levity and optimistic verdancy. Tekuno orients its releases around this period as the “start” of the year (we semi-seriously plan our calendar year as April-March, rather than January-December), and 2023 is no exception.
Our first tea release of the 2023 harvests is Hatsutsumi, the shincha we discovered and fell in love with last year. A Japanese green tea akin to a sencha (shincha simply translates to “new tea,” referring to its first-harvest-of-the-year designation), medium steamed and from the region of Fukuoka, Hatsutsumi evokes cucumber, kabocha, and root vegetable sweetness. Like many well-made teas from this region, it’s texturally richer than your average green without being a punch to the mouth in the way that gyokuro often is. Its producer describes it as luxurious, and I think that’s most characteristic of its delivery: bright on the entry, grounding in body, and elegant on the finish. It’s giving… refined delicacy and timeless essence.
Hatsutsumi comes loose leaf in a 100g pouch and note that it’ll come in the original packaging by its producer without a brew recommendation. Its brew guide is as follows: