A Beginner's Guide to Listening to Jazz Music Part 1

Updated on May 23, 2017

True story: A couple of years ago, I rolled into a friend's house after a particularly unpleasant day at the office. Back that up just a bit: after a particularly unpleasant week at the office. Anyhow, I hopped out of my truck, light as a feather with a big, wide smile on my face.

As my buddy greeted me at his door, he had a puzzled look on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he replied: “Dude, didn’t you just go through a week’s worth of hell at work? What’s up with that good mood you’re in?”

To which I answered: “When I left the office to come over to your place, I popped Coltrane’s A Love Supreme into my CD player and all of a sudden, everything was alright in my world.”

That puzzled look on my friend’s face quickly turned into a look of disgust as he shot back: “Dude! How can you listen to that junk? That stuff is just a bunch of noise.”

After finding a seat on the couch, my friend slid over to his CD player and proceeded to crank up the volume on Slayer’s South of Heaven, to which I replied: “Dude, now that’s a bunch of noise.”

Oh, well. To each his own.

But I know there are a lot of people out there just like my buddy. They don’t listen to jazz music because they don’t give jazz music a chance. Maybe they feel intimidated by the music. Maybe they think you have to be middle-aged and a wine connoisseur to dig jazz.

Whatever the reason, instead of trying to understand it, they choose the easy path and ignore jazz music.

That’s where I come in.

My Passion Explained

I want to dispel all the myths and rumors about jazz music being difficult to embrace and enjoy.

The really cool thing about this little “how to listen to jazz music” primer is its sheer simplicity. There are no tests, no need to purchase costly study guides—none of that at all. All it takes is an open mind and a willing set of ears.

Before we really dig into how to listen to jazz, I want to take just a moment and lay out the reason that I started listening to it. I’m sure my story is not unique in any way, but I eased into this wonderful world via good ole’ fashioned rock-n-roll.

As a scrappy pre-teenager, I dug the rock of my day (Kiss, Allman Brothers, Styx, Queen, The Who, Rolling Stones, etc.), as did most of my friends. But one of my friends just happened to have had an older brother (he was about 20 at the time) who was deep into jazz and blues, in addition to the rock-n-roll I liked.

One afternoon after my friend and I had just finished cranking up Rush’s epic rock-opera 2112, this older brother leaned into my friend’s bedroom and said, “That’s cool. I dig Rush. But if you really want to hear something that will blow your mind, follow me.”

The three of us made our way downstairs to the older brother’s room and he carefully placed an album onto his turntable. The next thing I knew, this … this … sound, a sound like I had not experienced to that point in my life, filled up the entire basement.

It was glorious.

John Coltrane "My Favorite Things"

Give Jazz a Chance

It had a trippy, spacey sound to it. It sounded like a million different instruments playing a million different things, all at the same time. But it all fit together perfectly. There was insane, poly-rhythmic drumming. There was lightning-quick bolts of guitars and choppy keyboards galore. And then there was the trumpet. The trumpet that cut through all of it.

The older brother was right. My mind was sufficiently blown.

It was Miles Davis’ brilliant Bitches Brew. And it rocked way harder than any “rock-n-roll” album I had ever heard before.

I was hooked. Immediately.

That was my starting point into the world of jazz music.

Pleased that we had gotten off on Miles, over the course of the next couple of years, even after he had moved into his own place by then, the older brother let us search through his jazz albums and the adventure continued.

I discovered Herbie Hancock, Freddy Hubbard, Monk, Trane, Weather Report, and other cool, eclectic artists. From those album crates I also fell in love with cats like Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey, and Louis Jordon. Cats that could tear it up, but yet in a different way from the early 1970s Miles I had heard.

When I look back on that whole experience, I feel extremely fortunate. Fortunate that I got turned on to a form of music that I could not do without these days. Fortunate that I had a friend that was willing to turn a young punk onto such powerful music. And fortunate that I managed to keep an open mind long enough to decide whether or not I really liked what I heard.

Had my friend’s older brother tempted us downstairs by saying something like, “Come down to my room and I’ll put on some jazz albums,” I might have balked.

And that would not have been a smart decision on my part.

But my point with this whole thing is, don’t be immediately turned off by just the thought of listening to jazz.

Jazz music is mood music. Pure and simple. But so is rock, country, blues and pop. It’s all mood music.

Give jazz a chance. You might just be surprised at how you react to it. Because once that light goes on, it can burn brighter than a thousand suns.

It’s not important how one gains access to the world of jazz, the important thing is just getting there. Just remember, one man’s noise might be another man’s Bitches Brew.

In part two, we’ll break down some of the many different categories that encompass the amazing world of jazz music and several different ways to sample from the incredible platter of jazz.

Jazz Poll

Who is your favorite Jazz Artist of all time?

See results


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Bunton P 

      2 years ago

      What wonderful word I experience by just listening that sond belting from my stereo. That is exactly the way I feel

    • jtyler profile image


      9 years ago

      "Whatever the reason, instead of trying to understand it, they choose the easy path and ignore jazz music" - "All it takes is an open mind and a willing set of ears."

      Exactly! That's what I've been saying for a long time. Nice hub by the way.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hello, Illminatus! Which track on Bitches Brew was it?

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      My first real listen to jazz was 30 years ago, when I borrowed my Dad's truck. The radio was playing, and I was really enjoying it. That was KKGO 105, then the big jazz station out of L.A. Got me hooked.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice man!

      Bitches was also my first, although I came from a more progressive-rock+classical music background, It was love at first listen, absolutely blew my mind!


    • Dink96 profile image


      11 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      I would give this five stars if I could---a fabulous explanation of how you "fell" into jazz from a solid rock and roll background. My story is similar to yours, but also grew up around quite a bit of jazz at home. But I also "married" jazz and the rest is history. To have "Bitches Brew" be your first introduction is absolutely insane! I can't think of a better segue from R&R to wild jazz. Miles was at his best during those years. Coltrane is one of my all-time favorites, but the fun of jazz is the more you listen to it, the more you discover--both the older music and appreciate the new artists that are breaking on the scene today. WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL hub!!!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)