Much to the eternal mockery of my brother who is convinced that it is nothing more than aural masturbation, I have come to fall in love with Jazz. I had always dabbled in listening to the ‘easier’ end of the jazz spectrum, beat driven music with jazz samples, people like Mr Scruff and the Cinematic Orchestra for example. It was whilst I was working at Camden Brewery my love was really cemented. James who I worked with there is probably the most passionate person I have ever met when it comes to music (and many other things aside), and has a real childlike reverence and hunger to experience everything. The playlist in the brewery for the morning might look like something like: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Beyonce, Clifford T Ward, Rick James, Thelonious Monk, ABC, Slayer, Portico Quartet, Snoop Dogg.
At the beginning I’d happily have listened to all of the albums bar Thelonius Monk. It grated on me and having had years of conditioning from three minute pop songs with three verses, a hooky chorus and a bridge/middle 8, it was tough to listen to. I’d sort of phase it out, employing a bit of selective hearing or tuning into the whirr of pumps, the clunk of the compressor kicking or the sigh of the pressure relief valves. Over time I found myself tapping a foot, noticing the subtleties of the riffs and little motifs. I started buying some albums, listening to them on my commute, mining the back catalogue of Mingus, Brubeck and the like.
There is a famous quote attributed to many different people, I’m not sure exactly who the correct author actually is that states ‘You should try everything once except incest and Morris dancing’. I have tried Morris dancing. Similarly Jeffery Steingarten in his thoroughly ace book ‘The Man Who Ate Everything’ says ‘We come into this world with a yen for sweets and a weak aversion to bitterness, and after four months develop a fondness for salt. A tiny fraction of adults have true (and truly dangerous) food allergies. All human cultures consider fur, paper and hair inappropriate as food. And that’s about it. Everything else is learned.’ To prove that essentially you can make yourself like any food, it just takes repeated exposure to it, he demonstrates this, repeatedly eating kimchi, a food that he despises, until one day, he realises he is craving it. I hate picky eaters for this reason. There is pretty much no excuse for not liking something. It is unlikely you are allergic, a particularly popular food fad at the moment, you just aren’t trying hard enough.
Perhaps I was lucky in my upbringing, my parents love cooking and good food. I was involved in rolling out pastry, doing veg prep, stirring pots, pans and cake batter from a young age. I was encouraged to experiment and explore. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor with a Mason Cash mixing bowl, scraping out the remnants of a chocolate cake mix and sharing it with our huge black Labrador, Roderick. I probably have a strong immune for that reason too. I’ve yet to eat anything that has been cooked with love and attention that has truly offended me, except perhaps for accidentally ordering andouillette filled pastries at a bakery in France once. The same applies for beer. I have met very few adult men who don’t enjoy a beer.
The first beers I drank when I was perhaps fourteen or so weren’t enjoyable. I’m certain that nobody has ever picked up their first beer as a teenager, and thought ‘this tastes great’. You have to work at it. This is why super strength cider is the weapon of choice for shaggy fringed, baggy jeaned teenagers in parks the land over. We are all born with a natural aversion to bitterness, an evolutionary trait that has emerged to keep us from eating foods that might harm us. We have to break that aversion. It takes time.
There are still jazz albums I struggle with. Miles Davis at his more experimental is just too atonal and difficult to follow. I find myself zoning out or getting worked up because it is just so spiky and awkward. I’ll still ‘dose’ myself with it in the hope that I’ll get to crave it one day though.