What is the Right Approach to Jazz?

When being asked about Vietnamese jazz, Tran Thu Ha said, “Nhạc jazz VN tới nay thường là ‘râu ông nọ cắm cằm bà kia’ hoặc đu đưa cho có vẻ jazz một tí. Hiện tại, chỉ có Jazzy Dạ Lam theo đúng kiểu” (Phụ Nữ Chủ Nhật).

Jazzy’s Moon & You is a mixture of pop, jazz and funk. I like its uniqueness, but that’s not necessarily the “right” approach to jazz. It’s more like Norah Jones’ pop, jazz and old country buffet that attracts the bourgeois but not the aficionados. To dismiss Vietnamese jazz as “râu ông nọ cắm cằm bà kia” is not entirely accurate. Maybe some of Tran Thu Ha’s own jazz-up songs were, but there are still some decent tunes like Le Minh Son’s “Trang Khat” performed by Tung Duong. That’s some deep shades of blues right there. The voice is raspy and soulful, and the instrumental improvisations are damn hypnotic. While we’re at it, let’s not forget that he blew her out like candle not once but twice with his bossa-nova rendition of “Chay Tron.”

In addition, I see nothing wrong with taking the basic chords of Vietnamese ballads and extending them into jazz improvisations. In fact, Trinh Cong Son compositions are perfect because they are simple, which give musicians plenty of space to work around the minimal structure. For examples, Art Pepper and his sidemen took “Besame Mucho” (the last track in TTBlue’s collection) and pushed it to twenty minutes plus of exhilarating solos, or completely reinvented “História De Un Amor” (A Love Story) with his own personal interpretation.

Even though jazz is sophisticated, you shouldn’t be discouraged from it. You don’t have be at the level of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, or Art Pepper. Playing and singing with your own heart and feeling is all that needed. There is no right or wrong way to approach jazz. The question should be how you approach jazz.