I’ve been a jazz musician for nearly 60 years. I used to be a “jazz snob” when I was younger, and wouldn’t listen to anything else. Or at least that’s what I told my friends.
And I never stopped liking pop music, although I kept that fact to myself until I was mature enough to admit it.
Jazz is all about sophistication, improvisation, hipness, coolness, and not appealing to the masses (at least after the demise of the big band era). Pop music is the opposite. A lot of pop tunes may be here today and gone tomorrow, but while they’re here, they have a tremendous impact, and people are drawn to them like a baby to cotton candy.
Pop songs are really brilliant, when you stop to think about it. I’m a composer, but I have to confess that I am incapable of writing a pop tune. Pop tunes have hooks. They have catchy choruses that stick in your mind for days, for better or worse. I don’t know how to write a hook. Nor am I capable of writing one of those catchy choruses. I can write an arrangement for my band, Brass Tacks, or a nice tune for a jazz trio, or even a standard-type song with lyrics, but writing a pop tune is completely beyond my ken.
Maybe that’s why I admire pop music so much. It’s a big mystery to me—the unknown and unreachable. I have nothing but admiration for the people who write pop songs and put together arrangements and videos for them. And I’m not immune to going along with the crowd, either. I can get stuck on a top 40 tune just as much as the next guy.
Does the fact that some pop tunes don’t last long mean that they’re no good? Not necessarily. People just like to move on to something new, that’s all. Catchy hooks don’t need to last—there’s always a shiny new one around the corner. You might say no, no, for music to be valuable and significant, it has to last. Well, that might be true for certain kinds of music, but does it have to be true for all kinds? What difference does it make, after all? I’m sure that every kid or adult who is totally hung up on the latest pop tune thinks that it’s valuable and significant for them—right now.
Anyway, I know I’ll never be a pop music composer, and that’s all right. We all have to find our niche, and that’s not mine. But I’m still in awe of it all the same.