I sat my little girl in my lap while I transferred the CD to the computer. She was squirmy and fidgeted in my lap, twisting her body to the side and requiring me to wrap my arm tighter around her so she didn’t roll off my lap into the floor. To make sure that the CD ripped without problems, I played the last track of the CD, a bonus cut called “Up ‘Gainst the Wall.”
Immediately, my baby stopped squirming. She looked up into the air with an intrigued expression on her face as the first notes of Coltrane’s soprano sax began to feverishly fill the room. Then she did two pretty amazing things. The first thing she did was smile. Not one of her wide delighted smiles that she gets when I tickle her or play peek-a-boo, but the soft interested smile she gets when she hears her name called from across the room. The second thing she did nearly blew me away, but I swear to you, dear reader, that it is the truth: she tapped her foot. Not exactly to the rhythm; she still has a good bit to learn about counting out time. But she kicked one heel up and down against my knee with an energy that seemed purposeful and composed.
We didn’t get to finish the track, because Mama called us down for dinner. But for a few minutes I watched my little girl discover the mystery and beauty of jazz. I was aware that I hadn’t really played her any jazz before (unless you count Norah Jones, which I don’t). But I did not expect such an immediate and obvious response. I wasn’t even really listening to the music myself, I just wanted to make sure the CD had transferred without any sound loss. But to see her captivated so suddenly by this music tickled me both as a father and as a music lover. I can’t wait to play Blue Train for her.
Jazz is a unique form of music. If combines the rigorous musicianship of classical music with the courageous endeavor to explore and improvise. It is lyrical without requiring vocals, poetic in expression, and often demands something from the listener. It’s a testament to Coltrane’s power as a musician that his playing could immediately demand the attention of a five-month-old.
It’s also a testament to my daughter’s budding taste in fine music. I had to learn to appreciate jazz, and I took that task on as an adult. That my little girl has such a major head start is a thrilling discovery. Perhaps my playing the Grateful Dead for her in the first few weeks of her life has helped her develop an ear for exploration. Or maybe the fact that we played all kinds of music for her while she was in the womb has opened her up to the possibilities of a diverse range of styles and genres. Or maybe she’s just born with an ear for jazz. Whatever it is, I’m pretty excited to have given birth to such a hip baby.