Oblique Motion: My Two-Year Quest to Identify the Song That Made Me Love Jazz


Isaac Butler is a writer currently collaborating with Darcy James Argue's Secret Society on Real Enemies, a multimedia exploration of America’s conspiracy theories, this month at The Brooklyn Academy of Music. Secret Society played an amazing one of 3QD's early balls. Isaac Butler in Slate:

More than two years ago, as summer changed to fall, I was walking to the gym when I heard, wafting out of the window of a restaurant, a snatch of a jazz song. It was a minor third, descending to the root, first on a trumpet, then on a saxophone, repeated several times over shifting chords. That’s it. Just a wisp of a song, really, barely a few bars, not much more than a fragment.

Yet this fragment lodged in me, the minor third recalling itself. At some earlier time in my life, perhaps during the brief period in high school when I studied jazz, I had heard that interval over those shifting chords. After a few days of having these four bars of music teasing me maddeningly in my head, I called my childhood best friend. I had only seriously listened to jazz in high school because of him, because I wanted to emulate him, his energy and boundless talent.

I sang the fragment to him over the phone.

No dice. He didn’t recognize it.

Thus the quest began. I started buying canonical jazz albums. I had begun working with the composer Darcy James Argue on a live jazz and multimedia piece about conspiracy theories called Real Enemies, which will premiere in November at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So, that minor third echoing every day, any time Darcy mentioned a jazz artist, I’d buy an album. I began in the most clichéd place (Kind of Blue, of course) and moved on from there, taking in Horace Silver, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman. Trane and Bird and Monk. Brubeck. The Modern Jazz Quartet. Mulatu Astatke. Ahmad Jamal. Ellington. Basie. Jelly Roll Morton. Louis Armstrong.

I failed to find the song. But as I came to grips with the notion that I might never find it, my quest became an education, and my education became a passion.

More here.