“Accent on Youth,” by Zach Ferguson

January 1st, 2008


Zach Ferguson, a junior at Battleground High School in Battleground, WA, was the winner of the 2007 Accent on Youth Essay Contest. His passion for jazz and the challenges he faces as
a youthful fan of it is the focus of the column.

This column was his contest entry, written in response to the question; “Your best friend ‘Jerry’ knows nothing about jazz music, and has just sent an email asking that you write him back and tell him what you like about it. He also asks that you tell him who your favorite historic or contemporary jazz artist is, why you like that particular artist (or group) so much, and which recordings you would recommend.”


This column was originally published on June 1, 2007



Listen to Dinah Washington sing Accent On Youth


Sonny Stitt



, by Sonny Stitt


 Since its’ inception, the accurate, veridical definition of jazz
has been sought and debated. True, jazz is America’s sole indigenous art
form, an art form that utilizes various musical elements including
syncopation, call and response, polyrhythmic figures and extemporaneous,
virtuosic solos. But is that a clear and concise definition of what jazz is,
or is it something deeper? Can an entire century of musical history,
creation, and innovation be summarized within the confines of a
sentence-long definition?

 At the proverbial roots of jazz lie African and European musical
genres alike. Jazz is a combination of religious hymns, blues, ragtime and
military marches that accumulated in Southern America, New Orleans in
particular. As the decades passed, jazz transformed into what we now
recognize through significant innovators, the more prominent being Louis
Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.
Alas, these permutations were paired with turmoil, as many jazz musicians,
especially those of the Bebop era, contracted pernicious addictions to a
plethora of illicit narcotics.

 My favorite historically significant jazz musician, one who
rarely received praise in life or death, is Edward Boatner, or as he was
known by millions at the zenith of his career, Sonny Stitt. Sonny was a
musical virtuoso, a giant among giants, and although he wasn’t as innovative
as some of his contemporaries (in particular, Coltrane and Rollins) he was
nevertheless an intimidating force on the bandstand and the quintessence of
a Bebop musician. Initially, Stitt’s style was reminiscent of Charlie
Parker’s, so much so that he fell under constant derision and criticism from
both critiques and musicians.

 Yet, his style incorporated a greater quantity of the blues than
Parker, and according to the influential jazz singer, Carmen McRae, “Blues
is to jazz as yeast is to bread-without it, it’s flat.” Stitt frequented
rehabilitation centers, never quite unfettering himself from his addiction
to heroin, an addiction that on many occasions nearly cost him his life.
Despite this vice, Stitt was a versatile and influential musician, one which
I hold in a high regard for his ingenuity and immense body of work.

 Now, your insight into jazz’s historical origin is keener, and
with the addition of attentive listening, you may devise your own definition
of jazz. Will your perception be marked by austerity, a la Wynton Marsalis?
Or will you choose a less myopic, inclusive view, reminiscent to Duke
Ellington as elucidated by this quote, “It is becoming increasingly
difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan Alley
begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between classical
music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line.”

 Jazz, as I have demonstrated, is relative. What jazz means to
you, your own personal definition, is a matter of opinion, and don’t let
anyone tell you otherwise. As Louis Armstrong so eloquently stated, “If you
have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”


Zach Ferguson


Zach Ferguson, a junior at Battle Ground High School in Battle Ground, WA, was the winner of the 2007 Accent on Youth Essay Contest. His passion for jazz and the challenges he faces as
a youthful fan of it is the focus of the column.

You can contact Zach at: [email protected]


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In This Issue

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

photo by Bekzat Tasmagambetov/via Pexels
"The Lady Sings" - by Michael Keshigian

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Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.


The Marvelettes/via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the 60’s Girl Groups...Little is known of the lives and challenges many of the young Black women who made up the Girl Groups of the ‘60’s faced while performing during an era rife with racism, sexism, and music industry corruption. The authors discuss their book’s mission to provide the artists an opportunity to voice their experiences so crucial to the evolution of popular music.

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The Photographs of Giovanni Piesco: Archie Shepp...photos of the legendary saxophonist (and his rhythm section for the evening), taken at Amsterdam's Bimhuis on May 13, 2001.


The cover to Joni Mitchell's 1976 album Hejira [Asylum]; photo by Norman Seeff
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Calling All Poets!

News about a Jerry Jazz Musician printed jazz poetry anthology, and information about submitting your poetry for consideration

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photo of Louis Jordan by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
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“The Pianoless Tradition in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...an extensive playlist built around examples of prominent pianoless modern jazz.


Excerpts from David Rife’s Jazz Fiction: Take Two – (Vol. 1)...A substantial number of novels and stories with jazz music as a component of the story have been published over the years, and the scholar David J. Rife has written short essay/reviews of them.  In this initial edition featuring his story essays/reviews, Rife writes about three novels that explore challenges of the mother/daughter relationship.

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole

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Jazz History Quiz #172

photo of Teddy Wilson by William Gottlieb
Teddy Wilson once said this about a fellow jazz pianist:

“That man had the most phenomenal musical gifts I’ve ever heard. He was miraculous. It’s like someone hitting a home run every time he picks up a bat. We became such fast friends that I was allowed to interrupt him anytime he was playing at the house parties in Toledo we used to make every night. When I asked him, he would stop and replay a passage very slowly, showing me the fingering on some of those runs of his. You just couldn’t figure them out by ear at the tempo he played them.”

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Contributing Writers

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Coming Soon

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