Why Listen to Jimi Hendrix?

Jimi Hendrix, Live at N.Y. Cafe au Go GO.

There’s a lot of music that’s gone by the wayside. Too slow, too simple, too weird, too old. Better musical ideas have come since. We’ve grown out of that. But I think some musicians and their music will be with us forever. More people alive today have listened to Mozart’s music than did in his own lifetime. He is more famous than ever, nearly 230 years after his death, and I bet the true potential of his renown has yet to be achieved.  Ever since we learned to record music for posterity, the vast majority of humanity’s musical creation has been lost and forgotten, but we are unlikely to ever lose or forget Mozart, unless the unthinkable happens to our entire species. 

Why Mozart, and not another? For the same reason we know the name Napoleon, and not that of some farmer that was his contemporary: one was closer to the centre of their world than the other, and then they changed its direction. If you listen to Mozart, you will hear some of the best ideas that existed in music when he was alive, but what’s more, you’ll hear ideas that did not yet exist until he invented them. Mozart was a bridge between the past and the future, as are all famous names. One day, the world will move far away from the present moment. Centuries will pass, and we will all be dead (maybe). But I’ll bet that Mozart will still be famous. And so will Jimi Hendrix.

When I think of Hendrix’s role as a bridge between the past and the future, I seem him as bringing the blues decisively into the modern era, adapting it, so that it could be host some of the more colourful flavours we would see come out of rock and roll.   He took blues’ simple I-IV-V song structure, and brought it so far forward in time, that it became something new. He didn’t play guitar like others.  He bent the guitar’s sound with effects and bloated distortion, and he thrived in heavy handed, reckless chaos.  You get to see this bridge between old and new in the recording bellow.  In it, Jimi jams on some blues, but with Jimi’s guitar overtop it, it’s easy to forget that it’s just blues!  It’s modern rock!

If you want to know the Jimi Hendrix Experience, there are so many places to start. For the epic ballad, I’d recommend All Along the Watchtower. To understand how Jimi still defies every guitarist alive, listen to him play the impossibly beautiful Little Wing guitar track, while singing over it, making it look/sound easy (barely anyone can even imitate that). For how he shattered all convention, you want Voodoo Child. But if you want something instrumental, where you can fixate on the virtuoso’s guitar, try the video bellow. In these 50 minutes, you get to hear Jimi having fun, just jamming on stage. It is largely unknown that our classical masters, such as Mozart and Beethoven, were incredible improvisers. Yet, we will never hear them improvise; all that we have from them is their completed, well orchestrated, compositions. How tragic is that? It would be amazing to hear the virtuoso Beethoven improvise away on the piano. The invention of audio recording has granted us the ability to conserve the sound of masters playing their own music. If you love music, then you cannot miss your opportunity to hear Jimi Hendrix, in all his glory.

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