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Don’t Be a Jazz Snob!

Jazz snobs. I know my fair share of them. Most musicians I know are in the jazz circles, and while I wouldn’t categorize most of them as authentic jazz snobs, there are always the few making the rest of us look bad.

What’s a jazz snob? They are actually quite simple characters. Here’s one of those Urban Dictionary definitions, meaning some random guy on the internet came up with it, but I find this one fitting.

Jazz Snob

An annoying or stubborn person whom denies any, or most, kinds of music other than Jazz. Has a self-indulgent illusion of sophistication about him/herself and, in particular, his/her musical tastes.

Jazz snobs think that jazz is the divine music sent from heaven to render all other genres of music void. Catch a friend listening to some punk rock, or God forbid, radio-single pop music and the jazz snob will look upon them with scorn.

To the jazz snob, jazz is a superior art form to all other music. Singer-songwriter stuff? Nah, that’s not talent! Metal? Noise pollution! Pop-rock? The lamest, tasteless music to disgrace the airwaves.

Jazz snobs do find Classical acceptable, and often the avant-garde as well. These kinds of music appeal to their “heightened” sense of artistic taste.

Don’t get me wrong. I love jazz. Jazz happens to be my favorite kind of music, and I do indeed believe that it requires a certain depth of musical understanding to truly get it. Yes, there are some styles of music outside of jazz that I prefer less than others. There are some artists that I think aren’t that great, and others that I do. But the jazz snob takes all of this to an entirely different level. Jazz snobs choose to believe that most other styles of music are useless, and they couldn’t be more ignorant.

What I want to say to the jazz snobs is this: you are missing out big time if you aren’t listening to music outside of jazz.

At the end of the day, there are only two kinds of music out there: good music and bad music. And even the decision of what is good and what is bad is entirely relative. On top of that, it would be ignorant to label an entire genre of music “bad.” Perhaps you could decide a particular artist within a genre is “bad,” but your reasoning for why that artist is “bad” is likely relative to your perspective.

I’ve heard these kinds of negative labels about jazz from non-jazz listeners. Jazz is boring. Boring to who? Jazz is one of the most exciting styles of music to me. Jazz isn’t accessible to the average listener. Hmm…maybe they’re right. The point is, everybody likes music and what music they like depends on who they are and where they come from.

So if you’re a jazz snob reading this, and your blood is starting to boil, let me go over a few quick reasons why you should be listening to other kinds of music, and how you can benefit from it.

1. Other types of music can help your jazz playing.

Jazz snobs tend to be musicians, not just listeners. So as a musician you should be interested in improving. Every kind of music has its unique sets of challenges. Whenever I’ve played pop gigs, I’ve realized just how much it takes for me to get the job done well. I’m a jazz trained musician, so when I am called upon to play other styles of music I recognize immediately how much talent I lack to perform those duties. For every kind of music, there are professionals. They are professionals for a reason. It’s not easy. When you study other kinds of music, you will be presented with challenges that jazz doesn’t necessarily offer.

2. Jazz is evolving.

It always has been. Modern jazz musicians are taking other styles of music and merging it with jazz. R&B, Hip-Hop, Folk, Rock, it’s all influencing jazz musicians today. The results are pretty fantastic if you ask me. Listening to other styles of music can help you come up with musical ideas you wouldn’t have thought of before.

One of my go-to artists is the late singer-songwriter, Elliott Smith. I love his music, and I always seem to come back to him. A few years ago I was practicing my guitar when suddenly a song idea came out of nowhere. It was rich with harmonic complexities as jazz often is, but the essence of it was unique. It sounded like an Elliott Smith song, but with a twist. To this day, whenever I play this song with a group, the band members always comment on how they like it. I would never have come up with that idea if it wasn’t for listening to Elliott Smith.

3. Other kinds of music are enjoyable.

Jazz is great, but other kinds of music are great too. You don’t want to be the same as the people I described earlier; the ones who describe jazz as “boring.” They apparently just haven’t given jazz a real chance. They haven’t sat down to investigate it and see what it has to offer.

Don’t ever write off a genre of music because it’s “too predictable,” “too simple,” “not artistic enough,” “pop radio music.” Give it a chance. Investigate it for yourself. If you decide it’s not for you, fine. But don’t ruin it for the ones who like it. If music is bringing joy to someone, it must be doing something right.

Don’t be a jazz snob.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. I am a jazz snob. I listened to three dog night and the partridge family before I moved to my aunt’s house and discovered jazz through my cousin. In fourth grade I got a GI Joe, led zeppelin 2, deep purple machine head, Santana man with outstretched hand, Frank Zappa just another band from L.A.. and a blood rock album. That was just the start of my “sophistication”.
    Now the only thing I dont listen to is country music. Stravinsky, Verase, webern, orff, holst, rimsky korsakov, Bowie, tubes, king miSSLE III, WEATHER REPORT, PARKER, SEGOVIA, ON AND ON AND ON. MUSIC IS THE ONLY RELIGION THAT DELIVERS THE GOODS.

  2. I think more of a balance is needed than this. I would agree that one believing their musical tastes to be superior to anyone else's is a bad attitude to have, and I would actively discourage it. To the comment of "missing out" if one chooses not to listen to other music though, well that just sounds hypocritical. This courtesy has to extend both directions, in the exact same way that I and many other jazz musicians who I know do not force our own musical tastes on friends and colleagues that do not share them. This is not even to mention that it seemingly forgets the fact that some people simply aren't going to be attracted to Rock, R&B, HipHop etc… just as not everyone is going to be attracted to Jazz or Classical music. You can't take a rule and apply it universally to everyone after all. I would just tell a musician to be open enough to embrace something if they like but never to feel forced to like something for superficial reasons because Im sorry but "You are missing out" is just not cutting it for me. No, we are not missing out, we just like what we like. Trust me as a person who has "attempted" to give a lot of Rock, R&B and Hiphop a chance and come out very under satisfied. Just my personal opinion of course but it goes to prove my point.


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