Boxing is like Jazz…

That’s right; it was George Foreman who said “Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it.”

First and foremost, the connection between boxing and jazz is that both are improvisatory arts. Whether it’s riffing on the blues or a standard, the fundamentals are building blocks on which jazz artists, like boxing artists, can create a masterpiece in the moment. But the key word is moment and as Erik Dolphy said, “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air, you can never capture it again.”

When Jersey Joe Walcott stutter-stepped his way in on Ezzard Charles in 1951 and then, with a slight juke, unlocked a left hook from Hell, it was a moment and it was pure music. Norton and Holmes’s fifteenth round was like Dizzy Gillespie and/or Clifford Brown and Max Roach doing their thing; it made total sense in a non- cacophonic sort of way.

Ali was more Chet Baker—or maybe John Coltrane– than Miles Davis because he could both float and sting, but he also could be muscular at times.

Jersey Joe Walcott and Thelonious Monk

For years I opined that Monk played the piano like Jersey Joe Walcott boxed. Both understood time and how to employ movement and counter-punctuation. Without intending to be, Monk could come off as flashy — maybe like Kid Gavilan — but they were both magicians.  Monk was a musical genius, albeit the victim of neglected severe bipolarity that would shorten his life. His ability to play off key in a lyrical manner was the ultimate in something very new and wonderful. Perhaps what most linked him with the style of Jersey Joe were the dissonant harmonies, subtleties, and angular twists that marked his musical style. He combined this with a percussive (bass and drums) attack that featured abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations reminding of a fighter stopping, maybe shuffling backwards, and assessing the situation before resuming the action:

Think of Jersey Joe toiling in the ring as you watch and listen to  “Hackensack.” recorded in 1964: http://www.jazzonthetube.com/videos/thelonious-monk/hackensack.html

Sugar Ray Robinson and Miles Davis

“He [Sugar Ray Robinson] boxed as though he were playing the violin,” –sportswriter Barney Nagler.

Sugar Ray Robinson (born Walker Smith Jr.) defined what a boxer puncher was all about—what versatility and being a creative genius in the ring was all about. He could use virtually any style; he could brawl in one round and then adjust as a fluid and slick, albeit risk-taking counter puncher in the next, and then suddenly resort to separation and fighting on the outside. With great speed and power, Sugar could do it all — whether traditional (with a solid jab setting up combos), or with lead hooks and uppercuts in an unconventional way.

According to a Time magazine article in 1951, “Robinson’s repertoire, thrown with equal speed and power by either hand, includes every standard punch from a bolo [yes, bolo] to a hook—and a few he makes up on the spur of the moment.” Robinson commented that once a fighter has trained to a certain level, their techniques and responses become almost reflexive. “You don’t think. It’s all instinct. If you stop to think, you’re gone.” Sugar Ray ventured from the tree trunk but he always returned,

Miles Davis was a great fan of boxing and loved to hobnob and work out with fighters especially those in Chicago and New York.

Jack Johnson was one of Miles’ favorite recordings for a long time and its obvious why from the first note. Listen to the driving beat of this treasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEBKksupBVA Said one poster: “I was on my way home from college last night when I stumbled across a random station playing this, I pulled off the road, parked and just zoned out to the genius that was coming through the radio waves. Blown away, utterly, completely blown away by the levels of genius at work here.”

Excerpts from Miles: the Autobiography, by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe discuss in part the close friendship of Miles Davis and Sugar Ray Robinson, See: http://www.jerryjazzmusician.com/2015/05/great-encounters-41-friendship-miles-davis-sugar-ray-robinson/ here is one of many examples:

“Boxing is a science, and I love to watch boxing matches between two guys who know what they’re doing. Like when you see a fighter put his jab on the outside of his opponent. If the guy slips the jab, moves to the right or left, you got to know which way he’s going to move and throw your punch at the moment he’s moving his head, so that it comes right into the line of the punch you’ve thrown. Now that’s science and precision, rather than just some kind of ******* mayhem like people say it is.”

Miles had many analogous ways to describe his music and boxing. He would step into certain notes with certain approaches that he thought of as being jabs. Improvisation, endurance and wind were also important.

Like Sugar Ray, improvising was Miles’s thing and he consistently reinvented his style, but he did it over (and within) different time periods. He was as versatile as any musician and boxer could ever be, moving from bebop (1944-48) to “Hard bop and the Blue Period” (1950-54) to his first great quintet and sextet (1955–58) and then his great recordings with Gil Evans (1957-63) to Kind of Blue (1959-64). Jazz Fusion and Electric Miles occurred from 1968–75 during which he recorded the widely popular Bitches Brew reaching Gold Status.

Salvadore Dali once said, “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” Sugar Ray and Miles came pretty close.

Oscar Peterson and Roy Jones Jr.

 “…in the ring, [a prime] Roy Jones is a unique talent who deserves comparison with boxing’s immortals”— Thomas Hauser (SecondsOut)

“A fighter in history is judged by what he did in his prime, like most athletes and most successful anythings….Roy was one of the best of his time, and that, to me, is the best you can be.”—Larry Merchant

A prime Roy Jones Jr was as good as it gets. Had he retired after the first Tarver fight, his record would have been 50-1 and his place among the top five modern all time greats would have been secured. As it is, he still will rate among the top ten on many lists because, as Larry Merchant said during the Bryant Brannon fight in 1996, he was “Oscar Peterson with Boxing Gloves.” And if fast fingers and a hardwired sense of swing defined Peterson, fast hands and a seldom-seen sense of reflexes defined Jones. He was a one- in-a-lifetime who, like great jazz artists, extended his boundaries and provided remarkable performances.

Charlie Parker and TBD

Having referenced boxers with such musical legends as Monk, Miles and Oscar, one other jazz genius requires mention; namely, Charlie “The Bird” Parker, who with Dizzy Gillespie, invented the East Coast musical style called, ironically, bop or bebop. Miles Davis once said, “You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.”

Parker’s identifiable style dominated jazz for many years and he is still considered the greatest alto saxophonist who ever lived with many of his compositions being characterized by long, complex melodic lines, but a minimum of repetition. Parker would go off to Mars but he always returned.

Matching a boxer to Parker’s genius is a fun task and I have at least three in mind. One, who during a whirlwind 5-year spree, also characterized his lines with a minimum of repetition but with shorter melodies. Another who enjoyed a much longer reign perpetrated his own version of ring violence with a predictable smoothness punctuated with a violent crescendo. Finally, there is another currently coming into his splendorous professional prime knocking out people with a kind of jazz-like, albeit more predictable, melody as Parker does on this superb album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvEuhopWw   

And no, one is not Kovalev who (like the first version of George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and even Rocky Marciano)  would better be suited for classical rock or Heavy Metal, nor is it any of today’s  heavyweights who simply are too big as they become defined as the new norm of giants. 

Someday I shall make the connection.

 

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records. He enjoys writing about boxing.

 

 

Comment on this article

COMMENTS

-Kid Blast :

The last link re Charlie Parker is no longer available. This one is just as good.
->https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcTrx0hL1ag


-larueboenig :

Being that I?m married to a jazz musician (as you know Ted), I found this piece to be simply fantastic, Now if I only could get him to register on TSS .:cool:


-Tex Hassler :

Ray Robinson was music like we may never hear again. He may not be dublicated by any one else.:cool:


-Kid Blast :

Ray Robinson was music like we may never hear again. He may not be dublicated by any one else. :cool:
Well heck, Rev. Tex, welcome to TSS.


-Radam G :

Ray Robinson was music like we may never hear again. He may not be dublicated by any one else.:cool:
The late, great Willie Pep was music plus. The rules of boksing has changed. So you are definitely correct about dublication. The game that is will never let the likes of the old great jazz again. Holla!


-dollar bond :

Wow, this is a very neat essay. Very original. You have put some things together in a sequence. Great job of writing, Ted.


-Kid Blast :

Wow, this is a very neat essay. Very original. You have put some things together in a sequence. Great job of writing, Ted.
Thank you sir. I appreciate the props. It's what makes writing all about; namely, to please the reader---IMO.


-Kid Blast :

The late, great Willie Pep was music plus. The rules of boksing has changed. So you are definitely correct about dublication. The game that is will never let the likes of the old great jazz again. Holla!
Yes, Pep and maybe Jimmy Young and possibly Nicolino Locche could have been tied to the Monk. Especially a prime Young.


-deepwater2 :

Great article. Classic boxing is like everything else. Better! Sports,music,film etc etc , so much better yesteryear. Miles Davis' tribute to JJ is being played at work all day today. In honor of Miles , dogfish beer released, bitches brew. Great beer to listen to jazz to. From Dogfish: In honor of the 40th anniversary of the original release of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis' 1970 paradigm-shifting landmark fusion breakthrough, we've created our own Bitches Brew -- a dark beer that's a fusion of three threads of imperial stout and one thread of honey beer with gesho root. It's a gustatory analog to Miles' masterpiece.


-JohnnyTango :

Only a well-seasoned writer like yourself could put together a great piece on the comparison of jazz to boxing. Very well done, Ted. I absolutely loved it!


-Kid Blast :

Only a well-seasoned writer like yourself could put together a great piece on the comparison of jazz to boxing. Very well done, Ted. I absolutely loved it!
Thanks Tango. Plenty of Argentinian fighters who could be tied to the Tango.


-mortcola :

Beautiful, as a long time jazz lover, long-time boxer and fan, musician, and author of a well-regarded academic book on jazz and the mind, 'Freud's Lost Chord". Not much to add. Jazz, the sound of surprise....


-Kid Blast :

Beautiful, as a long time jazz lover, long-time boxer and fan, musician, and author of a well-regarded academic book on jazz and the mind, 'Freud's Lost Chord". Not much to add. Jazz, the sound of surprise....
Thank you


-Kid Blast :

Great article. Classic boxing is like everything else. Better! Sports,music,film etc etc , so much better yesteryear. Miles Davis' tribute to JJ is being played at work all day today. In honor of Miles , dogfish beer released, bitches brew. Great beer to listen to jazz to. From Dogfish: In honor of the 40th anniversary of the original release of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis' 1970 paradigm-shifting landmark fusion breakthrough, we've created our own Bitches Brew -- a dark beer that's a fusion of three threads of imperial stout and one thread of honey beer with gesho root. It's a gustatory analog to Miles' masterpiece.
Great post. "gustatory analog" is shear brilliance.


-dollar bond :

Was one of the fighters you were matched with Charlie Parker Tyson?


-Kid Blast :

Was one of the fighters you were matched with Charlie Parker Tyson?
Yes.


-BernieFer :

The last link re Charlie Parker is no longer available. This one is just as good.
->https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcTrx0hL1ag
The former head football coach at Jackson State University, W.C. Gorden (he coached Walter Payton, but that's another story) is a friend of mine, and an avid jazz aficionado. His breadth of knowledge about that very American art form far exceeded mine, but I do have an interest in good music in any genre, just as I don't care for bad music in any genre. W.C. would make some recommendations to me occasionally, and I made a point to check that stuff out whenever I could. Andy why wouldn't I? As a native New Orleanian, I came up in the city that produced Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. It has always been my belief that the most gifted boxers are, as Ted Sares so noted, much like great jazz musicians, moving to a riff in their heads that only they hear. My personal favorite is an album on Impulse Records released in 1961, when I was in eighth grade, "Genius + Soul = Jazz," by the great Ray Charles. There are 10 cuts on the album, eight instrumentals and only two vocals, with Ray playing the Hammond organ (it's not just for church!) with full orchestration from some very talented Count Basie sidemen. When my vinyl album wore out, I got the CD. Still have it, and it'll probably wear out at some point, too. There is one "hit" record on the album, "One-Mint Julep," an instrumental that got a lot of radio air time, but I think my favorite cut is Ray's take on a standard, "Birth of the Blues," which kind of reaches down into your soul. On a similar note, I have to believe that moonwalking Michael Jackson might have been trained to be a slick technician in the ring, although I have to believe his whiskers wouldn't have been strong enough to take a good shot to the jaw.


-Kid Blast :

The former head football coach at Jackson State University, W.C. Gorden (he coached Walter Payton, but that's another story) is a friend of mine, and an avid jazz aficionado. His breadth of knowledge about that very American art form far exceeded mine, but I do have an interest in good music in any genre, just as I don't care for bad music in any genre. W.C. would make some recommendations to me occasionally, and I made a point to check that stuff out whenever I could. Andy why wouldn't I? As a native New Orleanian, I came up in the city that produced Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. It has always been my belief that the most gifted boxers are, as Ted Sares so noted, much like great jazz musicians, moving to a riff in their heads that only they hear. My personal favorite is an album on Impulse Records released in 1961, when I was in eighth grade, "Genius + Soul = Jazz," by the great Ray Charles. There are 10 cuts on the album, eight instrumentals and only two vocals, with Ray playing the Hammond organ (it's not just for church!) with full orchestration from some very talented Count Basie sidemen. When my vinyl album wore out, I got the CD. Still have it, and it'll probably wear out at some point, too. There is one "hit" record on the album, "One-Mint Julep," an instrumental that got a lot of radio air time, but I think my favorite cut is Ray's take on a standard, "Birth of the Blues," which kind of reaches down into your soul. On a similar note, I have to believe that moonwalking Michael Jackson might have been trained to be a slick technician in the ring, although I have to believe his whiskers wouldn't have been strong enough to take a good shot to the jaw.
I am humbled Bernard, humbled.


-larueboenig :

What about Clifford Brown> What boxer would fit his sound?


-Kid Blast :

What about Clifford Brown> What boxer would fit his sound?
Matthew Said Muhammad or maybe even Katsidis. Lots of hi-tempo action. Brown, had he not died so young in an accident could have been the best of them all. He was a true genius with that horn. Max Roach (on drums) and Clifford Brown were like ham and eggs back in the day. [URL="http://
->https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZmrqjDlikc">http://
->https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZmrqjDlikc[/URL]


-JohnnyTango :

Ted: Did you see the film "Miles Ahead" with Don Cheadle?


-Kid Blast :

Ted: Did you see the film "Miles Ahead" with Don Cheadle?
Why you ask? I saw it and loved it. If Don Cheadle doesn't get an Academy Award for his performance and/or direction then something is really truly wrong at the academy. And I loved the way boxing was blended into the movie. Yessir, I really enjoyed that one. Miles was truly a pr--- but he was very complex. What did you think of the movie, Tango?


-JohnnyTango :

Why you ask? I saw it and loved it. If Don Cheadle doesn't get an Academy Award for his performance and/or direction then something is really truly wrong at the academy. And I loved the way boxing was blended into the movie. Yessir, I really enjoyed that one. Miles was truly a pr--- but he was very complex. What did you think of the movie, Tango? I liked the film and thought Cheadle did a great job! Cheadle was in "Boogie Nights" which is one of my top 10 favorite films. I included the trailer (below). On another note, the boxing film "Hands Of Stone" is coming up. DeNiro plays legendary trainer Ray Arcel. Have you heard anything good or bad regarding the film? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
->https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOk0fsMGyck


-Kid Blast :

Why you ask? I saw it and loved it. If Don Cheadle doesn't get an Academy Award for his performance and/or direction then something is really truly wrong at the academy. And I loved the way boxing was blended into the movie. Yessir, I really enjoyed that one. Miles was truly a pr--- but he was very complex. What did you think of the movie, Tango? I liked the film and thought Cheadle did a great job! Cheadle was in "Boogie Nights" which is one of my top 10 favorite films. I included the trailer (below). On another note, the boxing film "Hands Of Stone" is coming up. DeNiro plays legendary trainer Ray Arcel. Have you heard anything good or bad regarding the film? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
->https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOk0fsMGyck
I'm not a great lover of boxing films. Most are contrived and over dramatic. The Southpaw, for example, was appalling. I liked "Raging Bull "and "The Harder they Fall. "Beyond that, I don't have much interest unless boxing is incidental to the main theme like it was in "Miles Ahead". The "Set Up "portrayed sadistic fans quite well. I once wrote an article tilted Nor and Boxing. Check it out, John. Vinny Paz's story is also coming out and I have a few friends in that one. Charlie Dwyer will be a referee. He's one of my closest friends and was recently inducted into the Marine Boxing Hall of Fame which I was going to attend but then suffered a bad fall. We are Ring 4 members. And DeNiro is beginning to wear out his welcome (to me) with his crappy comedy routines. No more Goodfellows. So sad. Cheadle was in one where he played a Muslim Extremist spy and he was superb. He is a great actor and a great boxing fan. But Bogie Nights was a tad too edgy for me, I remember what happened in Wonderland (LA) as I'm sure you do as well. That was some scary stuff.


-JohnnyTango :

I'm not a great lover of boxing films. Most are contrived and over dramatic. The Southpaw, for example, was appalling. I liked "Raging Bull "and "The Harder they Fall. "Beyond that, I don't have much interest unless boxing is incidental to the main theme like it was in "Miles Ahead". The "Set Up "portrayed sadistic fans quite well. I once wrote an article tilted Nor and Boxing. Check it out, John. Vinny Paz's story is also coming out and I have a few friends in that one. Charlie Dwyer will be a referee. He's one of my closest friends and was recently inducted into the Marine Boxing Hall of Fame which I was going to attend but then suffered a bad fall. We are Ring 4 members. And DeNiro is beginning to wear out his welcome (to me) with his crappy comedy routines. No more Goodfellows. So sad. Cheadle was in one where he played a Muslim Extremist spy and he was superb. He is a great actor and a great boxing fan. But Bogie Nights was a tad too edgy for me, I remember what happened in Wonderland (LA) as I'm sure you do as well. That was some scary stuff.
Re: Boxing films. I wrote this 10-years-ago. It was one of my first articles published online.
->https://www.boxing247.com/weblog/archives/109695


-Kid Blast :

Re: Boxing films. I wrote this 10-years-ago. It was one of my first articles published online.
->https://www.boxing247.com/weblog/archives/109695
Fine article John. ell researched and well constructed. I did like "The Boxer "a lot. The scenes from that smoker fight in the UK where he quit in mid-fight while beating the other guy almost to a pulp were stunning. Daniel Day-Lewis is a great, great actor IMO. As for "Rocky", I leaned a long time ago that if you have nothing good to say about someone or something, then don't say it.