Review: For this jazz lover, Apple Music is tops
Jazz expert Richard Scheinin took the top two streaming music services for a spin
By Richard Scheinin | firstname.lastname@example.org |
Apple Inc. via AP
This combination of product images provided by Apple Inc. shows, from left, the “For You” section, the “Radio” section, and the “Connect” sections of the Apple Music app, displayed on an iPhone 6. (Apple Inc. via AP)
Whether you’re a jazz fan or a newbie, Apple Music and Spotify are jockeying for your allegiance.
Each offers a vast collection of music — drawing on a century’s worth of recordings, from the mainstream to the obscure. But they differ in how they help you get at all that music.
To get a sense of what they have to offer both jazz aficionados and those new to the genre, I took both services for a spin. One emerged a clear winner.
First, I searched on a young artist: Adam O’Farrill , a trumpeter barely into his 20s who comes from a distinguished line of jazz and Afro-Cuban musicians.
Apple Music brought back instant gold, turning up O’Farrill’s “Stranger Days” CD from 2016. It offered a spot-on list of “Similar Artists” to investigate, including trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and saxophonist Logan Richardson, musicians on the cutting edge.
When I created an Adam O’Farrill radio station, I was bombarded with one superb track after another that I’d missed over the last year or two: an instant immersion in new music by important players. Apple Music was either using an amazing algorithm or showing the refinements that have come from hiring expert curators to shape its jazz presentation.
By contrast, “Stranger Days” wasn’t available on Spotify, which offered only a disc or two on which O’Farrill plays as a sideman. Its “Related Artists” suggestions were unhelpful, suggesting that I check out Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Well, yeah, anyone interested in jazz should do that.
During my test drive, I discovered other sloppiness in Spotify’s search results. Looking up saxophonist Billy Harper, one of Coltrane’s distinguished disciples, I went to his “Songs” section – where Billy Ray Cyrus’s version of “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the old AM radio hit, popped up at the top of the list. Someone who clicked on that might just shake their head, move on to a different search – and miss out on Harper’s stunning performances, stretching back more than 40 years.
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To be fair, Spotify and Apple Music are mostly serving up the same music. On each, you will find massive libraries of tunes by Ellington, Charlie Parker and even avant-gardists like Anthony Braxton. The challenge is figuring out where to dive in; for many, it will be hit or miss, because the services continue to mix the essential with the non-essential without offering tips on where to begin.
Spotify, here and there, out-performed Apple Music.
Its “Related Artists” for Billie Holiday (Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald) were more germane than those suggested by its competitor. When I created a radio station around saxophonist Roland Kirk, the selections were steeped in the freewheeling ethos of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
And Spotify’s emphasis on creating and sharing playlists reminded me of how I used to learn about new or unfamiliar acts in the pre-digital age — via old-fashioned conversations with fellow jazz lovers. Similarly, Spotify brings a social dimension to the jazz learning process: “Hey, man, check this out.”
In the end, though, I preferred Apple Music. Its design is bright, clean and easy to follow, especially on my phone. Its “For You” section includes a jazz blog that lately has reported on saxophonist Kamasi Washington, bassist Miles Mosley and drummer Nate Smith, leading members of the music’s youth wing.
Even if only for commercial reasons, Apple Music seems committed to getting jazz out of the museum mode and into the now.