The scream of a saxophone can't be listened to as one would listen to a voice or a "melody" the way years of listening to FM radio and its repertoire of rock and pop classics have ingrained us to listen to music. Jazz is best appreciated by listening more to your thoughts. The voices in your head speak in different tongues if you open yourself up to listening to them. The ego clings to its initial snap judgment of things, and uses it's own interpretation of catchy songs as distraction, to drown out the other voices, the ones that speak in different tongues. You need to have a quieter ego to appreciate jazz to the fullest. You need to have a grasp on the elusivity of time, of the moment. A jazz man has to live in the moment. An improvisation is an example of the surrendering to these inner voices.
One must let go and trust the unconscious completely. It may say some pretty nonsensical things. It works like dreams work, ouside of the constraints of time. In dreams time stands still or is always in flux, hence running can be slower than walking in dreams. a good jazz man is able to do a similar thing with time, he becomes the unconscious, but with discipline – drums and bass keep a kind of religious framework. The rhythm becomes the highway of time, via which the melody shifts and moves, but then--in jazz-moves off the highway, and the shape changes. Linearity and melody cease, exposing the the movement of time as illusory… then there is the general structure and key of the tune they are playing. This becomes the "ringing" in the head that is all the ego can really contribute to the occasion of a jazz performance.
I didn't realize this until I was watching the two-part opener of the second season of Charlie's Angels on DVD. At the end the three of them are dancing. Bosley is dancing and clearly drunk and in this sort of snobby, devil may care attitude. The ego is like this, it dismisses all that it does not already know, for the very good reason that itself as a persona is so finite as to be extinct with the addition of any new information into the organism. Hence the ego prefers catchy melodies to the elaborate and invigorating abstractions of jazz. A melody is known, jazz resists knowing.
Actively listening to good jazz is an adventure. Listen to Art Blakey's Jazz messengers for prime examples of this. Divorce yourself from all the noir-esque pop culture associations you have with the sound of the saxophone (this is easier said than done)—think of the song they play as a gateway into demonic possession. The melody is the chant, the time signature the time, the time of the song stretches and elasticates with the addition of your own listening.
Does a tree fall in the woods if you don't hear it? No, and neither does jazz on an ipod make music if you are not listening to it. Just as with the headphones off it sounds tinny and far away, so too does it sound different if you are not experiencing it fully—the active listener. A suspension of the ego is required which is why jazz is great after meditation or yoga, or trying to make music yourself. When the sounds of a sax is heard not as your egoic perception of a sax but as a voice, let's say, an alien voice. Like a child may look at a page of writing and pretend to understand it, so too are most jazz listeners stuck in a kind of bored half hypnosis…. When you are into it all the way, jazz can be funny! Mingus is as hilarious as roomful of muppets sometimes. It's all about tuning in to the unknown and not looking for "it" whatever "it" is to you, the hook that makes this a song worth buying, or putting on a mix CD for someone, or learning to play. We must let go of our desire to reduce and label – "oh, I remember this song, this is 'Melancholy Baby,'" for example, causes us to immediately reduce the song, as ist is being played, to a memory. This is not the moment, this is not they mystery of music being made, this is "Melancholy Baby!" and the ego races around, pulling up other versions you may have heard out of your vaults in an effort do diminish this moment's power.
The ego always gives more importance to past events than to present, so the new interpretation often can't match the old one, grown rosy through the distorted lens of memory. By way of example, I have a friend who reveres only Hendrix and Beck. I could bring him a CD of great music that sounds probably like what Hendrix may have made today were he alive and my friend would not give it the time of day. But if Beck releases an album of total crap, my friend will instantly revere it. This happens to many in adulthood who are well balanced and content with their lot. They have jumped through all the hurtles very nicely and so never had to linger or go back along the course and so when they get to the section where they can see the finish line (death) approaching, they start looking backwards, but it's too late, they can't stop jumping hurdles, so everything behind them is suddenly tinged with gold and glory, while the future and their death is steadfastly ignored. We're destroying the whole planet because of this white elephant in the room, because these old rich guys are so terrified of dying that they're burning up the world to obscure the exit sign with smoke.