What are some album and artist recommendations for a jazz beginner?

Don't forget the great jazz singers — Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. They each have great 'best-of' anthologies.

Coltrane's ballads were absolutely amazing. Blue Train and Ballads are great albums to check out.

PS, lala.com is great for discovering what you like since you can listen to almost any track once for free.

What songs have the same meter of many of Emily Dickinson's poems?

"Because I could not stop for Death" is written in what is called common metre: a four-line stanza with syllables of 8, 6, 8, 6, and with all lines in iambic feet (unstressed/stressed). A good many hymns, e.g., "Amazing Grace," are written in this meter. As has often been pointed out, the hymns that Dickinson grew up hearing were probably the stimulus for her rhythms.

Who are the best local bands to see live in the Bay Area?

The jazzmafia.com is a collection of extremely talented bands, each playing their own fusion of jazz, funk, and hip hop.

The Jazz Mafia Symphony is a massive ensemble featuring
* 3 rappers
* several R&B singers
* full brass section: trumpets, trombones, horns
* large winds section: saxes, flutes, clarinets
* a string section
* full rhythm section with at least two drummers, often a DJ

The Shotgun Wedding Quintet is a smaller hip hop group with one rapper, a bass/trombone player, sax/keys, drums, and often a guest (to fill out the quintet).

Why is music so important in our lives?

As far as I am aware the answer to this question is still not well-understood. Neuroscience is just beginning to explain some of the potential reasons humans have such an affinity for music (this is one of the things that largely separates humans from other animals — few, if any, species innately recognize and respond to rhythm and melody the way humans do).

One of the theories out there is that our appreciation for music is a side effect of the evolutionary development of our other systems for verbal communication. Some scientists theorize that ancient human verbal communication may have been more like singing and less like speech.

Other theories correlate music with our brain's advanced abilities to do pattern recognition, typically used to detect deviations which may represent threats. Since most music follows a set of patterns, we find it appealing. This also explains why many find cacophonous or abstract music displeasing.

An outstanding book on this topic is This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin (http://www.amazon.com/This-Your-…), which gives a great overview of the current science. I would also highly recommend Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks (http://www.amazon.com/Musicophil…), which is more focused on some really fascinating aberrant cases.

What hip hop song should be played when driving slowly in a convertible with the top down on a crowded downtown street?

Let Me Ride by Dr. Dre is the correct answer. See to understand how Dre himself conceived the relationship between this song and driving.

Hypnotize by Biggie Smalls is another pedestrian-pleaser.

You could argue that Dr. Dre has a number of other tracks that fit the bill here, and Naomi Gleit lists one of these (Still D.R.E.). I would also include Wit Dre Day and Nuthin But a G Thang.  

What are the main differences between Spotify and Lala?

Product differences:

Spotify is a desktop application and Lala runs in a web browser.  This lets Spotify run more smoothly sometimes.

Spotify is mostly ad supported whereas Lala is focused around web songs (selling songs at 10 cents per song.)  It's easier to just listen to a bunch of stuff on Spotify.

Lala has more social features than Spotify (feeds of listening activity, a concept of followers.)  I haven't used Spotify in a while, so I can't remember what, if any, social features it has.

Non-product differences:

Spotify is only available in Europe.  Lala is only available in the US (or at least, this was true the last time I checked.)

Apple just bought Lala.  Spotify is a startup still.

What is the best Muse album to buy?

In my opinion it's Black Holes and Revelations. The album brings out the best in Muse. It begins with the amazing and unique opening track Take A Bow. Many songs from it also exemplify the unearthliness of Bellamy's voice.

The album mainly talks about political corruption, conspiracies, apocalyptic wars, with plenty of sci-fi references, hence the name Black Holes and Revelations.

The best thing about this album (and Muse in general) is that they experiment with their music, incorporating elements from techno, electronica, pop, jazz, classical music, progressive rock, alternative rock, symphonic rock, mixed folk music and what not. You will find that no two songs in this album will have the same style of music. So do buy this album if you like a wide variety of genres.

Many of Muse's best tracks of all times feature in this album, such as Supermassive Black Hole, Knights of Cydonia, Map of the Problematique and Starlight.

Other tracks like Exo-Politics, City of Delusion and Assassin from the album are brilliantly done as well and deserve more appreciation. Even the slow songs like Invincible, Soldier's Poem and Hoodoo are soothing and beautiful.

It's an excellent fusion of electronic and space rock, with some of the songs having very powerful and nicely written lyrics, and I'll definitely rate it as their best album so far.

Regarding hip hop, does the West Coast and East Coast distinction still matter, vs. the 1990s?

While the East Coast vs. West Coast feud that may have led to the deaths of Biggie and Tupac has died down, and cross-pollination of styles has blurred the previously more rigid distinction between the coasts, Yes this distinction still matters because it is a convenient way of discussing certain elements of style in hip-hop. 

(Note, the following contains generalizations. There are many notable exceptions)

As background, the feud began because rappers from NYC, the original birthplace of hip-hop, felt insecure about the way the west coast was quickly rising in status in the rap world, especially following a succession of notable releases by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Deathrow Records. Diss tracks were released as a way of insulting the opposing or defending one's own coast's style, but these quickly escalated into personal attacks on records, then physical altercations. The media's sensationalizing of the feud fueled the fire leading to more diss tracks, and more violence.

East Coast hip-hop (which at the time of the feud essentially meant NYC hip-hop) is commonly thought of as more focused on literary devices, and figurative language, with the beats from the area being harder, more minimal and atmospheric, and recreating the more claustrophobic feeling of being on the hard NYC streets filled with ambient sound.

West Coast hip-hop is commonly thought of as more style and attitude-based, with an emphasis on flow or syncopation, more lush, orchestral beats featuring hooky samples and conveying a more relaxed, though not necessarily less 'gangsta', living situation created by the lower population density and climate.

These distinctions allow one to efficiently, though also vaguely, describe hip-hop.  For instance, I might say that B.o.B. of Georgia has a more "west coast style" because his strengths lie in how his syncopation and flow ride over complex beats but, while Wale of Washington, DC has more of a "east coast style" because he primarily trades on his wordplay.

For more on the technical elements of hip-hop, see Leighton Wallace's detailed answer to:

 What does it mean for hip hop lyrics to be "technically impressive"?