Saturday, April 10, 2010
Part One: Codification-A Dirty Little Jazz Secret?
One of the relatively unexplored corners of jazz-especially large ensemble jazz- is the extent to which solos have been codified. I see this codifying being done in 2 ways. The first is that soloists recreate a solo in performance that people have come to know through a recording. There are many examples in Ellington and Basie. The second way is that a well-known recorded solo is actually orchestrated for either a section of the band or for the entire ensemble. In fact, I decided to write about this when I heard the Tommy Dorsey band's 1947 version of "Marie" on YouTube. This later version featured Bunny Berigan's (died in 1942) well-known solo on that tune arranged for the entire trumpet section. It comes down to us through received wisdom that the impetus for this process is largely commercial; that bandleaders force it or at least encourage it in order to mine every last gold shard from the vein opened up by a popular recording. This is almost a dirty little secret and is seldom addressed in jazz writing-either academic or popular. Is that because it is "counter-mythology?" Seen as not in the spirit of continuous spontaneous creativity jazz people care to associate with our music? Many possible areas of exploration open up: the 'hipness' factor in jazz and its place in the larger cultural context; the shifting/evolving relationship between that factor and the desire to please an audience (Miles a possible seismic center of that shift?); the question of how much variation from melody qualifies a performance as improvisatory and the difference in our judgment of that between vocalists and instrumentalists... I'd like to open this up so that readers will help direct the flow of this conversation. I invite you to submit concrete examples of the process of codification as I have described it-or to cite other ways it has happened. Let's see how far back the process can be traced, examine contexts, compare examples and see what arises for further exploration.