Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Jazz Lexicon of Expressive Grunts by Steve Provizer

So-Maybe our sexually permissive culture has cleared the way for greater freedom of The Gutteral Utterance. At least, women tennis players now feel free to let it rip. But jazz musicians have long had a lot to say that has nothing to do with lyrics or, for that matter, with any known language. Because it's hard to vocalize with a mouthpiece on your chops or a reed in your mouth, letting loose with vocal ejaculations has been pretty much limited to piano and guitar players. Today we'll stick to pianists. Monk has kind of a squeeky, small parallel inner voice; Jaki Byard intones a kind of sprechstimme; Bud provides simultaneous commentary in a different tempo; Keith Jarrett sounds like someone keeps moving tacks around on his piano bench; Cecil Taylor actually sometimes stops playing to make sure his hearty vocalisms have room to breathe. John Lewis is a lip purser and looks like he's working hard to control a slow leak. Lennie Tristano sounds like he's working on a degree in Esperanto. As far as the striders go: well-piano rolls could never tell the story about Lucky, Willie The Lion, James P., Eubie, because they only told half their story on the keyboard. The other half came out of their mouths; more or less garbled, depending on whether there was a stogie stuck in their mouth... It would be interesting to strip off the music and see if you could tell who was uncorking what. I'm liking the little band of miscreants who make this website hum...Who else ya got for me, boys?


rob chalfen said...

Lionel Hampton was a constant natterer

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your choices and descriptions as you nailed them, but what about the workhorses of Modern Jazz. What about Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Hampton Hawes, Horace Silver, Wynton Kelly, Sonny Clark, Red Garland or Barry Harris just to name a few? They were among the pianists who were counted to accompany most featured musicians, as well as cook on their own. Rarely did any of them express themselves outside of their performance, with the possible exception of Silver. I’ll bet that most listeners would rather listen to any of the above on a regular basis then those you’ve discussed. Most of these guys said everything through their fingers and didn’t need to go any further. They just cooked! Speaking of uncorking, Wynton Kelly and I uncorked a bottle of Chivas Regal that belonged to Gene Ammons during his session at Rudy Van Gelder’s in 1970 as he talked about his upcoming tour of Canada. Unfortunately, Wynton would be gone within a year of that session. Wynton was a very quiet guy.

Tom Curry
Jazz From The Top: Zumix Radio

Anonymous said...

I know I'm leaving the realm of piano players, but Elvin Jones was positively Jarrettian in his vocalizing at the drums!

Steve Provizer said...

This post was meant for cheezy entertainment purposes, of course, not to be at all representative...

The question of whether and when these kinds of vocalisations become irritating is in the ear of the beholder. Personally, as long as the signal to noise ratio stays pretty low, I don't have a problem-and amplification usually sees to that.

Hamp and Elvin yea-I didn't get into percussionists; a whole other category. In Hamp's case, it seemed like he used it like the Stride guys did, to sell the music as entertainment.

I wonder-there are many classical pianists who put as much physicality into their playing as jazz people do, but my impression is that you don't hear as many ejaculations coming from them. If that's true, I wonder if controlling that is part of their training.

A friend of mine studied harp (w. someone who studied under Harpo's teacher) and a definite part of her training was to be "lady-like" in bearing, clothing, etc.

Chris said...

As far as classical players...Glen Gould's the only hummer I know of. Physically classical music is as demanding if not in some ways more gotta train fingers and arms to do things that don't come naturally. I'm not sure it's as emotionally draining though.

For me...vocalizations don't matter much though Jarrett can get kind of annoying when the buzz saw hum gets too much play. I love the playing so much I can kind of forgive it...but on some of the trio albums it's really annoying.

I gotta admit...I've been known to growl like a bear sometimes...when the energy gets too high.

Anonymous said...

When Keith is singing along, it's like he was making love to the piano. Kinda disturbing, isn't it?

Yeah, Chris! Glenn Gould (very musical, adding a vocal score, waving his free hand while playing with the other); and drummer Buddy Rich too, although his verbal contributions were more communicating with the other players, shouts of encouragement, and enthusiasm (hear "Lester Young / Nat 'King' Cole Trio, 1945, or Bird & Diz).

John Lewis's voice can be heard on jazz's most famous blues recording: Parker's Mood. Sounds strange somehow, and they should've edited it in my opinion ... hehehe! Was only kiddin', folks!

Oh, singing, or grunting in the horn while playing, Steve?

Okay, it's mainly for roughening the sound when we do it (Roy Eldridge, Cootie Williams, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker), but it's sometimes loud enough that you can hear it as another voice; especially on studio recordings.

Steve Provizer said...

Brew-Jarrett has one of the more serious cases...I think if a (jazz) trumpet player is going for a growl, something has to be wrong if it all doesn't come out through the horn.

There are players working in other styles who use vocalisms-there's a tuba player-I think he's German-whose multiphonics are incredibly elaborate. Maybe you know who I'm talking about.

Steve said...

The Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi has kind of a ghostly moaning thing he does. First time I heard it on a Paul Motian record, I thought it was coming from outside my window.

Anonymous said...

Albert Mangelsdorff, the trombonist-avantgardist, he used multi-phonics by singing certain tones. He could play Duke's "Mood Indigo", sounding like three horns.

I've found a special way for finding a second tone, mostly a fifth below the gripped one, from concert F to concert B downwards; but for that I don't need to sing into the instrument. I'm using the lip; but honestly, I don't know how I do it.

rob chalfen said...

think the tuba player is Carl Ludwig Hubsch