Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jazz Evolution: Filling Up The Holes by S.G.Provizer

A recent post on Playjazz, a site with much to offer aspiring jazz musicians, said this:

This is why it's so important to listen to music from the whole history of jazz - because familiarity with the roots of the music allows us to hear the notes that aren't being played in later forms. Without knowledge of the earlier idioms, the brain is unable to 'fill in the gaps' when a modern musician implies certain material instead of stating it explicitly.

My reaction is that he kind of got it backwards. Jazz has evolved to fill up all the holes. Listening to the old stuff is imperative, but ironically, because jazz history has moved in a certain direction (more notes), it's natural for aspiring jazz players to want to jump on the continuum.
Lots of notes

This does not necessarily constitute "progress." In fact, it seems to me to be Art's version of the Progress juggernaut. Namely, the truism that an artist needs to be of and reflecting his or her time. This has never struck me as anything but a Romantic cliche. Or, often, a way to move the merchandise.

I would argue that accepting this change in jazz vocabulary ipso facto as Progress is simply capitulation to a social construction and not rooted in any demonstrable aesthetic advancement (Whew; quite a sentence).

I remember trying to pull the same kind of socio-musical sleight-of-hand in a report I did on Hector Berlioz. It went something like: "His repeated use of semi-quavers represents the repressed feeling of nationalism that the exiled Berlioz could not otherwise express..." Right.

Herb Clarke

There seems to be more people with great chops than ever before (although Herbert Clarke could double and triple tongue as well as Wynton). But, whether or not you buy into the advancement of technique, does it lead inexorably to better music? Or, can permission to use more notes in an improvisation merely mean more places for the soloist to hide?  (the same when-is-less-more-vector I was following on the Art Tatum post below).

Clifford Brown
I grew up under the sway of those musicians who were the fleetest and most agile-bop and post-bop players (and I don't care what you say, Mile had prodigious
You know who
technique. But consider this: it was his use of space that set him apart from others).

I attempted to fashion a playing style that was appropriately verbose and chromatic and my ratio of good to bad solos was not enviable. I always listened to older styles of jazz, but to go in that direction was to lose street cred.

I remember somehow ending up in a trad situation and playing the Saints. The audience reaction was like none I'd ever had, but instead of trying to probe for musical reasons for this great response, I just assumed they were squares and could never dig the likes of hip me.

My jaundiced perception of that music definitively changed when I began playing in a band in which I solo on many trad songs-Just A Little While, Bye and Bye, Riverside...This kind of soloing forces you to make direct statements. Ideas need to be formed, clarified and expressed with emotion. Succeeding in such an approach constitutes an artistic achievement on the level of anything created later in the history of jazz.
Freddie Keppard


rob chalfen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rob chalfen said...

Dave Painchaud said...

I think you make some great points. It always seemed to me that younger players had a need to fill up space and be line-oriented for some years and that this tendency was not to be discouraged. It was a vein that needed to be exhausted. Only after finding every harmonic crack to explore at the fastest of tempos (an experience that is developmental and good for the improvisor and frequently painful for the listener, if there are any) can the player start to move on and recognize other methods and lessons - less is more, motivic development and start, start mind you, to develop their own voice.

Too simplistic?

Many of the players I developed with went through this phase (like they began their "jazz lives" at Bird, while still listening to and assimilating Louis, Hawkins, Lester etc). Just an observation, but curious of other opinions.

Steve Provizer said...

Chalfen link is to the excellent "Salty Dog" by Keppard.

Dave-Thanks. I'm also glad that I could go to your site and hear some of your music. The "voice" thing is so important, isn't it? It's a truism in jazz, and yet it's so easy to get hung up on running scales, arpeggios, etc. that we can stop really listening. It takes very careful, honest listening to get to that voice.

Steve Provizer said...

Bruno Vasil wrote:

The Playjazz statement at the beginning of your blog and your first comment on that concept, don't appear to be totally contradictory ... knowing the earlier "idioms", which allows the gaps to be filled, or to understand the genesis or foundations of a piece is not the same as playing too many notes...

I do understand the failings of just playing too many notes.. some of my favorite musicians use the space between notes with great artistry, but that is not the same as being able to "imply" certain material...

In your summary, does your audience's response create what and how you play or does your artistry create how you play ...another words, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

I'd like to hear more of your ideas on this Steve ...

Steve Provizer said...

Bruno-Thanks for your comments. "To hear the notes that aren't being played in later forms..." Minim, the author of the quote, actually agrees with the notion that people try to play too many notes and I agree with his overall sentiment-listen to the old styles-but I felt there was a false implication to that statement. That's what I expanded on.

The question of responding to an audience is a complicated one. What I wanted to address was my own stubborn refusal to acknowledge what an audience was giving back to me; not caring enough whether or not I was connecting with them.

It was an attitude endemic at the time-the ultimate symbol being Miles "turning his back" on the audience. During that era, Louis Armstrong was a symbol of "Tomming." It was hIp run amok and, in my view, a wrong-headed take on jazz history.

For those toiling in the jazz fields, trees have been falling for a long time without anyone hearing them. It's not such a bad thing to try to cultivate such flora and fauna that will even bother to listen.