Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Scaling Amanda Palmer

On 5/23/12 1:57 PM, my friend George Mokray sent me a link:
Steve Provizer replies:

Thanks for sending that. I don't really think you can scale what Amanda Palmer has done down to the level at which almost everyone (especially a jazz musician) operates. At any level you try to implement it, creating the materials and doing all the things she talks about is a full time job with big expenses. In fact, it's more expensive per unit to produce fewer cd's, vinyl, printed material, etc., so your percentage costs on a smaller scale are higher. 

Palmer ends up with about $100,000 after getting a million, so 10%. A year's Kickstarter effort that brought in, say, $100,000 (a very high return for a jazz project) would result in $10,000 and, as I said, I think the higher percentage outlay per unit would reduce that amount; far from a living wage.

I suppose it is THE FUTURE OF MUSIC [insert reverb here, as you say], but its influence will always be subject to the differences between the bent of one person to be a lawyer, one to be an accountant and one to be a musician... Some people, like Palmer, have the head for more than one of those things, or the entrepreneurial skill and/or charisma to pull it together and essentially become their own label, as she has. 

The reason people want to be signed by a label is that they don't want to do or aren't good at doing that range of tasks and willingly give up the control that Palmer achieves. It's not realistic to think that most musicians-especially us senior jazz citizens-will undertake this serious entrepreneurial effort. On the other hand musicians, to their detriment, are often not proactive enough in this process, especially on the accounting side, and the result has been a real lack of fiscal accountability. Historically, this has drawn a certain amount of malfeasance and villainy into the industry and musicians have gotten screwed. 

If you'll pardon my French, this is not an easy bifurcation to try and rectify. On the one hand, you have the drive to create and listen to music, which is rooted in the need for transport, release, ecstasy, etc. On the other hand, you have number crunching, selling tickets, learning HTML, etc. 

It does take all kinds and perhaps what we need here, as my mentor Broadway Danny Rose says, is "Acceptance, forgiveness and love." To which, I might add: "And Musicians-keep one hand firmly on your wallet."

Monday, May 14, 2012


Vibrato is kind of the eminence grise of jazz improvisation, working behind the scenes as a stealth emotional force.

May 14 is the birthday of Sidney Bechet, one of the bedrock performers in jazz. Great player, but whenever I hear Bechet blow, I want him to take about 35% off his vibrato. On the other hand, you could drive a charette through Louis Armstrong's vibrato, but it connects with me while Bechet's doesn't.
My emotional responses not withstanding, Bechet and Armstrong both fall in the category of "hot" players and, in general, the degree to which a player utilizes vibrato marks him as either "hot" or "cool." 

It's the most straightforwardly emotional part of the arsenal that horn players, especially trumpet players, can call on, some of which I mentioned in my Lee Morgan post: half-valve, smears, shakes, rips, growls, flutter-tonguing, double and triple tonguing, false fingering and vibrato. 

Vibrato is hard to hear in short notes, so it's mostly about held tones: quarter, half or whole notes. It can be applied either through the player's lips or through his hands moving the horn at whatever rate he wants the vibrato to be (more violent hand movements become "shakes").

Vibrato as exemplar of hot and cool goes back pretty far into jazz history. It's been personified by the difference between Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbecke, or Coleman Hawkins and Lester YoungMiles Davis brought the cool approach pretty much as far as it would go, but while the notion of "cool" became bundled with less vibrato. everyone, even MIles, has some vibrato in their playing. Hot or cool is less a question of whether it's there, but how "heavy" or "wide" it is; how subtle or overt.

Wild Bill
The choice to play cornet, as opposed to trumpet, is also a choice to use more vibrato. It's easy to hear in the playing of those who followed the cornet lineage from King Oliver and Louis ArmstrongWingy Manone, Muggsy Spanier, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, Ruby Braff, Warren Vache and pretty much anyone playing in the "Trad" style. 

Vibrato has been one way that improvisers-and, of course, musicians in general-have tried to communicate emotion to an audience. That kind of exposure to overt (unhip) emotion seems to have become less acceptable and/or less effective, in the jazz environment. Do improvisers still want to connect emotionally with an audience? Of course, but as I've said a few times here at  Brilliant Corners, a lot of that emotional connection appears to be missing and seems to a large extent to reside more in the vocalist's domain. 

[All the above links go to musical examples, so I hope you check them out].

Next time: Vocalists and Vibrato.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lee Morgan; Thoughts, Audio & Transcriptions

Prodigy, post-Parker junkie, dead by homicide at a young age (1938-1972). Whatever. The myth shouldn't crowd out the player. Musically, Lee Morgan was a muthahfucka.

No matter what influences he brought into his music-funk, modal, latin, free-Lee always sounded like Lee and the quality of his playing was always superb (apart from a period of chops trouble resulting from a drug-related tooth debacle).

The mid-50's Philadelphia that Morgan grew up in was an active and supportive jazz scene. He started the trumpet at 13 and by 14, he was playing at sessions, first at the Jazz Workshop at the Heritage House and then at Music City. He crossed paths with Clifford Brown, with whom he hung out for about 2 years, until Clifford's death on the road. He gigged around town with fellow teens bassist Spanky DeBrest and McCoy Tyner. Jess McMillan's authoritative article on Lee's days in Philly says that when Chet Baker came to town, the 15 year-old Morgan cut him-"blew him completely out of the room."

Dizzy Gillespie also made the Music City Club sessions and when he heard Lee, who was at that point 18, he recruited him for his big band.