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21st Century Jazz point of view

Wade Cornell

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Here's a video that should be mandatory viewing:
http://www.ted.com/talks/stefon_harris_there_are_no_mistakes_on_the_bandstand.html

This is beautiful music that is collectively improvised. Most of us are not up to this standard (yet), but it gives a purpose and direction some may be looking for. The point is that here are very high quality/caliber musicians of today that are NOT playing standards. They are improvising 100% fresh ideas and giving their audience pure music that's not just a bunch of ego trip solos that are cut and paste regurgitated riffs and arpeggios.

If there is a future for Jazz I think these guys are pointing in a mighty fine direction. There's certainly no future in playing "standards" that nobody except the musicians (and a few folks over 75) know. No sax in this group, but there could just as well have been if they had the right attitude.
 

old git

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Interesting point being made, Wade but does that mean that tenorviol should burn his instrument and rip out his larynx as he mainly performs and sings early music?

Wasn't this known in the past as Free Form Jazz? Damn! That's condemned it out of hand.

Still playing standards at 74, do please accept my profuse apologies.
 

Wade Cornell

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[FONT=&quot]OK you've got 9 years on me, but neither of us are youngsters or beginners. Anyone can and should play whatever they want that gives them pleasure. I have not been around this site for very long but it's hard not to notice that there are a lot of bushy tailed eager beginners.

It's pretty well impossible to argue that "mainstream" jazz has not fared too well. We have seen several generations taught to play "standards" as thought this has relevance today. It doesn't. What made those tunes "standards" was that most people in the 1950 and older people in the 60s knew all those tunes. Standards were the pop music form the 1930s to the 50s. It's been more than two generations since that time. The tunes have no relevance to the average person on the street.

The entire premise of a standard (initially) was that everybody knew the tunes, so the jazz musician was improvising on a known theme. This gave relevance in terms of the words that might have been in the tune, the feeling of the original, etc. None of that exists for the person on the street today. Maybe you or others would like to think of this in an elitist fashion or that you are part of an esoteric circle. Whatever gets you off is OK with me. I just think it's a pretty stupid idea to be teaching yet another generation that they have to play standards and to try and sound like some long lost jazz hero. Music can be alive today, but not if those playing it have no intention of communicating to an audience.
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[FONT=&quot]Play whatever you want for yourself and hopefully enjoy what you do. However I think it's irresponsible to cripple aspiring players with the nonsense that they must learn, copy and imitate music from the middle of the last century.
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[FONT=&quot]I enjoyed being in that time but initially was taught by a well meaning band instructor who thought that big band music was the ONLY music that should be perpetuated. At that time Big Band music was only fairly recently supplanted by bebop and jazz, but life and music move on. It would seem that some would like to force others to accept that music from the 1950 & 60s is the only music they should learn and play. Hopefully those teachers are well meaning (like my band leader who only taught us Big Band music), but from what I’ve seen the result is musicians, who can’t find work as pros, so become teachers who again teach mainstream. Hasn’t worked, isn’t going to work, needs to change or just continue to die.
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[FONT=&quot]At times you seem like a smart man and at other times simply live up to your avatar. Think of what could be for the next generation. Hopefully you are just being silly rather than seeking verification for your choices by advocating music and methods that are crippling others.

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[FONT=&quot]Life for people younger than us shouldn’t be an exercise in trying to drive forward by looking in the rear view mirror.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Your specialty seems to be the wise guy attitude where you use a buzzword like “free form jazz” that has an obvious attitude loading. All one has to do is listen to the music, not categorize it or degrade it because it doesn’t fit your prejudices. Just listen. Is it good music or bad? Does it communicate? Are the musicians reaching their audience? Is this something that could help others explore other ways of playing or should it automatically be rejected because it doesn’t fit in with some bankrupt orthodoxy? [/FONT]
 

flamingoer

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Stefon Harris ,as well as playing wonderful spontaneous improv, is not averse to tackling
standards ...Summertime, No greater love etc.,
He seems to have a nice open attitude to music. and is a wonderful player.
 

milandro

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In times fortunately past, expressing oneself within a form of art or craft necessarily implied being an appointed follower of some sort of academia and abiding to a tradition or a canon established within that particular academia. Luckily we have progressively abandoned that conservative concept and in all forms of art the art maker has learned that he can make his own rules or rather that you can have art without rules or a form of art that is not, necessarily, referential to a codex, a canon, a tradition.

The video above is very nice and as far as subversion of the rules it sounds and looks quite mild to me. The only less than academic point of view is that there are no " wrong notes" in Jazz and that in a free improvisation one, could chose to abandon a
particular key by playing , deliberately or not, off that key and then turning the whole band (listening as a key device to play) to another direction. Hardly subversive but essential to improvise.

But there are very much more radical way to not even remotely following a pattern and in this, free jazz has given a great freedom to the player of speaking its mind in a non conventional way.

There are many ways to skin a cat.
 

BigMartin

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As I see it, the point of learning standards (at least these days, I don't know the history that well) is not so much that the audience knows them, but that the musicians do. Most audiences, including me, won't be able to recognise in real time how an improvised chorus fits the harmony and relates to the head anyway. But for the players it gives them an opportunity to put together a performance of something which has a harmonic structure that actually goes somewhere and has points of tension and resolution, without killing the spontaneity by over-rehearsing.

Personally, I find the kind of music they're playing in that clip rather dull. I can admire the skills of the players in holding it all together, but it just seems to drift around without any purpose. But I can enjoy a group playing a standard which I don't happen to know as much as, if not more than, one that I do. My ear, consciously or otherwise, can pick up on things like a shift from one key centre to another and back again. But if you don't determine in advance when these things are going to happen (eg by playing a fixed chord sequence, either standard or newly-composed) then to me it all sounds a bit vague.
 
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kevgermany

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Interesting, but it's the sort of stuff that insults the audience. If I'm paying to see a performaer, I expect them to be prepared, know what they're goign to play, and get on with it. As BM says, this drifts and does nothing to me. Maybe it's OK when guys get together to mess around, but I wouldn't even call it jamming.

I guess there's a place for it, but not in where I'm going to be.

Interesting to listen to what he says though.
 

aldevis

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Interesting, but it's the sort of stuff that insults the audience. If I'm paying to see a performaer, I expect them to be prepared, know what they're goign to play, and get on with it. As BM says, this drifts and does nothing to me. Maybe it's OK when guys get together to mess around, but I wouldn't even call it jamming.

I guess there's a place for it, but not in where I'm going to be.

Interesting to listen to what he says though.
This topic emerges quite often...
But about drifting: Recently a live recording of Miles Davis' second quintet has been released (1967ish).
Marvellous drifting: they don't know where they are going but it always fresh and surprising. Not much is left from the original standard.
 

milandro

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There is music (and Muzak) for all sorts of uses .

Indeed a large amount of the pleasure of listening to music is recognising what we hear.

If I am going to listen to a concert of say for instance Benny Golson, as I did not long ago, I do expect to hear things that I know well.

If, on the other hand, am going to listen to an extemporary improvised music performance then I don't want ( the artist or me) to be " prepared" to anything other than not knowing where he is going to because I sought a type of music which happened then and there for the first and probably only time.
 
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old git

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Not quite certain where I stand as I did not decry the performance, just mentioned it had been done before. You are correct that, "at times you sound like a smart man" but I just cannot fool all of the people, all the time.>:)

Ward, have no objection to you attributing various views to me but if you are actually saying, "Bung everything that went before in the bin.", does that include Mozart's Clarinet Concerto slow movement, Beethoven's 5th, 6th and 9th, Handel's Messiah, As Alexis lay Pressed, The Old Man's Song, No Man's Land, And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda, Armstrong, Basie etc etc all through the alphabet? Using the same argument, get your kit off, burn down the house and head back to the Neanderthal Valley or even further, East Africa, as that history is of no relevance and totally invalid.
 

milandro

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it is not that one has to necessarily choose for one or the other , both forms have co-existed for a long time and can co-exist forever
 

aldevis

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Not quite certain where I stand as I did not decry the performance, just mentioned it had been done before. You are correct that, "at times you sound like a smart man" but I just cannot fool all of the people, all the time.>:)

Ward, have no objection to you attributing various views to me but if you are actually saying, "Bung everything that went before in the bin.", does that include Mozart's Clarinet Concerto slow movement, Beethoven's 5th, 6th and 9th, Handel's Messiah, As Alexis lay Pressed, The Old Man's Song, No Man's Land, And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda, Armstrong, Basie etc etc all through the alphabet? Using the same argument, get your kit off, burn down the house and head back to the Neanderthal Valley or even further, East Africa, as that history is of no relevance and totally invalid.
No good music has been composed since the good old days in the Neanderthal Valley. AT that time you had to know your standard (only one: Urgh, quite experimental. Bones on rocks for sixteen hours or more, until your mating chances increased)
 

BigMartin

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No good music has been composed since the good old days in the Neanderthal Valley. AT that time you had to know your standard (only one: Urgh, quite experimental. Bones on rocks for sixteen hours or more, until your mating chances increased)
...or disappeared altogether if you made a certain kind of mistake
 

Wade Cornell

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I don't think there is anyone who is advocating forbidding any type of music. This is a question of how and what you teach the next generation. Today, more than any time in the past, all forms of music are available for anyone to gravitate to as an audience or a player. In the case of "Classical" music it has not died because there are elements that continue to touch/reach people although much of the music was written hundreds of years ago. The audience for Classical music (although small compared to pop) is large when compared to today’s audience for 1950s & 60s style mainstream (standard playing) jazz. A few pro players, but mostly pedagogs have kept mainstream alive, but there is little or no interest from the public.

In my opinion improvisation offers enormous opportunities that could be limitless. Unfortunately there are elements that continually seek to limit and define improvisation to a predictable set of rules and a sound associated with a particular period in time (1950s and 60s). Improvisation was common, encouraged, and considered a pinnacle art form in the time of Mozart. Concertos all contained a Cadenza that was the opportunity for the player to improvise. Well, it seems that those who taught the following generations decided that nobody should/could play better than those who wrote the music and improvisation was killed off in western music until reintroduced in the 20th century. Even then, it was NOT the musical establishment that brought improvisation to the fore, it was popular music. By the 1960s the jazz that was being played was recognized as a sophisticated art form with intellectual appeal, but already starting to move away from popular appeal with other types of popular music taking its place. The codification, freezing and enshrinement of what was a free moving evolving art form was underway.

Improvisation (for me) is like observing a wild stallion, most impressive when it’s free and in a natural state and pathetic when broken and confined and gelded.

Big Martin makes a good point in saying that standards give him and the other people he plays with a point of reference so that they can play together. For those who wish to learn tunes from 60 to 80 years ago (that are not readily known to them) in order to play together, that’s fine, but they could instead play tunes that are not only known by them, but known by an audience.

Big Martin and everyone else can and will play whatever they want whenever they want for themselves. Training yet another generation of talented players who aspire to be professionals to play in a style without popular appeal, using tunes that nobody knows, and then setting them out into the world is not helping them, or opening further opportunities for improvised music. It’s potentially doing the opposite.

The point is to be open to new ideas and ways of furthering improvised music. It’s obvious that further entrenchment of the same ideas is killing off what could and should be a vital art from.
 

Targa

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I watched the video, it brought to mind two things.
'Electronic' music I saw at university in 67 and Henry Cow in early 70s.
I didn't hear anything original or '21st century'.
 

BigMartin

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Big Martin makes a good point in saying that standards give him and the other people he plays with a point of reference so that they can play together. For those who wish to learn tunes from 60 to 80 years ago (that are not readily known to them) in order to play together, that’s fine, but they could instead play tunes that are not only known by them, but known by an audience.
Could they, though? The problem there, as I see it, is that modern popular tunes just aren't harmonically interesting or varied enough. By the time you get to a fourth chord you're at the high-brow end of the market. There's been a bit of a revival of swing-infuenced styles by the likes of Amy Winehouse (RIP) and Caro Emerald lately, but I very much doubt it will do much to stem the tide of hip-hop, what passes these days for R&B, and the other kinds drivel that sell by the million. I'm not saying that because I'm over 50 either. The rot had set in well before I was born (Elvis, anyone?). It wouldn't surprise me if the next generation of kids world-wide grows up on K-pop. The mass market has moved on from any kind of music that requires the audience to pay attention. I think we just have to accept that jazz, or any other kind of improvised music, is never going to have a mass following.

The point is to be open to new ideas and ways of furthering improvised music. It’s obvious that further entrenchment of the same ideas is killing off what could and should be a vital art from.
I don't think that's obvious at all. There's plenty of interesting improvised music going on, but if you want to make a fortune, you need to choose another line of business.
 
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Nick Wyver

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I didn't hear anything original or '21st century'.
Not original in what sense? You can't have heard it before because it was improvised on the spot. So was it the style, the chords, the instrumentation? What would you expect to hear that would make it 21st century?

Could they, though? The problem there, as I see it, is that modern popular tunes just aren't harmonically interesting or varied enough. By the time you get to a fourth chord you're at the high-brow end of the market.
You're applying 50s thinking to it though - which is the problem Wade's referring to, but even in the 50s Davis and Coltrane managed to do pretty good stuff with one chord. Do tunes have to be harmonically 'interesting' to be used as a basis for improvised music? "I don't like it" is not a terribly useful artistic judgement.
 

BigMartin

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You're applying 50s thinking to it though - which is the problem Wade's referring to, but even in the 50s Davis and Coltrane managed to do pretty good stuff with one chord.
Fair point. "So What", for example just uses two chords. But not in the totally formulaic predictable way that modern pop tunes would use them. I don't recall hearing Beyonce singing over two minor sevenths a semitone apart for several choruses. Not that I'd like to, mind.

Do tunes have to be harmonically 'interesting' to be used as a basis for improvised music? "I don't like it" is not a terribly useful artistic judgement.
They have to not be all the bloody same. And at some point "I like it" or "I don't like it" is what it comes down to in the end. I try to throw in a few "in my opinion"s here and there, but it gets tedious to keep repeating it.
 

Wade Cornell

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I watched the video, it brought to mind two things.
'Electronic' music I saw at university in 67 and Henry Cow in early 70s.
I didn't hear anything original or '21st century'.
Not disagreeing with this observation at all. There were and are plenty of pioneers. The musicians in the video are playing in what most would recognise as a jazz style. The difference is direction and attitude. They are not playing standards or in a mainstream style. In other words it's not a statement of a tune (head) followed by individual solos that have not much to say other than "see how good my technique is". They are trying to think, and play collectively. They listen and try to improvise together. Their technical abilities are in the service of music. The music comes first, the egos are not running the show.

Even in rock/pop music the audiences got tired of lead guitar ego solos, no matter how good the player was. Audiences just don't want to be heavied by ego tripping musos, they want to hear music that touches them and takes them along for the ride.

Once again the whole rave is really just to say that it's probably time to stop pushing a 1950s and 60s style and playing "standards" as what improvised music is (or should be) about. We can honour, listen to, emulate, and play as individuals whatever we like, but if you're teaching or learning it may be a good idea to keep an open mind and not structure an intended professional musical career around a style of music that has no audience. Audiences just don’t want to go watch a bunch of egos on display. They want music.
 
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