Monday, May 30, 2011

On transcribing music...

Part I

Ted Brown (b. 1927) is, to put it simply and unfairly, a second-rate Tristano-ite tenor sax. That is, he's not Warne Marsh, with whom he shared the album Jazz of Two Cities (tracks 1-12 in Spotify, 1-11 in MySpace). He may be less adventurous than Marsh, but with strong leanings towards Lester Young, he's one of those musicians deserving more attention than what they normally get. Both his albums for Criss Cross, Good Company, with Jimmy Raney, and Free Spirit can be listened to through Spotify (Good Company) or MySpace (Free Spirit; Good Company).

As a student with Tristano, Brown was into a strict discipline of studying great jazz solos. However, as he explains in the video below, his curiosity for the mechanics of jazz solos predates his days with Tristano. He also explains why it is important to devote time to transcribe solos, to go through the process of intense listening, lift the solos by ear, and put them on paper.

In general, one difference between current jazz musicians and their predecessors is that the older generations developed their playing in a more intuitive way. It could be say that, starting from a sufficient level of technical competence, the route to jazz excellence depended more on personal research and work. In a way, more of the older jazz musicians were actual cooks, while the younger generations seem to rely more on pre-cooked meals.


Part II

For those interested in transcribing, or just in a deeper study of solos, 25-year old saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman has launched a blog devoted to slowed-down solos.

So far the selection is excellent, and he takes requests.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Music in the air

One of the defining characteristics of jazz music, especially in the first 2/3 of the 20th century, is its mixture of oral and mechanical tradition, so to speak. Oral (aural?) because musicians learnt their craft by sheer listening, and mechanical because that learning was done primarily from records, playing them over and over again till they were worn down. In the case of simple, short phrases, like "Rhythm-A-Ning", records sometimes were not even needed for the music to live on through the years.

Some time ago I wrote about Lester Young's pervading influence on subsequent generations of jazzmen. A few months ago, Doug Ramsey talked about the President's closing tenor solo on "Sometimes I'm Happy"

which immediately reminded me of Gerry Mulligan's "Jeru", premiered a few years later by Miles Davis's "Birth of the Cool" nonet

Mulligan was one of those staunch followers of Lester Young, and it's likely that Lester Young's solo was the inspiration for his composition. What's interesting is where this melody turns out again, practically untouched

I say practically untouched because both (the three melodies, actually) are in the same key, and the contour of "Jeru" and Bud Powell's "So Sorry, Please" are almost identical. The connection between Lester Young and Gerry Mulligan is quite clear, but the link between Mulligan and Powell is more unexpected, and can actually be narrowed down to quite some specific details: we'll be able to read the very likely explanation in the extraordinary biography of Powell by Peter Pullman, which remains unpublished.

The whole tracks can be heard at Spotify, YouTube (SIH, J, SSP) and MySpace (SIH, J, SSP).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jimmy Giuffre Trio in Italy, 1959

The cornucopia of the Internet seems to be truly boundless. In this occasion, we've sniffed out a complete set by the Jimmy Giuffre Trio with Jim Hall and Buddy Clark in Italy, as part of their 1959 European tour.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Charlie's weekend: From the nightclub to the trenches

© Jimmy Katz
Charlie Haden (b. 1937) is an exceptional musician. Exceptional as in being an exception, one of those characters that are to be celebrated if only for just not fitting your regular jazz musician profile. His journey from white, country singing boy from Shenandoah, Iowa, to foundation of Ornette Coleman's ground-breaking quartet, to politically outspoken frontman, to leader of the cool and sophisticated Quartet West, could easily encompass the careers of several men.

For a single man, only a solid artistic coherence and honesty can hold together such diverse threads of the same rope. In Haden's case, it seems to boil down to his deeply rooted musicality, his unaffected lyricism and his genuine love for his instrument: unlike some other top players, he's consistently resisted the urge to make the double bass sound like a lighter instrument. On the contrary, he seems to cherish the natural gravitas of the bull fiddle. This probably best appreciated in his numerous duo recordings, the latest of which, his second volume with the greatly missed Hank Jones, should come out in the Autumn.

Long before that, next Saturday and Sunday, it's Charlie's Weekend at the Barbican. Like his career, these will be two nights of contrasts. On the first one, the Quartet West (with Ernie Watts, Alan Broadbent, and Rodney Green), one of the most elegant jazz combos around, will introduce their current release, Sophisticated Ladies (Emarcy), dedicated to the great tradition of American female singers (with Liane Carroll, Melody Gardot, and Ruth Cameron on stage). For many this will sound like a boring premise, but the QW is one of the few bands that can give it substance.

Sunday night will be devoted to almost the extreme opposite of Saturday's urbane sounds. The Liberation Music Orchestra was established as a vehicle for political protest and vindication. Their 1969 debut on Impulse! was a comment on the Spanish Civil War, a 30-year old event in a foreign country. Still with composer and arranger Carla Bley co-leading an Anglo-American ensemble in this occasion, it'll be interesting to see what these two children of the Sixties make today of the current state of affairs in the world and their own country through their music.

Many words have been written about the power and versatility of music to evoke and provoke. These two concerts will be hard-proof of it.

PS: Gretchen Parlato was one of the great surprises at last year's London Jazz Festival. She'll be singing at the Barbican's FreeStage on Saturday 21, at 18:00.

Charlie Haden plays at the Barbican on May 21-22. For more details and other related events, see the Barbican, and Serious.

For more about Haden, this in-depth profile by Francis Davis is recommended. Haden's own website is here.

Music on-line: MySpace, Spotify