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be able to read the very likely explanation in the extraordinary biography of Powell by Peter Pullman, which remains unpublished.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).

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