Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paquito D'Rivera on "Alfred Nobel and the Invention of the Microphone"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Many Jazz fans, particularly those with an awareness of sound engineering and audio systems, have been making the argument that Paquito D’Rivera puts forth in the following essay for years.

Of course, the title that the Cuban-born clarinetist and saxophonist and winner of 14 Grammy Awards chose for this piece is an intentional error meant to capture the attention of the reader and thereby reinforce the point he is making in this article which appeared in the Woodshed: Pro Session column of the June 15, 2015 issue of Downbeat magazine.

Paquito explains it this way.
                                                     
“I strongly believe that technology is here to help the art form, not to overwhelm it. But tragically, with a few exceptions, the invention of the microphone (credited to the German Emile Berliner in 1876) has had truly damaging results — almost as damaging as the dynamite invented by Alfred Nobel in 1867.

Both have been abused to create irreversible devastation: namely, material destruction by the latter, and serious damage to the good taste of listeners by Berliner's artificial amplification device. All of that came to be with the support of sound engineers and the consent of the musicians—some of them talented professionals—who increasingly ask for more and more volume in their reference speakers, and consequently in the house. It seems as if we've all reached the same conclusions that the louder music is heard, the better it is; that volume is supposed to be a synonym for energy; and that the one who screams loudest is the one who wins. Doesn't it go that way? How sad!

I have witnessed the volume and reverb go up so high on Dave Valentin's flute that it converted his gorgeous, natural sound on tunes like "Obsesion," the beautiful Pedro Florez classic that Valentin and his many fans enjoy so much, into something more appropriate for a heavy metal band. These days, the circus-like atmosphere, the unnatural pyrotechnics, the reliance upon gimmicks to provoke easy applauses, bad taste and excessive volume have hit jazz and popular music with such tsunami-like force that everything now is forte and fortissimo.

A few years ago, the legendary recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder— who made all those famous recordings for Impulse, Blue Note, CTI and Atlantic with John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and all those hip jazzmen of the '50s and '60s — had the guts to say that jazz pianists don't want or don't know how to get a decent sound on the piano. And, to a certain point, he was right, since it is really difficult to find jazz pianists with the elegant, delicate yet swinging sound of Kenny Barron, Teddy Wilson, Makoto Ozone, Renee Rosnes, Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans. There is no doubt that some of the fault lies with the drummers who play louder every day, forcing the pianists to bang on the keys and ask for more volume in their wedges, thus destroying the inherent acoustic character of the instrument. I'll bet that was one of the reasons that Nat "King" Cole many times didn't use a drummer in his trio.

"Give me more piano in my monitor" is the usual request onstage, and my response is always a simple question: "Why don't you play more softly so that you can hear what the freakin' pianist is playing? You left the brushes at home, or what?"
The great Argentinean pianist Jorge Dalto was convinced that drummers were carriers of the "original sin," and when they did play another way-meaning softly and tastefully — it was with great effort and went against their nature. "Otherwise, they would have taken up the harp or the violoncello, no?" he would say, half in jest. I think Dalto was exaggerating a little bit, since you are still able to find drummers like Ben Riley, Ernie Adams or the wonderful Brazilian Edu Ribeiro to swing your butt off without breaking your eardrums. So, please do not misunderstand me. The drum set, as well as the brass and even the saxophones, are instruments that have strong sonorous presence. I think that keeping that in mind all the time would make a big difference in balance and finesse.

Here is a statement that I've been hearing since my early days at the conservatory: "If you can't hear the guy next to you, you're playing too loud. That's the only way to play in tune." But how in heaven can I listen and play in tune with the guy next to me if I am not even able to hear my own horn with all that noise around me? And then, since the electric bass emerged on the scene, we have the bassists who think they're always playing with Kiss or Metallica. Usually they ally with the drummers, and I even think that they buy earplugs together, in sets of four, so that they can have some fun among themselves while making life unbearable for the rest of the musicians.

Wynton Marsalis told me once that he thought that mics are here to enhance the music, not to cover it. That's probably why they have removed even the contact microphone from the contrabass of Carlitos Henriquez (I love his walking bass!) in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra — so the drummer has to come down to hear what his partner in rhythm is doing.

One evening at the annual jazz festival in Punta del Este, Uruguay, trumpet player and bandleader Terence Blanchard ordered the removal of all the microphones, including that of exquisite pianist Ed Simon. And guess what? Miraculously, everything was heard crystal-clear and with tremendous energy and swing.
The only thing required was to be quiet, and to listen with attention. That is what music was invented for in the first place, isn't it?                              DB
Paquito D'Rivera is celebrated for his artistry in Latin jazz as well as his achievements as a classical composer and performer. He is also known for his heartfelt convictions and playful sense of humor. Visit him online at www.paquitodrivera.com.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Carla Bley - The Don Palmer Interview

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"I'm just a composer, and I use jazz musicians because they're better. They play better, they're smarter, and they can save your ass in a bad situation. If their music falls off the stands, they can make it up. A classical musician, a folk musician, or a rock & roll musician is pretty limited in what they can do to help out the leader. I need all the help I can get."
- Carla Bley


It’s hard to believe that I’ve been listening to Carla Bley’s music for almost 35 years!


It’s as full of surprises today as it was three-and-a-half decades ago when I walked into the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA and was confronted by an onslaught from her band's powerful and unexpected sounds.


Her use of instrumentations in unusual combinations reminded me almost immediately of the late Gil Evans’ style of orchestrating.


Carla Bley celebrates The Sound of Surprise in ways that bring new sonorities to the ear and a wry smile to the face.


Sometimes I think she’s sarcastic, if music can ever be said to have such a quality. But I always know that her music is serious and sincere.


There’s no one quite like Carla Bley.


Here’s a great interview/conversation/essay with and about Carla that Don Palmer put together for the August/1984 issue of Down Beat magazine.


My Dinner with Carla
by Don Palmer


"To paraphrase filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, here are two or three things you may want to know about her — Carla Bley that is. Her favorite color is green, even though she says that she doesn't look good in it. She doesn't like official holidays. "When I finish a piece of music, I have a holiday — well, not a holiday, but a celebration." She doesn't like bright, noisy restaurants with Muzak. She felt apprehensive about her first Japanese tour in late May. Her music is facing new assimilationist pressures, and from within no less.


Most of this is the sort of trivia one might expect to get over a dinner with Carla, especially from a rambling conversation at an ill-lit but comfortable Italian restaurant on New York City's Lower East Side. But this last bit of information about Bley's music taking a turn towards the mainstream is surprising. Could Carla Bley, the queen of the avant-garde composers, actually consider compromise after all these years as one of the few contemporary musicians whose work was unique, fresh and funny, and whose compositions helped jazz players add to the vocabulary of improvisation?


From the time she quit school at the age of 15 and took a job in a music store selling sheet music, Carla Bley has blended irreverence with innocence. Her religious family in Oakland did little to stunt that development, but her involvement in the church did leave Bley with a working knowledge of religious and spiritual music. She also claims that a job in her aunt's flower shop in Carmichael, Calif., where she made and placed sprays on caskets, provided some inspiration for her funereal music of later years.


When she left California for New York City in the early '60s, Bley had no problem working as a cigarette girl in jazz clubs before integrating herself into the full-time jazz scene. From 1964 on, Bley was a prime force in the formation and growth of the Jazz Composers Guild, its orchestra and eventually the Jazz Composers Orchestra Association, a nonprofit foundation to support the orchestra and commission new works. JCOA spawned another even more ambitious project, the New Music Distribution Service, which was Bley's attempt to provide an outlet and distribution network for new or noncommercial records without depriving musicians of the ownership and control of their music.


Although her current involvement at NMDS is limited to publishing a newspaper every two and a half years, Bley still gets "incredible satisfaction out of it. When we and Mike Mantler started JCOA, we only wanted to write for big orchestras. We never had any gigs, so we had plenty of time left over to tend to business. I did all the stamp licking and envelope stuffing, but now I don't have time to sneeze. When you have so many irons in the fire" — Bley pauses to check the cliche — "Is that the word? You've got to delegate responsibility among people who you hire."


Since the mid-'60s Bley has enjoyed a slow but inexorable climb to the heights of success, especially if measured in jazz terms. She estimates she has written 300 songs and SO scores for her 10-piece band. Bley has performed on dozens of albums, and her own recordings have received far more acclaim than scorn. In addition, Bley's recent albums are distributed by ECM via the Warner Bros, conglomerate, and all her work is available by mail from the Mighty Mouse of alternative music, NMDS. Nonetheless, Bley seems torn by the notoriety and the good fortune that homage through transfiguration is not only hip but acceptable and popular. So maybe the new musical direction is Bley's typical iconoclastic, nose-thumbing response to the times having caught up with her. Or maybe, as Bley states, her new release, Heavy Heart, is about springtime and love.


Either answer coming from Bley the prankster could be a half-truth, but it is unquestionable that Heavy Heart tends toward the sentimental excesses of the New York studio scene rather than a bluesy, quirky reply to love, fulfilled or not. This is not to say that Heavy Heart is as unctuous as David Sancious or as vapidly, technically soulful as David Sanborn, but most of the indelible Bley trademarks have been skillfully manicured or excised. The tunes are still Bley-like, hip and exquisite; the harmonies elongated under the fluid, piping alto of Steve Slagle and the snorting, muscular trombone of Gary Valente (on "Ending It"); the solos and arrangements always take an unusual turn a phrase or two before becoming predictable; and Bley's ethnic sensibility takes the form of Latin lilts and tempo-altering shuffles. In short, Heavy Heart is a light, breezy album without being formulaic, and one which fabricates jazz-pop from evocations of the revived electric bands of Miles and Gil, Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear," and assorted sultry, sensuous tunes.


Yet fans of the eccentric Bley, the keyboardist/composer whose work can be rich and zany like Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," shouldn't despair, because her soundtrack for the French film Mortelle Randonnee is less soundtrack and more Bley recording than Heavy Heart. Randonnee finds the imagistic Bley calliope in full swing. Drunken melodies, staggered ensemble passages that are part cacophony, part call-and-response and doleful, even dissonant harmonies abound in a melange of tangos, dirges and mock marches. Like Musique Mecanique and European Tour 1977, Randonnee is energetic, brassy and full of weird twists that'll make you perk up and even cackle.


On the eve of her first Japanese tour, Carla Bley was in a good mood because she "just had a burst of self-confidence about it. The apprehension I feel about Japan could be what I'd feel about anything new, so it might be just fine afterwards."

Bley went on to explain, "In the last year I've become shy of getting on the stage. And, if you figure I've had a band for eight years and for seven of those years I didn't know whether I was onstage or off, it just means I've been made to feel self-conscious recently."


By whom? The audience? Well, have you ever been pelted? 

"Oh yeah, I've been pelted. In France it was tomatoes; in Italy it's cans and apricot pits or half-eaten peaches. That doesn't bother me. I had played the Italian national anthem and was just being irreverent in general. It took people seven years to get used to that, and now they don't throw things."


Alto saxophonist Steve Slagle laughed and added, "Beer cans in Germany, but for no good reason." Bley continues, "And full of beer. I stopped the concert and said, 'I want the guy who threw that up onstage.' The audience ran after him, but he went over a fence. I wouldn't continue until I could pour a can of beer over somebody because that beer had splashed all over us. The promoter offered himself, and I poured an entire can of beer on his head. I love audience participation."


Getting back to the point, Bley blamed the press for making her self-conscious. "They ask me things that I don't even want to mention. They ask me questions that make me wonder why I am doing this, am I strange, do I look funny, am I not qualified?"


Certainly Carla Bley's propensity to stray from the facts, to spin tales, and her willful innocence work at cross purposes for her and the press. She's also said that critics are more interested in personalities than music, which she amended. "I should say that humans like personalities more than music. I'm that way. When a person plays, I don't listen to their notes; I listen to who they are. That's what I mean by personality.


"I think I'm getting to be well known in a wider circle, so that people aren't really music lovers. I think a lot of people who might come to a concert now are sensation seekers, and I can't provide that. I can only provide the music."


As Slagle later explained, Bley's concern over the presentation of her music was not just due to fear. The additional preparation for her Japanese tour had become necessary because Bley and the band discovered that a two-hour set was more powerful and effective than two one-hour sets, and the build-up, tension, and subsequent release, which Bley's music strongly generates for the audience, was dissipated during the intermission. But, in order to play for two hours nonstop, the band has to be "really tight."


Although Bley eschews the notion that she is motivated by a desire to appease her newer and larger audience, she has produced an album that is simpler, more streamlined and accessible than much of her previous work. Heavy Heart should certainly get some radio airplay and attract more listeners, which in turn could make Carla Bley a tad wealthier and even more self-conscious.


Her response? "I didn't know I was gonna make that record. 

About a year after Live, I took the band into the studio, and we made a follow-up album with the pieces I'd written. The recording wasn't good, and I knew it the next day when I listened to it. I think what was wrong was that the live album had worked, and we tried to reproduce it but in a studio with no overdubs. We missed the audience — that's all it could be. I'm not talking about applause,


I'm talking about the breathing that an audience puts into a piece of music.
"If you record in the studio, you have to use a different process; it's a different art form. I'm always thinking, 'I know this,' so I said to myself, 'I know this,' and decided to make a studio album without using the guys in my band. I was going to follow the procedures and start with just the rhythm section and add the other tracks later."


Bley intended to use all studio musicians, but she ended up with her own rhythm section plus percussionist Manolo Badrena and guitarist Hiram Bullock as the add-ons. She also knew that her love for the saxophone dictated that at least one horn had to appear on the album. Her choice was Slagle because he's a "romantic kind of guy." Bley had Slagle come to the session to play the melodies for the rhythm section, but he wanted to play in the main studio with the band instead of being isolated in his booth. The result was that Slagle's guide tracks remained on the recording although initially they were to be erased, with new horn parts dubbed in. Later Bley added more horns, but not before deciding to use her guys "because of sentiment, and they play better." Now she calls her attempt at a studio album half-successful and a "mongrel."


Bley says that she wants to do another studio record, and she even talks about disbanding her group so that she can put more time into the effort. Surprisingly she stated, "I might quit my band in August for financial reasons. The band has been an obsession of mine. I put all my copyright royalties into it, but the band does not make money. It is a losing proposition — any big band is."


Whether from fatigue, momentary disillusionment, or the desire to see if we’ll miss her when she's gone, Bley says that she's even soured some on leading a band. "You should have a band and see what it's like. If you're not an extrovert, it's really hard, particularly if you're not a virtuoso musician. If I could take one brilliant solo or something, and the audience would scream with delight, my presence onstage would mean something. I wrote the music, but why am I even there? I do a couple of hand waving things which I don't do very well, and I play an organ solo that has maybe two or three notes over a period of five minutes. I feel like I should be in a cage with a sign on me that says, 'She wrote the music.'"


Bley seems undaunted by Slagle's boast that she's a great leader because she gives musicians the freedom to express themselves within a framework. Like the great bandleaders such as Mingus, Ellington, and Basie, Bley knows how to write for and elicit strong performances from her soloists. But she'll accept no comparison between her playing and that of the other great minimalists of the keyboards.

"Ellington always had some little thing he played on the piano that was startling and wonderful. I really should try to figure out a cameo in the middle of the night, where I play something that I prepared in advance and was real flashy. I would love to be flashy, but I hate to prepare in advance. I couldn't repeat myself two nights in a row because I have an aversion to saying the same thing or playing the same thing. But next month I'll play the same set every night. I don't know if it'll happen, but I'm planning to do that."


Though Bley is obviously no Cecil Taylor or Oscar Peterson chops-wise, nor is her economical playing as skillful as Monk, Basie or Ellington, her brief and infrequent solos are expressive. On the late Clifford Thornton's The Gardens of Harlem, Bley plays the introduction to "Gospel Ballade," and her halting style conjures a lumber camp/whorehouse pianist playing the blues for the sanctified.


Bley claims that she has no direct influences on her writing or playing. "I just hear something and it sticks. Anything I like or hate comes out in the music. I've never studied any kind of music, and even if I were to attempt to duplicate something, I'd fail horribly." She pauses, gives an aw-schucks laugh and concedes, "Okay, fail beautifully."


She continues by describing her technique. "When I do a solo and when it's good, there's a word for every note I play. I speak the solos while I play. I played an organ solo on 'Heavy Heart' [the title tune], and there's a word for every note. They're all silly words, ordinary words, corny words, so I'd never tell you what they were.


"I'm just a composer, and I use jazz musicians because they're better. They play better, they're smarter, and they can save your ass in a bad situation. If their music falls off the stands, they can make it up. A classical musician, a folk musician, or a rock & roll musician is pretty limited in what they can do to help out the leader. I need all the help I can get."


Not only does Bley think jazz musicians are better, but she finds classical musicians are snobby, because they think there's only one way to play. Nonetheless, she had nothing but praise for the radio orchestra in Koln, Germany, where she had just performed with fellow composers Michael Mantler and Mike Gibbs. "It's a good orchestra, and the string players aren't snobby. They played right on the beat. You usually put your hand down, and they come in a few minutes later, so I was trying to match the time of the orchestra by playing real late. At the end they were matching me."


How long does it take you to finish a piece for jazz musicians? "Two months. First I write a lot of material, then I start gettin' rid of all of it. Then I've got a rough copy, and I start working on a score. That takes a lot of time, and then I have to copy the parts.


"I just wrote a new piece, and the way it happened is interesting. Five days before Marvin Gaye died, I wrote this piece that sounded just like Marvin Gaye, but I didn't want a piece like that. It was great, but it was in a field I wanted to leave behind me since I had done the Heavy Heart album. It's a bass solo first, for Steve Swallow because he's always raving about Marvin Gaye and says that's where he learned his phrasing. It's for the 10-piece band, but the bass has the melody and the solo. There are no other soloists, which means that I get to play the bass line all the way through on my synthesizer. That's more fun than I've ever had. I think I want to be a bass player."”



Sunday, June 28, 2015

Storytelling in Jazz: Composing in the Moment

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“After you initiate the solo, one phrase determines what the next is going to be. From the first note that you hear, you are responding to what you've just played: you just said this on your instrument, and now that's a constant. What follows from that? And then the next phrase is a constant. What follows from that? And so on and so forth. And finally, let's wrap it up so that everybody understands that that's what you're doing. It's like language: you're talking, you're speaking, you're responding to yourself. When I play, it's like having a conversation with myself.”
— Max Roach

In conversations about Jazz, the phrase “tell a story” is often used to describe a Jazz solo or what a Jazz soloist is doing in a solo.

But what does “tell a story” actually mean?

I found the following explanation in Paul Berliner’s Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation and thought I’d share it with you so we could both have a better understanding of how the Jazz artist goes about “composing in the moment” - storytelling in Jazz.

“In part, the metaphor of storytelling suggests the dramatic molding of creations to include movement through successive events "transcending" particular repetitive, formal aspects of the composition and featuring distinct types of musical material. For early jazz players like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, and for swing players like Lester Young, storytelling commonly involved such designs for multiple choruses as devoting an initial chorus to interpreting a piece's melody, devoting the next to expressive liberties varying it, and then returning to the melody or proceeding on to other events such as single-note riffing patterns.

For contemporary players, who may place less emphasis on the melody, the considerations of shaping remain just as essential. Typically, when it comes time for Buster Williams to solo, he "wants to tell a story, and the best way to tell a story is to set it up." If someone who is "very excited about something that just happened" comes running to Williams "saying, 'Buster, blah-blah-blah-blah,' the first thing I'm going to say is, 'Look, wait a minute. Calm down and start from the beginning.'" Williams's plan is the same for solo work. "Start from the beginning," he advises. "It's also like playing a game of chess. There's the beginning game, the middle game, and then there's the end game. Miles is a champion at doing that. So is Trane. To accomplish this, the use of space is very important—sparseness and simplicity—maybe playing just short, meaningful phrases at first and building up the solo from there."

Similarly, Kenny Barron tries "to start the solo in a way that's sparse or low key" so that he has "somewhere to go, so that the solo can build." From listening to Dizzy Gillespie when he performed in Gillespie's band, Barron learned how to "save" himself in his playing. "You don't have to play everything you know every minute," Barron says.

You can leave some spaces in the music. You're not going to start off a solo double-timing. You start off just playing very simply and, as much as possible, with lyrical ideas. And as the intensity builds, if it does, your ideas can become a little more complicated. They can become longer. The way I look at it is that you're going to start down so that you have somewhere to go. It can build to different points in different parts of the solo. It's hills and valleys. That's what it is anywhere. There are certain sections of the tune which build harmonically and suggest that the intensity should also build at that particular point. That's a very natural thing to happen, and what you play will always build there. Other times, it's a matter of wherever it occurs, wherever you feel it coming. It could happen in different spots within the tune at different times.

A related feature of storytelling involves matters of continuity and cohesion. Paul Wertico advises his students that in initiating a solo they should think in terms of developing specific "characters and a plot. . . . You introduce these little different [musical] things that can be brought back out later on; and the way you put them together makes a little story. That can be [on the scale of] a sentence or a paragraph. . . . The real great cats can write novels." Wertico expresses admiration for the intellectual prowess of these players. Throughout a performance, they creatively juxtapose ideas that they introduced in their initial "character line," and at just "the right time" in their story, they can "pull out" and develop ideas that they "only hinted at" earlier in the performance but have borne in mind all along. "That's what's really fantastic about a solo," Wertico maintains.

To develop the skills of expert storytellers, artists find it essential to devote some practice time to improvising under conditions that simulate formal music events, thereby imposing maximum constraints upon performances. Negotiating a composition's structure as "one cohesive string," with each chord leading to the next in strict rhythm, they formulate complete solos, pausing but momentarily to reflect on their inventions. "To learn to play a song better," Art Farmer would "work on its chords, chorus after chorus, trying to play whatever came to mind. Even if it didn't come out right, I'd keep playing," he says. "At certain times, it's not good to stop."

Musicians commit themselves to the rigors of developing the ideas that occur to them at the moment, cultivating powers of concentration upon which larger-scale invention depends. "After a lot of practice, you find that the phrases just begin to fall in the right place," Harold Ousley recalls. "You are able to play a whole chorus of phrases together, and you are ready for the next chorus. The more you do it, the smoother and the easier it gets. When you begin to feel proficient at this, you feel a certain sense of freedom, and you get the inspiration to really get into your horn and to try out different things. There's a great excitement about that."

As Ousley's remarks imply, the improviser's world of imagination considers more than musical abstractions. Emotion serves as a partner to intellect in the conception and expansion of ideas. Beyond emotional responses to their evolving creations, artists speak generally of "tapping an emotional reservoir," whose "energy" represents a distillation of their experiences with life . Roberta Baum considers emotion to be "the biggest part of singing. It has become an extension of how it is to be alive," she says. In this sense, performances can reflect the individual's characteristic scope of expression, including extreme fluctuations of feeling.

As alluded to earlier, artists can also draw upon the extra-musical associations of the compositions that serve as vehicles. They sometimes set up for performances by dwelling momentarily on a piece's moods and meanings, recalling, perhaps, the sense of personal identification with the theme of a standard piece that prompted its incorporation into their repertory, or envisioning the characters and incidents depicted in their own original compositions. At times, Dexter Gordon actually sang a few lines of a ballad's lyrics to invoke its meaning, before switching to saxophone improvisations.26 With song texts, or in their absence, the emotional sentiment and the imagery suggested by titles and musical features also offer direction.27

Overall, a piece's precise mood has a powerful tempering effect on improvisers, guiding their personal feelings to blend with those appropriate for the performance. For Arthur Rhames, " 'God Bless the Child' [evokes] one set of moods about the remorse of not being on your own or having to depend on others, while a tune like 'Giant Steps' may be about advancing yourself"; each provides "different perspectives, different feelings, different moods. And those moods govern a lot of what's going to come out in your interpretation of the chord changes in your improvising." Chuck Israels also routinely takes the mood of the piece into account when he prepares to solo. Over the course of an evening, "I'll play a tune like The Preacher' that has a certain gospel flavor; then a tune like Bill Evans' 'Peri's Scope,' which is an outgoing, dancing, lighthearted tune. [Next, I will] play something melancholy, like 'Nardis.'"

There is a constant spending and replenishment of a player's emotional reserves. [Bassist Chuck] Israels performs "tunes that have different emotional states" in order to give himself "different things to think about, different things to feel and to play" when he improvises. Each tune has "its own feelings, its own shapes and patterns that occupy me when I play it," he explains. "You just jump from one emotional mood to another because the moods change with each piece." Sometimes, Emily Remler says, "when I play a ballad like In a Sentimental Mood, I feel almost sick to my stomach because it is so heartrending and takes so much from me." A piece's emotional associations commonly influence an artist's rhythmic approach or selection of tonal materials, in the latter instance suggesting, perhaps, an emphasis upon blues-inflected melodies rather than brighter, uninflected melodies or upon tense rather than relaxed harmonies.

Throughout the piece, artists may prepare themselves to respond to each of its varied nuances, beyond its most general tenor. [Guitarist] Emily Remler, looking forward to "a gig tonight," knows "that there are sections where I'll feel a lot of different emotions. The [composition] breaks into a real happy part, and it makes me feel really happy. Then there are other parts where I'll just feel determined." In some instances, the elements of a piece combine to reinforce a particular emotional shape overall, suggesting that improvisers structure their own creations accordingly. In a blues, an artist may build toward peaks of intensity at the same point as the harmony and poetic text reach a dramatic climax.

Various aspects of the meanings of compositions are also tied to their performance histories, especially the ways in which earlier improvisers have handled their original compositions . When Jimmy Robinson prepares to solo, he "thinks about the things that have been done on the tune in the past" and what he would "like to do on it." Of course, he says, if he has "never heard the tune before" or is performing his own pieces, he "just strikes out" on his own. If it is a recent piece by someone like Dizzy Gillespie, however, he wants "to know what Dizzy did on it just to give me an idea to start with, so I won't be too far off with it." Robinson's intention is to be respectful to "the idea" of the composer. "That also shows that I've been influenced by Dizzy," he says, "since he did some very intricate things on it that I wish I had come up with [he laughs]. You try to play in relationship to that to learn what he's doing, and then you try to build and improve on it."

Renowned artists have sometimes improvised so effectively within the framework of other composers' works, bringing fresh interpretations to them, that they leave an indelible mark upon the works' performance traditions and on those of pieces with comparable styles. Walter Bishop Jr. learned the general principles for formulating solos within modal compositions by analyzing Miles Davis's solos. Another trumpeter admitted that after "Miles's playing on 'Sketches of Spain,' it is impossible to improvise on any Spanish-type piece without using some of Miles's inflections." A composition "like 'Nardis' also has a lot of connotation because Bill Evans played it so much," Fred Hersch observes. Along similar lines, even if Roberta Baum "were to give my own interpretation of a song by Cole Porter, there is no way that I could forget how Ella Fitzgerald had phrased something." A commemorative piece lends itself particularly to an interpretation imbued with the stylistic traits of the honored namesake. In rendering the ballad "I Remember Clifford," Lee Morgan integrates his own personal blues-oriented commentaries into the ballad's theme, at times adopting Clifford Brown's wide, singing vibrato, unique articulation devices, and characteristic embellishments.28 Sometimes, it is in the very act of improvising that players discover and pursue the deep connections that compositions and the individual styles of soloists reveal to them.29

For improvisers, the meaning of a piece incorporates layers of nuance derived from intimacy with its imagery, its rhythmic and tonal associations, its performance history, and its relatives within the wider repertory of pieces. Among the myriad resources that soloists filter through their imaginations, one of the most striking is the vibrancy of the human connections that inhabit the piece—myriad inflections, personalities, voices, fingerings, and stances, coursing through the mind and into the musical performance. Such varied imagery informs and deepens every story in the telling. In a sense, each solo is like a tale within a tale, a personal account with ties of varying strength to the formal composition.

While absorbing the conventions associated with idea formulation and storytelling in the jazz tradition, artists place different emphases upon the conventions. They apply them uniquely according to each individual's temperament, personal style of jazz oratory, emotional response to compositions, and specific goals for the solo under formulation. As expected, the differing emphases result in correspondingly varied transformations of jazz vocabulary and in different formal characteristics among the solos produced by improvisation.

Underlying their efforts to achieve such diversity of expression is rigorous practice on the part of jazz learners, as they develop flexibility in the use of initially limited stores of vocabulary, devise a systematic way of relating vocabulary patterns one to another, and absorb the aesthetic principles that guide vocabulary usage. Students with such comprehensive training are in a far better position as improvisers than are those among their counterparts who may have acquired a large store of vocabulary patterns, chords, scales, and the like, but yet fail to appreciate these other critical aspects of jazz knowledge. Ultimately, learning the tools and techniques of the art provides only the ground for the student's development. To build the foundation, aspiring musicians must commit endless hours to practicing improvisation—mentally simulating the conditions of live performance events—if they are to acquire the cumulative experience upon which effective storytelling rests. Among the challenges practicers confront in their earliest efforts are improvisation's capricious aspects, which can operate as powerful forces to influence a work's musical outcome.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Magic City - El Real Alcázar de Sevilla - Paquito D'Rivera

Joe Williams - A JazzProfiles Snapshot

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Whether it was with Count Basie’s band from 1954 to 1960 or with one of the many trios that accompanied him later in his career, particularly the ones led by pianists Junior Mance and Norman Simmons, Joe Williams was always right up there with The Best of The Blues Belters.

Williams followed Billy Eckstine in bringing a new sophistication to “... the black male singer’s stance.”

And while he made his reputation with the Basie Band as a blues singer, Joe was equally at home with standards and original materials.

Joe Williams endured marvelously and sang with power and assurance well into his seventies [He died in 1999 at the age of 81.]]. He had great time and a marked assurance in his vocal delivery.

I came across this remembrance of Joe by the esteemed Jazz writer Gene Lees recently and I thought his brief insight into Joe’s greatness and a video featuring Joe singing his trademark version of Everyday I Have The Blues would make for a fun JazzProfiles snapshot of one of my favorite vocalists.

Joe Williams is one of the great bass-baritone singers of our time. He astounds me every time I hear him: the range and flexibility of his voice, his utter control of it, the depth of its passion. Joe is known as a blues singer, and he is a great one, but he is also one of the most sensitive ballad singers ever to grace popular music. And I have never heard a singer swing a band the way Joe can.

He grew up in Chicago, where he experienced severe discrimination, and not only from whites. Within the black community, the ideal was what Joe called "light-skinned pretty boys.” He once said, "My light-skinned black brothers really whipped a racist color game on me.” As handsome and imposing as he is, he was, he says, at least twenty-five before he was "comfortable with my blackness.”

Joe is very much a product of the rich Chicago jazz tradition. He gained his early experience in that city, working with bands led by clarinetist Jimmie Noone and pianist and organist Tiny Parham. In 1943, he joined Lionel Hampton's band at the minuscule (even for those days) salary of eleven dollars a night. Through the 1940s, he worked various bands, never getting the recognition he deserved. He worked briefly with Count Basie in 1950. Then, in 1954, he re-joined Basie and recorded Memphis Slim's Every Day I Have the Blues. It brought him the stardom that had eluded him for twenty years. With wry humor, he quotes Duke Ellington: "They don't want you to get famous too young. You might get a chance to enjoy it."

But Joe did get a chance to enjoy it. Nearly forty years after "Every Day" became a hit, he was still singing it, still exercising that great, glorious, incomparable voice.