The problem with Jazz

aydee

Platinum Member
....


Branford Marsalis, the man known for the longest time, for saying it like he sees it, comments on the state of jazz, yet again. ( Seattle weekly news ).
A few things that he says do ring true with me, but I was interested hearing from the good folk here with strong opinions, one way or the other.


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" In jazz we spend a lot of time talking about harmony. Harmonic music tends to be very insular. It tends to be [like] you're in the private club with a secret handshake.

I have a lot of normal friends. 'Cause it's important. [When] you have a bunch of musicians talking about music and they talk about what's good and what's not good, they don't consider the larger context of it.

You read a review of something and some guy in New York says "This is the most important music since such and such." And then when you look at it in a larger context, you say, "Well, can we really use the word 'important' for something that the majority of the people have never heard?"


So much of jazz, it doesn't even have an audience other than the music students or the jazz musicians themselves, and they're completely in love with virtuosic aspects of the music, so everything is about how fast a guy plays. It's not about the musical content and whether the music is emotionally moving or has passion.

At some point, you get into the music and it's only about, well, this is what I want to convey. I'm into me. I'm into my shit. And after a while you look up and say, "Well, that was nice and self-indulgent and fun." Music clearly has to have more meaning than that.
In a lot of ways classical music is in a similar situation to where jazz is, except at least the level of excellence in classical music is more based on the music than it is based on the illusion of reinventing a movement. Everything you read about jazz is: "Is it new? Is it innovative?" I mean, man, there's 12 fucking notes. What's going to be new? You honestly think you're going to play something that hasn't been played already?

My job is to write songs that have emotional meaning to me. Because I believe that if the songs have emotional meaning, that will translate to a larger audience that has the capacity to appreciate instrumental music, 'cause a lot of people don't. And I can't do anything to get them to like my music, and I'm not really trying.



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Andy

Administrator
Staff member
I'm insufficiently qualified to comment really Abe, other that his observations can equally apply to other music forms too. Maybe it's just that he sees jazz as being the most insular manifestation of virtuoso expression yearnings, yet as we know, that exists everywhere & at every level. The need for the individual player to stand out, often at the expense of the music, isn't new, nor is it limited to one genre.
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
So much of jazz, it doesn't even have an audience other than the music students or the jazz musicians themselves, and they're completely in love with virtuosic aspects of the music, so everything is about how fast a guy plays. It's not about the musical content and whether the music is emotionally moving or has passion.
I disagree strongly with Brandon here, jazz is listened by a wide audience and not necessarily a musician's audience, and it's not just because of the virtuosity aspect of this type of music, it's much deeper and more soulful than that.

Also, in my ears, jazz has a lot of emotions and passion, while being widely instrumental only, it can speak more than words on an emotional level.

I'm insufficiently qualified to comment really Abe, other that his observations can equally apply to other music forms too. Maybe it's just that he sees jazz as being the most insular manifestation of virtuoso expression yearnings, yet as we know, that exists everywhere & at every level. The need for the individual player to stand out, often at the expense of the music, isn't new, nor is it limited to one genre.
This is my view as well...

The way I see it... musicians makes music (in whatever style) and audiences appreciate it (or not), the listener makes his/her own mind about it, in any styles. That's the way it goes, always has and always will be.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
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I mean, man, there's 12 fucking notes. What's going to be new? You honestly think you're going to play something that hasn't been played already?
Some bodies been sniffing his own fumes too long. It's statements like these that really bug me about Western music. A) In western music with standardized turnings there are 12 notes. B) The quality and function of the note is highly dependent on the timbre of the instrument. Take trumpet or vibe for example a concert D won't have the same harmonic overtones as a D on guitar, but composers always arrange it as a D is a D is a D. Furthermore, Chinese music has 144 different notes, one based on each scale position. Not to mention the fact that really a C4 is not the same as C5.

Yes, there will be new innovations, but obviously the author isn't up to the challenge.
 

wsabol

Gold Member
Also, his view of jazz musicians in general is a bit short sided. To some extent, yes, more and more there are wildly angular and complex heads/melodies coming out today, and that can impede the translation of emotion. But there are plenty of other cats writing amazing songs filled with simplicity and beautiful displays of emotion. I also goes without saying that improvisation in its purest form is sonic manifestation of the player's emotions. His attitude that everyone in jazz is just stroking their egos and trying to show off how much theory they know is kinda dumb. It sounds like he just bitter that his own music isn't selling...
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
Also, his view of jazz musicians in general is a bit short sided. To some extent, yes, more and more there are wildly angular and complex heads/melodies coming out today, and that can impede the translation of emotion. But there are plenty of other cats writing amazing songs filled with simplicity and beautiful displays of emotion. I also goes without saying that improvisation in its purest form is sonic manifestation of the player's emotions. His attitude that everyone in jazz is just stroking their egos and trying to show off how much theory they know is kinda dumb. It sounds like he just bitter that his own music isn't selling...
Though in many ways it does translate the emotion quite well, the problem is with the emotion itself. Quite frankly there are many emotions out there that are better left in the wood shed. To me he is saying, "I don't feel like doing things differently, but the market is for fresh innovative sounds, so I am just going to muddy the water with every note I can hit, without putting much thought into it, because I have monster reflexes, then call it a day." Many simplistic supposedly emotional players respond reflexively pretty much the same to changing conditions, he just happens to have chops.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
Precisely.

Oh, and about the 12 tones comment… hmm, not really. In an orchestra, a trumpet will play the third of a chord flat if it's a major chord, sharp if it's minor, or right in tune if playing with a fixed-tuning instrument (like a chime, xylophone, etc.). Certainly that goes for other instruments and styles of music, too.
Yep, the notes on a page of sheet music are pretty much just like a silk stalking, you can fill it with just about anything and play a major chord a D is a D is a D. Doesn't matter if the overtone/undertone intervals are a minor thirds, augmented sixths, fourths etc. You can't really talk to these people about the harmonic content of their instrument, because they are that naive. Maybe intelligent response from classical musician might be like this. "Yes, if you play a third line D on a trumpet as fifth of a G chord, it won't sound like a D on a piano, because a trumpet has F and Bb in its overtone series." Then I would know that it is possible to discuss proper theory with this particular classical musician.
 

groove1

Silver Member
There are quite a few of us oldies that prefer what came before Bitches Brew and the ushering in of jazz fusion. I like what Frank Zappa eventually said about jazz..."jazz isn't
dead, it just smells funny". When we play, we play both "for the people" and for "the jazz musicians in the audience". We try to make it where both groups are glad they came to listen.
Anybody who isn't playing for "the people" is missing a great deal in my opinion.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
This is such an old, tired argument that I can barely muster the energy to type this reply.

NEXT TOPIC.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
This is such an old, tired argument that I can barely muster the energy to type this reply.

NEXT TOPIC.
Absolutely.

I'm sitting here listening to Wayne Shorter and co. (including Brian Blade) live in Paris, 2004. The sparsity of their arrangement of 'Footprints' is astounding. Emotionally, melodically and harmonically complex. Just wonderful.

Just the other day, one of my best friends, with no prompting from me started listening to Miles Davis and was raving about it - not knowing I was a regular Jazz listener. I just smiled and said that it was a whole World that needed dedication but one that is incredibly rewarding. I was really excited for her.
 

CraigG

Senior Member
Very thought provoking OP. Interesting responses. Personally, not being a "trained" or "professional" musician I took a couple more things from the statement, remember just my opinions
1. I think European audiences accept and listen to more instrumental music than Americans do in general, I believe it is a cultural/heritage thing. Classical is a good example.
2. Everyone wants to be liked (I posted this as a response to another thread as well) I think we all have a desire of some sort to be accepted/respected, including our likes/dislikes, etc.
3. Is Jazz music marketed the same as pop/rock? I say no, so maybe if there was a way to educate the masses in some way other than is being done now, may see a change in interest. I see more classical music appreciation events than other types.

just my non-sense
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a moment from my standpoint as a bit of a jazz fan. It looks like Wynton is worried that jazz as a genre is no longer loved the way it was before it ventured into - to use another Zappaism - "opaque melodies that would bug most people".

It's an understandable concern from a brilliant, successful traditionalist musician who is watching his genre become an ever smaller minority interest increasingly focused on technicality like classical music.

Given his own success, he sees that there's a jazz audience out there but, to him, many of his peers are "letting the team down" with self indulgence. Yet I've heard Wynton play some pretty modal solos so it seems his beef is not against "opaque melodies" per se so much as a matter of degree - that the amount of "out" playing by many performers is more than many jazz fans can handle.

I can see his point, while enjoying a lot of the music he criticises. I can also see the point of view from more adventurous musicians that he's advocating regression and selling out ... in which case retro jazz may survive as a popular interest but would it matter? Is survival the point?

Let's say Wynton succeeded and all the modal and free players decided to go mainstream, back to the glory days, and somehow brought jazz to a greater level of public interest.

Then what? How would jazz remain fresh - a key concern for improvising musicians - if its musicians are locked into an unchanging melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and textural vocabulary? If we went back to square one and started back at Miles circa the 50s, how could the music avoid staleness and cliché over time without pushing the boundaries? I suspect that jazz would inevitably spawn "opaque melodies" all over again ...

Wynton blew it with his the criticism of newness. It's odd coming from a jazzer, given that jazz is based on the freshness of improvisation. Yes, there are theoretically seemingly endless melodies and harmonies available, even under a 12-tone system, but many of those variations are so similar that the difference is moot and the vast majority of possible melodic and harmonic combinations are dissonant.

Bottom line is that he's not the first conservative to rail against the universe's maddening tendency to constantly evolve and change. So it goes :)
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a moment from my standpoint as a bit of a jazz fan. It looks like Wynton is worried that jazz as a genre is no longer loved the way it was before it ventured into - to use another Zappaism - "opaque melodies that would bug most people".

It's an understandable concern from a brilliant, successful traditionalist musician who is watching his genre become an ever smaller minority interest increasingly focused on technicality like classical music.

Given his own success, he sees that there's a jazz audience out there but, to him, many of his peers are "letting the team down" with self indulgence. Yet I've heard Wynton play some pretty modal solos so it seems his beef is not against "opaque melodies" per se so much as a matter of degree - that the amount of "out" playing by many performers is more than many jazz fans can handle.

I can see his point, while enjoying a lot of the music he criticises. I can also see the point of view from more adventurous musicians that he's advocating regression and selling out ... in which case retro jazz may survive as a popular interest but would it matter? Is survival the point?

Let's say Wynton succeeded and all the modal and free players decided to go mainstream, back to the glory days, and somehow brought jazz to a greater level of public interest.

Then what? How would jazz remain fresh - a key concern for improvising musicians - if its musicians are locked into an unchanging melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and textural vocabulary? If we went back to square one and started back at Miles circa the 50s, how could the music avoid staleness and cliché over time without pushing the boundaries? I suspect that jazz would inevitably spawn "opaque melodies" all over again ...

Wynton blew it with his the criticism of newness. It's odd coming from a jazzer, given that jazz is based on the freshness of improvisation. Yes, there are theoretically seemingly endless melodies and harmonies available, even under a 12-tone system, but many of those variations are so similar that the difference is moot and the vast majority of possible melodic and harmonic combinations are dissonant.
I agree, I think the equation improvisation equals fresh, doesn't hold. In some ways improvisation prevents new stylistic development, and when new improvisational styles emerge the shift tends to be tectonic, because all of the musicians are now improvising in a new way. Bop, hard bop, cool...
 

mikel

Platinum Member
Jazz is really no different to other types of music.

Back in the day it was considered, rightly or wrongly, to be "Selling out" If you changed your bands style of music just so you could be "Popular" and make money. If you played what you liked, and other people liked it, and you made money, then that was excellent and acceptable. I am talking rock/prog etc.

I like Jazz, not all or even most of it, but there are some Jazz classics I would have in my list of all time favorite music. Free Jazz and the off the wall noodling stuff? nah, It has no appeal for me at all.

So you could say that the guys who only play indulgent hard core Jazz, that they like to listen too, are being true to themselves and not "Selling out".
 

AudioWonderland

Silver Member
I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a moment from my standpoint as a bit of a jazz fan. It looks like Wynton is worried that jazz as a genre is no longer loved the way it was before it ventured into - to use another Zappaism - "opaque melodies that would bug most people".

It's an understandable concern from a brilliant, successful traditionalist musician who is watching his genre become an ever smaller minority interest increasingly focused on technicality like classical music.

Given his own success, he sees that there's a jazz audience out there but, to him, many of his peers are "letting the team down" with self indulgence. Yet I've heard Wynton play some pretty modal solos so it seems his beef is not against "opaque melodies" per se so much as a matter of degree - that the amount of "out" playing by many performers is more than many jazz fans can handle.

I can see his point, while enjoying a lot of the music he criticises. I can also see the point of view from more adventurous musicians that he's advocating regression and selling out ... in which case retro jazz may survive as a popular interest but would it matter? Is survival the point?

Let's say Wynton succeeded and all the modal and free players decided to go mainstream, back to the glory days, and somehow brought jazz to a greater level of public interest.

Then what? How would jazz remain fresh - a key concern for improvising musicians - if its musicians are locked into an unchanging melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and textural vocabulary? If we went back to square one and started back at Miles circa the 50s, how could the music avoid staleness and cliché over time without pushing the boundaries? I suspect that jazz would inevitably spawn "opaque melodies" all over again ...

Wynton blew it with his the criticism of newness. It's odd coming from a jazzer, given that jazz is based on the freshness of improvisation. Yes, there are theoretically seemingly endless melodies and harmonies available, even under a 12-tone system, but many of those variations are so similar that the difference is moot and the vast majority of possible melodic and harmonic combinations are dissonant.

Bottom line is that he's not the first conservative to rail against the universe's maddening tendency to constantly evolve and change. So it goes :)
Why are you referring to Wynton? Branford is the person quoted
 

moxman

Silver Member
I'm not a true jazz guy, but have played in a number of jazz bands, big bands, swing bands fusion etc... and I appreciate a lot of jazz - but like any style of music there's some bands/musicians that are awesome and others that put you to sleep. To each their own I guess. Re: that 'jazz is just for how fast you can play' is not necessarily true.. some jazz guys get criticized for 'seeing how many notes they can fit in a bar' or being self-indulgent or playing painfully dissonant stuff. But there's a ton of great, innovative, jazz players out there that rise to the top. I don't see any problems with jazz at all - just another form of music that appeals to some people; others not so much... just like Country.. (how many songs can you write about pickup trucks, tight jeans, tailgate parties and beer cups?)
 
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