I feel the same way. Every time I see you I feel compelled to rap to you. I dig that you’re aware that this music is art and that we’re artists – it seems that all to often musicians forget that. It’s like they become ultimate fans and because of that, what they express is their knowledge of what their heroes played. With this approach to the music, rules are created to make sure the imagination is disengaged. (They were better than us, therefore we have not earned the right to be creative thinkers – how dare you think artistically)
I say none of this in the spirit of “that’s been done, we must play something new”. Every time you play it’s new – a painting that didn’t exist is born. So if it can ONLY be new, a modern creation, all that was discussed before is conceptual. All the discussion is really about is what is the best avenue and conception to create this music. I would say that you and I agree that honesty and artistic integrity is a good place to start and finish. It seems to me, that sounding original is a given – how could one not sound like themselves? This is the deep part. Yes, cats bust their ass to sound like past and/or current heroes. It seems that their ultimate goal is to sound like their heroes (of course there’s the flip side to this where in one’s desire to be new, they ignore the needed study). But I don’t think this necessarily is the problem. Dig this, I gotta go around a corner here, but there is a conclusion to this tangential rant. As you know, and have heard me speak about often – the lack of listening and lack of true bandstand awareness is huge. Ensemble music with a large component of improvisation, an essential need for coordination, and a feeling that must exist – exist in the overall sound of the group and exist in each of the individuals of the group, is being played without the musicians listening to each other. Ensembles are playing together with numerous members, if not all the members of the group not listening.
Another thing that has been on my mind lately is the difference between the practice room and the bandstand, the process of studying versus the mindset of creating music. In the practice room it’s all about you. You have to focus intensly on yourself. You have to scrutinize yourself, concentrate on what YOU are doing and how you are doing it. In many ways the practice room is the polar opposite of the bandstand. If one approaches the actual making of music in the same manner as they approach practicing, it’s a huge mistake – It is and would be detrimental to the art of making music. For me, one of the goals of practicing the bass is to make the bass the last thing I’m thinking about when playing. I don’t mean this in a literal sense, obviously I think about the bass when playing. I want the instrument to be comfortable so I can listen to what’s going on around me and react. I don’t want to be thinking about how the bass is kicking my ass or that the tempo is too fast and I hope I don’t have to solo, etc. Many musicians do not understand how to switch the point of view from what they are playing to what the band is playing. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the problem is one of being selfish, what I think happens is that one gives the instrument they are playing more importance simply because they are playing it. It’s easier said than done, but if one can learn to really hear the group as one thing, and share the experience on the level where if someone other than yourself is having a great night, it feels the same way as if it were you.
Take the drum set for example, it’s heard as one instrument. When you here a drummer you don’t critique a sextet, you don’t hear a percussion section. I remember years back, Shannon Powell took me to this club deep in the hood in New Orleans; I believe it was called Petroleum Pub. They were playing New Orleans music and Shannon sat in. The drums were being played separately – Shannon played snare, this other cat played a bass drum that had a cymbal attached, etc. And these cat’s played in a way that if you closed your eyes, it sounded like a drum set. And it was killin!!!
So all that being said, as usual, for me it comes back to listening and awareness.
Another thing in a similar vein to how different the practice room is to the bandstand. There’s a group of musicians who attach themselves to Charlie Parker and be-bop music. They learn the solos, they know the bebop tunes, in fact these cats usually know a pile of standards as well. The people in this clique are usually very studious, very serious and dedicated and also very sincere. I’ve heard these musicians talked about in a negative way, cat’s saying it’s fucked up that they only are into one thing, and the whole gamut of whatever’s. The music these cat’s are into is some of the greatest artistic achievements that’s ever existed. As far as I’m concerned, Bird is on that level with Bach, Shakespeare, and the few other – artists whose creations are truly beyond compare if one were to judge quality. So these bebop cats (as I’ve heard them referred to as) are listening to and studying Bird, Bud, Monk, Dizzy, Tadd Damerron, not to mention early Miles and KD – they are also usually into Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Hawk, Prez, etc. Also, they are probably quite aware of Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughn, Lady Day, and perhaps Sinatra as well – and of course Duke and Basie. Also, many of these musicians attend Barry Harris’s class and learn from that bebop master. So the music they are into and attaching themselves to isn’t the problem. It’s beautiful they love such great music, real art music, the truth. It’s beautiful and admirable that they study this music with such diligence. So I want to be clear, I have no problem with the music and/or musicians they’re studying. The problem I have with this group is with the way a lot of them play and some of the ways they use the information. A lot of times, we as musicians attach so much of ourselves to our hero’s that we start giving less credit to other masters. How many times have you heard, when Kind of Blue is mentioned, cats rush to say they prefer Wynton Kelly. It’s like they’re starting the conversation with an ad hominem argument. Wynton’s on one tune and he’s killin, Bill’s on the rest and he’s killin. I have definitely been guilty of this. When Scott LaFaro is brought up I might say yeah, but he’s no Paul Chambers – I’m defending my hero and what I like – and I will not let someone steal Paul’s spotlight. So meanwhile while we stand around arguing about this cat or that cat, the art doesn’t change. The painting is what it is – all the rest is byproduct. Back to the modern musicians who attach themselves to bebop. Here are the two main issues I have with this group:
a. Because of their love for this music they devalue other music that followed. If we take the stance that the music that followed the bebop movement is a lesser music, that doesn’t or at least shouldn’t say to us that we shouldn’t listen to or study this music. Should a writer ignore all things after Shakespeare?
b. The music seems to be studied primarily from a harmonic point of view. Yes, they mention the obvious rhythms of Monk and Dizzy; the make mention of the “bombs” dropped by the great bebop drummers like Max Roach and Klook. But essentially, this group of musicians who align themselves with the bebop cats, seem to connect and primarily study the harmonic aspect of that music. This is rhythm music; the rhythm cannot be ignored. The element that must be there, that you can hear in Birds music; Louis Armstrong’s music; Monks music; Miles’s music; Trane’s music; Duke’s music; Lady Day’s music; Hawk, Prez, the list goes on. What you hear is, you hear what Miles called “that thing”. At this point I could go in a whole other direction, with my theories on why so many white musicians are the way they are, but not now.
I believe much of “that thing” resides in the rhythm.
Now the flip side to this is another kind of musician: creative, swingin, inventive, but a complete lack of history and lack of study. Again, like the other group, the positive aspects are beautiful. But the lack of history and study is a problem. It’s reflected in ones sound – for instance; you can tell immediately when a drummer hasn’t checked out the great jazz drummers. Their brush playing is weak; they haven’t really made the 4/4 swing groove part of who they are, therefore they play very busy to cover up this inadequacy. With the pianists you here the lack of study perhaps in their lines and touch. The bassists haven’t fell in love with the walking bass line so they have difficulty connecting quarter notes. The rhythm section players, much like the rhythm section players from the musicians aligned with bebop, are very inflexible and can only play one way. The horn players from the bebop clique can “make” the changes but don’t listen for shit. The horn players from the other group might not know as much harmony, but usually have stronger sounds and rhythm. To say it in less words: I hear one cat I might think, just think if he new some bebop. I hear another and I think, this is so boring, this cat needs to know why his heroes played what they played. This is interesting because I’m kind of in between these two groups. Obviously it’s not as simple as this, the New York jazz scene is far more than two groups of musicians – I’m using this as a way of getting to something. I will say this, if you take the better musicians from each of these groups, I would be more interested in the swingin musician who needs to study versus the musician who’s studied but has no idea how to make music.
Again these are words, philosophies explored to better understand. As time goes on I find so many exceptions to my rules. For example, for years I wouldn’t play with drummers who played match grip when they are swinging. I believed, and still believe it doesn’t feel right, the triplet doesn’t come out a certain way. Mel Lewis and Tony Williams said the same thing. Not one of the great drummers of jazz (except for Max, later in his life} played match grip when swinging. I can make a good case. But the thing is, Donald Edwards plays match grip when he’s swinging, (not all the time, but often), and he is without a doubt, my favorite drummer to play with.
Man, I could keep typing, but I’m going to stop and send it to you.