Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some random dude reading Baraka's Am/Track with Coltrane in the Background

Jazz Guitar

So far in class, we haven't talked much about jazz guitar other than its traditional role in the rhythm section. After years of the development of jazz, guitarists have found a way to break out of that strictly rhythm role and take the lead. While guitar-lead jazz is certainly different than the bop, hard bop, etc. we are so familiar with, it still has great swing (earlier music) and some very talented players play some great solos much like the horn greats we all know and love.

Here is a very early and extremely important guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt was born in Belgium in 1910, and his musical career spanned from 1928 to 1953. Reinhardt was a great forerunner to jazz guitarists today. Another interesting fact; Reinhardt played largely with only two fingers on his fretting had due to a childhood accident, so his playing becomes even more impressive after this fact.

Another notable guitarist is Larry Carlton. Carlton played many kinds of music in his career, but was always influenced by artists such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He played one of the most famous guitar solos of all time on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" but his guitar skill was, in my opinion, more evident in his jazz recordings. This style is much more of a jazz fusion, but his playing still retains a very jazzy and improvised quality. The second guitarist in this video is Lee Ritenour, another notable jazz guitarist.

Other notable Jazz guitarists include John Mclaughlin, who plays primarily jazz fusion (in fact, he played on Miles Davis' later electric fusion albums) but has done some more classic style tracks as well. Wes Montgomery was also a great jazz guitarist who spanned many genres of jazz.

And Pat Metheny, a very well known and critically acclaimed Jazz guitarist in the 70s and 80s, is from Lee's Summit, Missouri, which is very close to Kansas City.

Jazz Poetry

I found an article that fits in with our talks about jazz poetry, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat generation. I love love love Kerouac’s quote regarding “beat”: “Beatitude, not beat up. You feel this. You feel it in a beat, in jazz real cool jazz.”

Another section I found interesting was “bop prosody,” a prose poetry style described as words in random bursts and comparable to that of a stream of consciousness, specifically Jack Kerouac, which is exactly what we came up with in class after listening to his work.

This article mentions two beat poets that I am interested in learning more about: John Clellon Holmes (who, according to the article, was a devout lover of jazz musicians) and Leroi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. Being an African-American poet, he was able to relate more to jazz musicians).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jazz Combo in Spooner.

Unfortunately, we have two events going on at the same time (Wed. 7:30): Moten's reading and the faculty jazz combo. Both are relevant to our course. I would recommend that you go to at least ONE of these events, and, of course, to Moten's lecture on Thursday. I wasn't directly involved in scheduling these two events or I would have noticed the conflict before now.
Moten's reading tomorrow.
Since several students are taking trips this week, I am postponing the 2nd writing assignment until 3/4. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Interview w. Miles Davis

I thought that this interview was a really great representation of Miles Davis and offers insight into the "cool" school of Jazz.

Don't miss Kenny Garrett

Hey the KU Jazz Festival is the weekend of March 6th. The featured group this year is the Kenny Garrett combo. In case you don't know him, he is a world wide know alto sax player and has put out a number of well selling jazz albums. He was a side man for Miles Davis before he became really popular.

Garrett is a unique player with a very unique sound. His playing style is hard bop with influences of R&B, Blues and Gospel. His tone is a bit harsher than most alto players and works kind of as his signature. He is one of my favorite players and I have used alot of his licks myself. His approach to soloing draws heavily from the modes and penatonic scales. If you want to check something out of his I reccommend his album "Song Book." I'll admit the melodies are somewhat exotic but if fits his style and approach well, lots of tastefull dissonances.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Giant Steps and Def Jam

John Coltrane’s recording “Giant Steps” is a monumental jazz work. Not only is it a popular melody, but also features what most consider the most difficult jazz improvisation in the history of jazz. The chord changes occur increasingly fast and Coltrane plays through it all effortlessly. John Coltrane liked to record songs unrehearsed and this was the case with “Giant Steps.” Due to the complexity, the pianist, Tommy Flanagan, could not keep up with Coltrane and floundered trying to play a solo over the others for the first take. The video below is indeed Tommy Flanagan on another shot at playing, when he was better prepared for the piece. This just goes to show that even professionals can get in over their heads when they work with such extraordinary musicians as John Coltrane.

The video is a transcription of the solo as it is played on the recording. It is fascinating to watch the notes unfurl effortlessly and see all the changes he is accounting for instantaneously. Astounding.

In a more contemporary setting, Slam Poetry has taken somewhat a similar role to jazz poetry. Slam poetry can sometimes include music as well, alluding to its roots in the jazz culture. There is an inherent performance quality to this style of poetry, something else that is remarkably similar to jazz. Here, one of my favorite slam poets, Rives, uses sign language and humor to make some beautiful points. Much like jazz musicians (like Coltrane in “Giant Steps”) utilizing the entire range of the instrument and technical facets, poets use their gamut of emotions and physical gestures to enhance the performance.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pure Improvisation

The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett has to be one of my favorite jazz albums of all time, and it's also the best-selling solo jazz album in history. A friend in high school introduced me to it, telling me that he listened to it almost everyday and could sing along to most of it by heart. In 1975, Keith Jarrett recorded this concert at the Cologne Opera House in Germany, and it's just over an hour of pure improvisation. And while this sounds like it would be too free-form to repeatedly listen to, it has so much drive and structure that it's hard to believe that he made it up on the spot. In certain sections of the piece, he spends as much as 12 minutes improvising while vamping over a chord or chord pattern. It's so relaxing to listen to, but it still covers a wide range of emotional and musical ideas, from melancholy blues melodies to upbeat, ostinato rhythms.
Here's the first part of the first section of the piece: (it's traditionally divided into four sections, with the first being about 26 minutes long)

Here's another clip of Jarrett playing, this time from a different concert. Notice how physical he gets when he's playing: in certain parts of
The Köln Concert, you can hear Jarrett banging on the piano and pedals to create percussion, and also sings along at other points.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jazz & Hip Hop

As I said in class, after the Kerouac reading this week, my mind went straight back to the 10th grade. All of the cars I found myself in sported tape decks, and of the tapes I listened to, I remember well an album by Gang Starr. Gang Starr is a hip hop group that overtly drew inspiration (and samples) from jazz. A close friend of mine in high school had turntables, and was constantly mixing jazz with hip hop. It seemed even then like a natural marriage, and helped me to see that hip hop transposes much from jazz, especially those artists in groups like Gang Starr, The Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest. A lot of hip hop (and hip hop culture) is so clearly drawing from literary traditions like stream of consciousness and musical traditions like improvisation and call and response. The culture is full of the same kind of competition and virtuosity that we have talked about in class. Below are some of the most obvious tracks that incorporate jazz, but there are many many more.

This video is Gang Starr's "Jazz Thing." Notice the parallel with Kerouac's "History of Bop."

This is Gang Starr's "Words I Manifest," set in part to a Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia."

This is The Digable Planets "Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like Dat)." Most obviously a Miles Davis reference, but a tribute to many jazz artists.

Lastly, A Tribe Called Quest's "Footprints" off of their album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.

Such good stuff. Dig it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

SOLO Thelonious

Here is some music from my favorite jazz musician, Thelonious Monk. I love all of his stuff, but I find his solo work to be the MOST wonderful. I think it is both easy and hard to comprehend, but most of all, fun and relaxing to listen to. Here is a video I found of his solo work online, playing "Everything Happens to Me." My favorite song of his is "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," off of his Monk, Alone in Paris album, which is easy to stream off of for free. Anyway, listen to the Monk and relax!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jazz Will Make You Smart

I was listening to Bach's "Art of the Fugue" and began to think. Bach wrote that work to demonstrate how to write a fugue: it's a kind of musical treatise or textbook in which he writes a series of fugues on a simple theme. Other of his works have this "textbook" quality, like the "Well-Tempered Clavier." He is not only providing a learning tool for subsequent musicians, but also showing that the musical creative genius is a kind of student, someone who undertakes a systematic study of something to see how it all works.

Max Roach's body of work has that kind of quality too: he was known as an intellectual among bop musicians and I feel that studying his solos, really taking them apart, to be very rewarding. By listening to him we are also studying the work of a great student. We are getting into his thought processes.

Intelligence, in any field, is driven by the desire to discover the inner logic of things, how things work from the inside out. You feel this, for example, in looking at Picasso's numerous studies of Velásquez's great painting "La meninas." Education, even at the highest levels, tends to emphasize the acquisition of knowledge, but erudition is not intelligence. If you take an approach to learning that is oriented toward discovering how things work, you will acquire a lot of erudition along the way, but, more importantly, you will develop real intelligence, which I define as the capacity to draw connections within and between complex systems. In some sense the knowledge (erudition) is the easy part. For example, if you asked me analyze the rhythmic interactions between Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Red Garland in the Miles Davis quintet rhythm section, that would be very difficult. It would require a lot of close listening and analysis. But if I'm trying to do that then I already know who Miles's drummer was at the time.

Jazz provides a good opportunity to exercise this kind of intelligence because of its complexity and subtlety. Since jazz is already a complex musical style, and takes place as one part of a complex culture, then interpreting its place within culture involves relating two complex systems to each other.

Now I think you'll say that to this you have to be very, very intelligent. I agree to a certain extent, except that I would put it another way: the way to become intelligent is to do things like this.

This shouldn't really be a wholly new approach for you. I think good students figure this out for themselves eventually. Sometimes very intelligent students, however, don't really get it. They still think of education mostly as acquiring knowledge and doing well in classes rather than trying to figure out the secret logic of things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


We're reading Cortázar in English. I want you to think a little bit about the translation. You don't have to compare it to the original, but just make some notes about things you notice in the English translation. What is the language like?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

"The Rhythm Section" in this case is that of the Miles Davis Quintet of the 1950s: Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland, Paul Chambers. Interesting that the record would be marketed like this. This only shows how soon that rhythm section was recognized as the best. Pepper blends in very well with this rhythm section.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Four against Five

A four against five polyrhythm can be counted out like this:

ONE 2 3 4
ONE 2 3 4

Use the words "It's / coming, / there's no place / to hide" to remember this rhythm.

Doodlin with polyrhythms

The song "Doodlin'" by Horace Silver sets up an interesting 3 against 4 figure. The song is in 4/4, but the motif is a three beat figure, staring on the 2nd beat of the first measure, like so:

one TWO and a three four
ONE and a two three
FOUR and a one two
THREE and a four one two three four

and then again in the second four measure phrase of this twelve-bar blues. The last four measures resolves this tension but reverting to a straight 4/4 count. A thing of beauty.

The swung 8th note pattern is really based on triplet rhythms. If you hear it like that, and accent every other note, then you get quarter note triplets: 6 instead of 4 beats to the measure:

Inestead of counting ONE and a TWO and a THREE and a FOUR and a

do it like this

ONE and A two AND a THREE and A four AND a

Or ONE two THREE four FIVE six instead of ONE two three FOUR five six

This creates a 4 against 6 polyrhythm. Youl'll hear jazz drummers playing around with this all the time.


There's an interesting give and take between vocal and instrumental jazz, beginning with Armstrong who was both the first great recorded jazz singer per se and the greatest soloist of the earliest period of recorded jazz. Really great horn players listen to singers and often model themselves after vocal stylings. (I've heard classical wind and brass players say the same thing so this isn't limited to jazz.) You can hear this in Lester Young, who admired Billie Holiday and Sinatra; in Miles Davis, who often interpreted songs sung by these same singers. The singers also provide a connection to the songs themselves.

By the same token a singer can model his or her stylings on horn players.

A playlist based on this concept might begin with the following:

Armstrong playing and singing "Body and Soul"
Sinatra and MIles playing their separate versions of Rodgers and Hart's "It Never Entered my Mind."
Sinatra and Lester Young playing their separate versions of "Taking a chance on Love."
Lester Young accompanying Billie Holiday on the collection "A Musical Romance" (various songs)
John Coltrane playing with singer Johnny Hartman on "My One and Only Love."
Vocalese versions of "Moody's Mood for Love." An improvised jazz solo by James Moody on the tune "I'm in the Mood for Love" later set to words.


When swing style pop vocals like those of Tony Bennett became eclipsed by rock music in the mid 1960s, it freed Bennett up to be a jazzier singer. The same happened with Rosemarie Clooney--a pop star in the 1950s but a jazz artist later in life. Interestingly, rock musicians popular in the 1970s like Linda Rondstat and Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, also turned to the great songs of the great American songbooks much later in their careers--with varying results, some good, some bad.

Nat Cole began as a jazz pianist. When he began singing that talent eclipsed his piano playing and he became an international pop star. His brother, Freddie Cole, has had an interesting career as a jazz singer, using a Nat King Cole-like voice but a more jazzy, less pop feel. Even Armstrong did pop vocals in his later career that have little to do (seemingly) with his jazz roots: "It's a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly."

Vocal music, then, has always been close to the commercial side of jazz, often to the point of not being jazz anymore. To what point the dichotomy between jazz singing and popular music is valid, I don't know. Is Sinatra singing jazz with Count Basie and pop with Nelson Riddle? For me, Sinatra is a jazz artist. He even tried to hire Billy Strayhorn away from Duke at one point...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Billie Holiday--First Issue--The Great American Songbook

Billie Holiday's Great American Songbook was not designed as such: it is, rather, a collection of 34 songs put together long after her death to commemorate a postage stamp. It forms a nice contrast with Ella's Songbook series. I'd listen to Ella to learn the songs, and to Billie to discover some of their emotional depth.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


The Great American Songbook

I'm at home listening to an LP (vinyl) of Ella Fitzgerald's Duke Ellington Songbook. Ella did a whole series of songbooks recording music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Duke. This music is important to listen to for a few reasons.

The quality of the original music and lyrics, the excellent arrangements, and Ella's near flawless singing. Many of the arrangements are by Nelson Riddle, who had some classic albums with Sinatra. The arrangements on the Duke songbook album are by Duke himself with the great Billy Strayhorn. (Strayhorn wrote many classics identified with Ellington's band, such as "Take the A-Train." )

Listening to Ella's songbooks is a good way to learn a lot of standard tunes, with both words and music. If we take all the Ella's songbooks together, we have most of the best songs by eight or nine of the great composers and songwriting teams of twentieth-century American popular music. There are some songs missing: she never did a Hoagy Carmichael songbook, for example. But it will give you a good head start. Not all the songs she sang became classic jazz instrumental standards, but quite of few of them are.

Knowing the lyric of a song is a good idea. In the first place, it helps you to remember what the song is called, if you hear it played and not sung. Secondly, some of these lyrics are extremely well-written pieces of "written jazz." Thirdly, knowing the words gives you an emotional connection to the song, even if you are hearing a purely instrumental version.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to post a video

Find the video you want at you Tube.

Find the "embed" window on the right hand side of the screen. Copy the text in this window.

Open a new post in blogger.

Paste the text into your post.

Write a title for your post.

Push "publish post."

Monk -- epistrophy

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Count Basie

Camarón canta un romance de Lorca

Not really jazz--I posted this on the blog for my other class but posted it here by mistake first. I thought I'd leave it here anyway.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First assignment here.

Playlist for 2/2

Mahalia Jackson. "Get Away Jordan" (Spiritual)
Bessie Smith. "Backwater Blues" (early recorded blues)
Scott Joplin. "Maple Leaf Rag" (ragtime)
"Maple Leaf Rag" as played by Jelly Roll Morton.
Morton. "King Porter Stomp"
Louis Armstrong. "West End Blues"
Billie Holiday. "How Deep is the Ocean"
Benny Goodman. "Moten Swing"
Duke Ellington. "Cottontail."
Earl Fatha Hines and Johnny Hodges. "Perdido"
Billy Strayhorn (comp) "Cheslea Bridge"

Lecture Series

Press release about the Writing Jazz lecture series.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Listening to Earlier Styles

It's a good idea to have "big ears" when listening to earlier styles of jazz. Contemporary jazz sounds contemporary; we don't need to make a huge effort to bridge the gap between ourselves and the music. Early styles can sound "dated" or "corny" sometimes. Poor recording quality can also affect our reactions. We have to realize that Louis Armstrong sounded revolutionary in his day: nobody who wasn't from New Orleans had ever heard any music even remotely like that in the 1920s. It was also wholly contemporary with the so-called "jazz age" of the 1920s. It was the equivalent of the Beatles in 1964 or hip hop in the late 80s: something fresh and new.

You don't necessarily have to like something to appreciate it. In other words, there will be things you don't necessarily identify with on a personal level, but you can see how this music was considered fresh, new, innovative for its time.

When I was kid the movie "The Sting" came out with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The sound track featured "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin--a ragtime piece. Suddenly every kid who took piano lessons wanted to play that--including me. So in the 1970s there was a revival of the "hip" music from the 1890s.