Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Amiri Baraka and Lester Young

Good evening everyone!

I was just looking up some information on Amiri Baraka and came across some really interesting readings of his poetry that he has done. In many of his poems he references Lester "Prez" Young, the great tenor sax player. In one of Baraka's poems, written after Obama's inauguration, the poet utilizes Young and his nickname as a reference to the new "prez," Barack Obama. Not that I am trying to push any liberal agenda here, just thought it was a way of utilizing jazz influences that we had not yet come across in class. Below are links to some readings of Baraka (all of which include blatant jazz influences) as well as some really incredible works by Lester Young that I feel help give Baraka's work some context.

I hope you enjoy them and I'll see you tomorrow in class, Drew.






Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Couple of Events

The Commons has scheduled additional jazz concerts on April 7 and April 23 at 7:30 in Spooner Hall. The first concert will feature KU Jazz Combos I, II, and III, and the second concert will feature Nick Weiser on piano and William Cleary on alto sax. Nick got his undergrad here at KU and is now completing a masters at the Eastman School of Music in New York.

Koch's "The History of Jazz"

The History of Jazz. Read by the author.

Maria Schneider's Jazz

Why “Jazz Composer” Is Not An Oxymoron | Maria Schneider | Big Think

I recently discovered the music of Maria Schneider, a Grammy Award-winning jazz composer. She's been working since the early 90s, and she's one of the most influential new jazz writers of today. The above video describes her views on improvisation and what it means to make jazz and music itself - a pretty general topic, but an interesting view on improvisation and composition. Her music is eclectic but beautiful - some may classify it as some type of smooth jazz, but it's definitely better than Kenny G. She uses lots of Latin, African, and Brazilian beats and ideas in her work, but other pieces are just gorgeously simple. Schneider's music has obviously developed, changing styles and ideas over the roughly 15 years she's been putting out albums.

This is one of her more recent pieces, "A 'Pretty' Road." In it, we can see some generalizations of Schneider's composition style - her pieces are more melody-driven and harmonized than the modern, avant-garde jazz we've been listening to in class lately. However, there are definitely elements of improvisation, and not just in the solos - even though we know the music is written out for the ensemble, it still feels like it is being improvised, which she encourages. Her instrumentation also deserves recognition - in her early years, she was known for reviving the idea of the "big band" which had fallen out of favor by both composing music for it and changing its instrumentation. Keeping most of the traditional big band instruments - rhythm section, trumpet, trombone, and saxes - she adds some instruments that are somewhat used in jazz - the flugelhorn, clarinet, and flute - and some that we rarely or seemingly never see - bass clarinet, alto flute, accordion, and some electronic alteration. We also hear vocals, but she leaves out the words and lets the vocalist create her own ideas with the sound. Overall, while Schneider's sound may unclassifiable, it's definitely something new, which seems to be what jazz is about a lot of the time - resurrecting old ideas, revitalizing them, and taking things in an entirely new direction. And Schneider's jazz is definitely a good direction.

Esperanza Spalding

I was introduced to Esperanza Spalding a couple of years ago. She's different than the jazz we've been studying, mostly because she's much more modern, but she's fabulous. She plays the bass and many of her songs are in Spanish and Portuguese, if I'm correct. I saw her in concert about a year ago and she was fantastic. This is one of my favorite songs by her, Ponta de Areia.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ella Fitzgerald

Just wanted to post this song of Ella's, it is really beautiful.

Ronnie Scott's

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had wonderful and relaxing Spring Breaks! I was lucky enough to go on KUs "London Review" Break and I had the opportunity to go to a show at the legendary Jazz Club Ronnie Scott's. This jazz club was founded in 1959 by Ronnie Scott and Pete King and moved to its current location in 1965. Since then, it has hosted such musicians as Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Curtis Mayfield, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Bill Evans, Art Pepper, Nina Simone, Van Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix (in his last live performance). Below is a video of Curtis Mayfield performing his "Pusherman" at Ronnie Scott's (split up by portions of an interview).

My impression of the club was mixed. On one hand, I sat thinking in awe about the musicians who had performed on that stage. On the other, I thought a lot about the 30 pound (around $50) entrance fee and the almost exclusively white musicians and audience members. I scrawled the word "gentrified" quickly on my notes, and noted that the median age in the club, tucked away beside Soho Square, was by my estimation probably around 40 or 50. The speciality drink menu highlighted the favorite drinks of jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Jelly Roll Morton.

The performers I saw were called the James Taylor Quartet. They played in a funk style, and had local music students come up with the band and had one woman vocalist perform a few songs with the group. They played funk but within the jazz tradition, doing solos and improvising often. Sometimes the funk leaned towards world jazz and even new age music, and was very conscious of it's electronic possibilities. The band is credited with helping to create and further the genre of "acid jazz." The group performed the theme of Starsky and Hutch and one track on the Austin Powers soundtrack album. I was definitely the most interested in the songs they played with the vocalist, Yvonne Yanney. Below is a clip of the group performing in Switzerland with Yvonne.

I am happy that I had the opportunity to see a show at this historic club. Here is a tribute video for Ronnie Scott's because it is in its 50th year.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

3 categories

In the lecture last night the speaker, Tammy Kernodle, distinguished three categories of religious influence in jazz:

(1) In secular jazz, patterns derived from the African-American church, like call and response patterns in "Moanin'," as played by Art Blakey.

(2) Direct expressions of religious sentiment, as in Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."

(3) Writing directly for the liturgy, as in Mary Lou Williams's masses.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tension & Release in AABA form

Tension and release is not only harmonic. For example, melodically speaking, rising phrases tend to create tension, and falling phrasing are resolving. Rhythmically ambiguous figures are tension-builders, while the return to the original beat is felt as a resolution. These are very basic ideas and I am not developing them with any great musical sophistication--something I couldn't do even if I wanted.

So applying these ideas to the AABA song form.

A: first four measures is like a question, second four measure like an answer.
A. A repetition of the same form, but at the end of measure 16, the resolution is deferred, instead we have the ...
B section, or bridge. Usually in a different key, which is felt to create tension. (For example, in Monk's "Bemsha Swing" the B section is identical to the A, but transposed up a fourth. This song is AABA but a 16 bar, not 32-bar, form. But the same principles apply.)
A: The 4th A section is identical to the first, Resolving the tension created in the bridge.

An example of Coltrane moving through this form is his own composition "Impressions," which can also be heard in the Village Vanguard sessions. Once again, he blurs the boundary between tension and resolution through a combination of great intensity and a great deal of repetitiveness. He never really plays the same thing twice, yet you feel that he is playing the same underlying thing over and over again. No other musician that I know of has explored the two extremes of relaxation and tension to the same degree--sometimes even in the same composition.

Louis Armstrong Interview

Hey guys, I just got done writing our second composition in part on Louis Armstrong and really just fell in love with his music. What I did here was include a link an interview with Louis Armstrong, because he is just so interesting, a link to his version of Édith Piaf's
"La Vie en Rose," as well as some of his other stuff. I hope you like it.

"A note is a note in any language." - Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tension & Release in "Chasin' the Trane"

I was listening to "Live at the Village Vanguard: The Master Takes" in my car just now. The third cut off this cd is "Chasin' the Trane." (Charlie Parker has a composition called "Chasin' the Bird.") It's a twelve-bar form, a blues progression essentially, done at about 240 bpm, so that the second chorus strats at :13, the third at :25, and so on. The song in its totality lasts 16 minutes, so there are about 64 choruses, let's say. I haven't counted. The entire recording is one extended solo by Coltrane, with bass and drums, no piano.

We've talked in class about how Coltrane's modal compositions create an almost static effect: there is no tension and release because the improvisations take place against a single scale. In contrast, "Chasin' the Trane" is tension release tension release tension release tension release [repeat 64 times in rapid succession.] The same musician, then, is given to exploring the extreme of tension / release and its virtual elimination.

(A third possibility is "Cotrane Changes" in songs like "Giant Steps," where instead of an extremely simple harmonic progression, there is an extraordinarily complex one that cycles through many keys.)

Where the extremes meet is in the fact that Coltrane plays with such intensity and speed that the listener can hear tension / release- tension/release in rapid succession almost as one long, virtually static wail rather than as a series of discrete choruses starting and stopping again. It's not as though 'Trane were pausing between choruses to regroup. The absence of piano also means that it is harder to follow the chords--especially when he is playing notes outside the harmonic structure of the song and overblowing, producing intense sound effects and making the beginnings and ends of the 12 bar phrases less identifiable. It ends up being all tension with very little release; at least that's how I experience it. It's fast, intense, driving music you could almost meditate to.

Really long solos have their own logic. In big band music often a soloist had 8 bars--not even a full chorus--to make a significant statement.


It's interesting how Anthony Braxton in the interview segment we watched in class yesterday used the word "cerebral" to talk about the reception of his work. In other words, he was viewed as too intellectual. The same term has been used of Lennie Tristano and others of his school in the 1950s, and of many white musicians generally. Cerebral is the opposite of emotional, and generally speaking the word has negative connotations.

Some listeners find almost all jazz to be too cerebral, yet within jazz itself there is a division between heart and head--at least in the way people talk about jazz. I myself don't find Braxton to be too cerebral. If he is, then he is in the same way that Ornette or Coltrane is. Or Miles Davis or Max Roach. Intelligence dose not kill emotional response--in fact, the two go together very well in jazz with no contradictions at all.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I've been able to find quite a few sections of this interview with Braxton on Youtube.

A Tribute to Ella

This is a song that's featured on "We All Love Ella" a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. This song is called Airmail Special sung by Nikki Yanofsky. At the time the CD was released, she was only like 11 or 12. But check out this video; she's incredible.

Sonny Sharrock

A commenter on this blog suggested we check out guitarist Sonny Sharrock. I'm not very familiar with him but I found this clip on youtube.

Elvin Jones

Room change

Don't forget we will be meeting in 2600 Wescoe today.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jazz in Film

In a famous scene from the 1957 film Funny Face, Audrey Hepburn dances in a smoky Parisian bar. The music she dances to sounds like avant garde jazz, and from what we learned in class, that jazz movement was bigger in Europe and France specifically.

I wonder how accurately the jazz club was depicted. I imagine that using this stereotype of a jazz club and the black turtleneck Hepburn wears as a symbol of the beatnik/jazz culture was all exaggerated by Hollywood like hip hop or rock and roll culture often is today.