Thursday, June 9, 2011

Faking it (even if you're not making it!)

Today I'd like to discuss the subject of preparation. Obviously, the more time we devote to learning the music, our instruments, etc, the better we can perform on the gig or recording we're doing. In the world of professional music (especially improvised music) however, sometimes we have to do the best we can with the limited time and resources we have. Let me provide an example.
This tune is from a great Freddie Hubbard recording entitled "Here To Stay". The tune is called "Nostrand and Fulton", named after an intersection in Brooklyn near where Freddie lived. The tune has a very odd form. 4 bars of 4/4, 9 bars of 3/4, 4 bars of 4/4, 12 bars of 3/4. Philly Joe Jones is the drummer. Let's listen to him navigate this tricky tune.

Now, I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest Philly got a bit off the rails at times on this one. The hi-hat placement at times really suggests he doesn't always know where he is. He doesn't let this deter him though. He plays with his usual great feel and panache. In other words, even though he's a bit messed up, he's still going for it and playing it like he means it. The Blue Note recordings had a days paid rehearsal the day before the recording but maybe Philly couldn't make it, or they didn't have time to rehearse all the tunes, or maybe when the red light went on, he occasionally lost his focus (been there, done that!)
This is not meant in any way to denigrate Philly Joe Jones. He was an artist of the highest order. In fact it's great to hear someone of his calibre struggling a bit with the material. We're all human, you know? Also, I like the loose phrasing that's created by him searching for the form sometimes, although part of the reason this works is because Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman are laying it down so strongly. I hope Philly bought them a beer (or something) for their efforts after the session was over. Did Philly Joe never record again after this session? Of course not. I think this recording is a great example of how Jazz music is about the journey as much as the destination. So if you're traveling somewhere with Philly Joe Jones, no matter what happens on the way, you're going to have an adventure!

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