Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Carrying the Torch" vs. "Hip and Modern"

Hey everyone,
I wanted to quickly talk about the divide in Jazz circles that seems to be going on forever. It's the divide caused by the crowd that wants to "carry the torch" (play only standard tunes, play only in 4/4 time, etc.) and those that want to be "hip and modern" ( play only originals, never play in 4 etc.). I feel that both these "camps" are illusions and can be traps as well. As far as carrying the torch goes, there's been original music written throughout jazz's history, from Louis Armstrong's Hot 5 on. From Ellington, to Monk, to Wayne Shorter and Steve Swallow and beyond, writing new music has and always will be part of the tradition. Conversely, I find I know run into people that almost brag that they don't know any standard tunes. How would you play with new musicians you've just met in Italy? Would you bring your books and teach them one of your own tunes? No, you'd use what Keith Jarrett calls "the tribal language" and play a standard tune. (This works even if the musicians you're jamming with don't understand english!)
When you actually look at a lot of the musicians that are out there really playing right now, most of them perform (and often record) their own tunes and standard tunes. I think it's incumbent for us to work on both types of vehicles. So if you're someone who only plays other people's tunes, try writing a contrafact. This is a fancy way of saying write a melody on an existing set of chord changes. It could even be a blues. Conversely, if you haven't dealt with learning tunes, get started. A lot of them aren't very hard and memorizing them will help your musicianship in general.


1 comment:

  1. Well put Ted. I think everyone has to find a balance between innovation and tradition. But this balance is not a static point, it is constantly evolving based on new musical situations. If you are playing with players who are really pushing new music for example, you should focus your energy in that direction.