Improvisation and Jazz | Ben witherington
Having spent an enormous amount of time since the early 1990s listening to all kinds of jazz including classical jazz, new age, free form, fusion, big band and various ethnic varieties such as Brazilian etc. what is of course common to all is improvisation. But if you ask the question of what makes the difference between a simply technically interesting improvisation and an improvisation that can be touching and even transcendent, it is the improvisation that tells a story, that has a narrative line and that goes somewhere. part in all these progressions.
So I will gladly listen to Pat Metheny with joy and anticipation of the direction of the music, but I can only listen to Ornette Coleman for so long before I say “this is not going anywhere”. Some artists, for example Keith Jarrett, have a remarkable innate ability to do instant improvisation that transforms into progressions that are not only interesting, but fabulously beautiful and even new tracks. If only he would stop the primitive growls and moans when he plays. Sadly, we will likely never see him again in light of the blows he took and the loss of ability in his left hand. But he has so many great albums as his legacy.
As for the ensemble playing, I’m perfectly happy to listen to some excellent drum solos that are part of a larger composition involving various instruments, but I doubt I would go to a drum-only concert. . There’s no tune, no melody, no narrative line going somewhere, although a drum solo in a song can actually help tell the story and play a major role. For me, while I love the classic trios of drums, bass and guitar, piano or some woodwind instrument, I especially love Bill Evans with anyone, nevertheless, for me the best of it all comes when you have keyboards and guitar à la Pat Metheny Group, or saxophone and keyboards with bass and drums. Why? Because you have a wider palette to paint from. I have to admit though that Metheny Mehldau’s concerts and two albums were wonderfully rich. It’s always better when you have two musical geniuses in the same group who are both classically trained and who also know how to improvise.
Jazz musicians are in any case real qualified musicians like classical musicians who can play their instruments and understand music theory among other things. I get impatient with those who think that speaking rhythmically with a back beat qualifies someone to be a musician. A beat poet with a back beat maybe, but not a real musician. And that person might be very good at poetry, so yeah that can be a real art form, but it’s not the same as being a real musician whatsoever, classical, jazz, rock, folk , country etc. And I would say the same about those who can manipulate technology to make music, but can’t play real musical instruments or sing, etc. Don’t get me wrong, some of this techno stuff can be fun and even musical in spurts, but if it supports real musicians and real music, not the artificial stuff, that’s important, and it’s mostly in jazz, so let’s call it what it is.
I realize I’m old fashioned in some ways, but having played and sang classical, jazz, rock, country, gospel music for a long time, you can spot a real musician a mile away when you’ve had the musical experiences I’ve had and seen hundreds and maybe thousands of concerts in my 70s.