My wife and I have been together now for 9 years, and I was amazed when the other day she finally asked, "Hey - can you teach me how to understand jazz?"
I was really excited to hear this, as jazz is a very important part of my life, but for most listeners it is a foreign language. We decided the best way to tackle this was for me to create playlists on Spotify for her to listen to in the car, and then we could chat when we were home together.
We came to the understanding that she "gets" the big band era of the 30s, and would probably be ok with skipping over early jazz of the 20s too, so I've decided to start with small group jazz of the 40s and make my way from Bird and Diz, all the way to albums released in the 2010s. In my opinion, starting there would give her (or anyone tuning in) a good understanding of how small group jazz has developed into what it is today.
This was quite the task, and I'm still making small edits. What I decided to do was break it up into 9 playlists, tracking new developments in jazz, with only 4 tracks per play list. In general, I avoided offshoots of mainstream jazz, including free jazz developments, as well as Latin jazz, and most fusion, except for the early developments. Also, sorry I kind of skipped the 80s... And last disclaimer, the task kind of became impossible when I had to only pick 8 tracks from 1980-now, so I picked stuff that I thought was representative of different manifestations of jazz today - also some bias to albums I love.
There are definitely things missing, but I hope this tells the right story. Let me know what you think!
At church, we recently kicked off the John and Edie Murphy Music for Humanity Concerts with a Mozart spectacular, featuring the entire Requiem and the Clarinet Concerto. I had the honor of singing in the choir for the Requiem, and conducting the concerto with Tom Cooke on clarinet. Tom is featured on Guided Imagery and is a great friend and musical partner. We've sung next to each other, put down the recording premiere of one of Morten Lauridsen's works, performed chamber music, and now stood side by side for a performance of Mozart's well-known concerto.
The concert was a huge success, and all of the proceeds went to Loaves and Fishes in Hartford, as the concert was fully endowed. I spent sometime researching both works, and thought I'd share the program notes on my website!
Hey Everybody! You know I love to write, here are my program notes for my upcoming Organ Recital this Sunday, April 3rd at 3:00. It's cleverly entitled the "Final Four" featuring works by Brahms, Mahler, Franck, and Vierne, and telling the story of how these middle and late Romantic composer helped usher in a new era of music.
Let's all be honest - in today's competitive musical climate the boundaries between musical styles, and the labels that we put on certain musicians are becoming more and more blurry. Very few musicians can make a living doing just "one thing", and almost no one is able to make it on pure creative output anymore. However, the term "selling out" becomes more and more derogatory to me every day, because in all honesty, musicians need to be versatile to survive in this climate and if you can't read, improvise, and even in some cases, write music, in at least the two general musical fields of common practice period classical music and creative improvised music (whether jazz, or R&B, or funk or whatever) then you are severely disadvantaged. There's nothing negative about playing in front of a crowd that loves your music, even if what your playing is not your best creative work.
I had the joy of putting together a concert with my colleague and friend, David Veslocki, recently. Instead of playing "the same old standards" we searched for new tunes that we never had played before. One of the tunes we found was an Eddie Gomez tune, "Next Future" off his 1992 album of the same name. The tune is reminiscent of the Chick Corea "3 Quartets" or compositions with the 80's band featuring Gomez and Michael Brecker, "Steps Ahead." The tune is a medium tempo bossa with swing solos, but almost every bar is a new chord change requiring a completely unrelated scale. Many of the chords are hexatonic shapes, or more simply put, chords that contain a Maj 7(#5) shape somewhere in their upper structure. When tackling a tune like this, the improviser needs to know all the ways around the changes--fluency in the augmented (hexatonic) scale, melodic minor modes, pentatonics (which I don't get into in this article), and even bebop scale. Also, we have to remember that many jazz composers (particularly bass players!) love to write chords in slash chord notation, which can add a different challenge to interpreting these types of tunes. Using "Next Future" and another Eddie Gomez tune, "Loxodrome" as examples, I will illustrate several ways to approach modern jazz tunes.
This past May, I started and completed my setting of the Prayer of St. Francis in one sitting. To date, it is the only piece I have written in one sitting. I have had compositional "sparks" like this before, but never so bright and so clear. The melody came to me as I was walking outside of my apartment to check my mail and was finished at 4:00am the night before I had to catch a 9:00am plane to Puerto Rico.
You may have noticed my new poll, "which jazz pianist was the most influential." First a disclaimer: the obvious answer for any modern pianist should be none of the above--Bud Powell. However, knowing this, I go to the next generation of pianists after the bebop era and search for meaning there. I often think about this question, reflect on my own style and approach, and have a hard time answering. The first jazz CD I bought was kind of a random one, "Intermodulation" by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. The track "Turn Out the Stars" absolutely mystified me. Bill Evans recorded that original composition often with his trios of the late 60's and 70's, but no version of it means as much to me as the one on "Intermodulation" with piano and guitar duet. What is it about the track that makes it so perfect? I would have to say one word: "Melody."