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Ditone and Quadratone and all that Jazz
December 6, 2004 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Coltrane's Giant Steps, visually explained. (via)
posted by shoepal (37 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
[meta]referenced previously here and here.
posted by shoepal at 8:00 AM on December 6, 2004


wow. wonderful. thanks!
posted by andrew cooke at 8:04 AM on December 6, 2004


Wow, that's supercool. I'd love to see something like this for "My Favorite Things." The piano playing there blows my mind.
posted by bardic at 8:11 AM on December 6, 2004


that's a different aspect to it then i've seen before ... another way to look at it is that he's using tritone subsitutions ... one of the fascinating things about music theory is there's often more than one way to explain something
posted by pyramid termite at 8:14 AM on December 6, 2004


I love Coltrane (Live at Village Vangaurd being one my fave discs), but how about for us non theory geeks someone explain why this is interesting/important. Was it groundbreaking for some reason? Is it nearly impossible to play? What is so special about that pyramid?
posted by spicynuts at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2004


Further explanation, sans pretty colored triangles and sounds. Very interesting read.

Cycles (pdf) explained.
posted by shoepal at 8:23 AM on December 6, 2004


It's not "impossible" to play, but is heralded as a breakthrough point for Coltrane, in that it proclaimed his mastery of this particular style. It is, however, very very very difficult to play, especially as fluidly as Coltrane does. The pyramid, I believe, is just a visual key to understanding the chord changes.
posted by gcbv at 8:25 AM on December 6, 2004


Oh, nothing to do with Robbie Coltrane and his long stride in that wizard movie, then?
posted by devbrain at 8:28 AM on December 6, 2004


Is it nearly impossible to play?

Just about. Or at least to solo over. Listen to the original recording and you'll hear pianist Tommy Flanagan completely lose his shit on the piano solo break. Coltrane swoops in and saves him by just continuing to bust all over everything again.

Maybe, think in terms of trying to write legibly on a piece of paper that is continuously moving and changing shape about every 1/2 second.
posted by Swampjazz! at 8:32 AM on December 6, 2004 [1 favorite]


OK, but I still think "A Love Supreme" is better. Boo ya!
posted by spicynuts at 8:35 AM on December 6, 2004


As fate would have it, this cd is in my computer right now. A delightful find.
posted by flarbuse at 8:42 AM on December 6, 2004


Very cool!

I play jazz for a living and have played this song countless times. I always treated it as a string of ii-V-I's but never knew the relationship of those sections.

Pyramid Termite: The song was not written using tritone subs. Soloist usually will use tritone subs while soloing on it though. For example in bars 9 and 10 you will find an Fmi7, Bb7, then Eb though soloists will often treat it as Fmi7, E7, then Eb7 getting a cool descending root effect.
posted by sourwookie at 8:48 AM on December 6, 2004


Also neat: see an animation someone made for this song here.
posted by GeekAnimator at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2004


GeekAnimator, that is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing!
posted by shoepal at 8:58 AM on December 6, 2004


First off, let me just say that's a really nice animation.

But let me also say that it doesn't help me understand Giant Steps one bit.

I play bass, and trying to figure out how to walk a bass line over those chord changes in a college jazz improve class just about broke my hands.

Solo over chord changes like that? No way man, no way.

You want proof of alien life on this planet, look no further than Coltrane.

Cat could play.
posted by Relay at 9:37 AM on December 6, 2004


I agree with sourwookie that Giant Steps is not reducible to tritone subs. If you drop a dominant flat-five flat-nine you will wind up more than a whole step away from the upcoming harmony. I think most musicians, including Coltrane himself, approach the solos diatonically rather than chromatically. That's why you hear a lot of arpeggiation rather than turnaround bebop licks.

My personal Coltrane fave: After The Rain. The late soprano-saxophone work is lyric and not lost in the changes.

Relay, I feel your pain. I'm a trombone player and my jazz professor insisted that I learn it. To little avail.
posted by Scooter at 9:43 AM on December 6, 2004


Oh leave poor Tommy Flanagan alone! He had something like three hours to look it over, Coltrane had been practicing it for something around six months. (You just reminded me of a very lengthy argument some of us had in our college jazz department a few years back. It was fun and I got called Mr. Flanagan for quite a while.)
posted by Captaintripps at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2004 [1 favorite]


Good analogy, swampjazz. I've been trying to get a handle on this song for about a quarter of a century. That's about twenty-five years more than Tommy Flanagan had, apparently. I play piano.

For you non-theory geeks: when you improvise over a series of chords, you keep in mind 1) the notes that are harmonious with the chord you are playing, 2) the tonal center(s), kinda like home base(s), 3) the original melody 4) the shape of your solo, 5) the relationships between #1-4, and 6) about seven other things, too, especially the dynamic of flirting with the outside perimeter of your technical capabilities.

Giant Steps is so hard because the relationships between the chords (oops, forgot to list that one) are so complex, and the song is played at breakneck speed. The challenge for me is to make the solo flow...what usually happens is that I have to think about the changes so hard that the best I can do is to not play too many clunkers, or, worse, fall off the horse, so to speak.
posted by kozad at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2004


Hot Damn that animation is amazing. Now I'm curious...did Mr. Coltrane have lungs or did he just absorb the necessary oxygen through his skin? When the hell did he get a breath in all that madness??
posted by spicynuts at 10:35 AM on December 6, 2004


Giant Steps is a watershed in terms of its harmonic structure- the root motion in 3rds was an innovation at the time. Unfortunately as a solo it's been quite overrated. Mainly because, as another commentator has noted, Trane had practiced this progression to a fare-thee-well. So by a major criterion of what's good in a jazz solo, spontaneity was lacking. The solo is also repetitive and you can hear the identical phrase at the top of more than one chorus- a big no-no in jazz.

That said, Trane is still a genius and he will always be in the pantheon of giants.

About Tommy Flanagan- people tend to cut him a break because he didn't have time to shed the changes. I personally hold him more accountable though- for one thing, he didn't have to solo on it. For another, he starts out okay and then founders progressively after the first chorus. He should have stopped playing once he got uncomfortable. He really only had himself to blame. Nonetheless, I do feel bad for him. I too, have had a bad day in the recording studio preserved for posterity because the leader liked their solos on the tracks I was stinking up. Tommy was embarrassed and tried to block release of the record. Obviously, it was released anyway but years later, he recorded his own album, Giant Steps, which included every track from the original Trane recording including a very secure rendition of the title track.
posted by kamus at 11:42 AM on December 6, 2004


I feel it was this song, with its summarily complex chord changes, that made Coltrane push his groups in another direction (modal jazz) to stimulate his soloing. When you record perfectly executed solos over breakneck chords changing every half second, what else can you do after that but get rid of the chords? The next big phase of his career was based on scales and drones ('plateaus') that extended horizontally, as opposed to the 'vertical' organization of notes in a chord. ...and then when he exhausted modal jazz of its possibilities (and he did exhaust it, just like he did chordal jazz-- as Miles Davis said, "You don't gotta play everything, Trane!"), he moved on to music with less of a relationship to one particular scale or root-- his approaches became more complex over the years, or less complex, depending on who you ask.

What i wouldn't give to hear Eric Dolphy play his six-degrees-removed-from-the-changes style over Giant Steps...
posted by ism at 12:53 PM on December 6, 2004


Giant Steps always kind of reminds me of the floating island of Laputa in Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels.' Gulliver is frightened by the infernal racket that the Laputans are listening to, and they tell him that it the harmony of the spheres, which they've deduced mathematically.

Most of jazz after 1960 was devoted to such weird efforts to write complex stuff. This seems to me sort of misguided, especially since Louis, Sidney, and Duke understood modes better than Miles anyhow-- and they actually had tone and taste. Me, I'd trade all the jazz recorded after 1960 for just one of Sidney Bechet's sessions or Fats Waller's sides-- any one. And it'd be worth it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2004


This is astounding. I've always wanted to put in the time to learn much more about deep music theory, but never knew where to start. I love things like Ives, Monk & Coltrane where I know amazing things are happening but never really feel like I entirely "get it". Anyone have any recommendations of the best place way to move from my basic understanding of chords & harmony to this level of structure & theory?
posted by oraknabo at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2004


Louis, Sidney, and Duke understood modes better than Miles anyhow-- and they actually had tone and taste.

Good lord, koeselitz-on what exactly do you base that brazen assertion on? And are you really saying that Miles had neither tone nor taste?

I feel sorry for you that you are unable to enjoy the incredible beauty that jazzmen have continued to create from the 60's through to this day.

Oraknabo- I can recommend Self Portrait of a Jazz Artist by Dave Liebman, who in addition to discussing theoretical aspects of contemporary jazz, gives a personal account of his front row seat as a member of Miles' band to the major developments in jazz post 1960.
posted by kamus at 2:41 PM on December 6, 2004


One of the most elegant explanations I've ever seen of Coltrane's mastery. Thanks for sharing this.

And let me second what relay has already said. Damn could that cat play.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 2:45 PM on December 6, 2004


kamus: I should say that I exaggerate a little for emphasis. I like a lot of that later stuff, and some of 'Trane, too. But it's overplayed-- and it's correct to say that earlier jazzmen really did understand theory just as well, if not better. I say this as a musicianer myself, though only an amateur; the much-vaunted 'modes' are only one new way to look at the same old system of "flat the five, flat the third, sharp the second, etc." Miles said it himself: "You can't play nothing on trumpet that doesn't come from [Armstrong], not even modern shit." This sounds like too-high praise for most who've heard the old stuff, as it all sounds so simple, but it's apparent that it's true when you analyze it: simplicity is hard to do. Tritone substitution, complex harmonic alterations, strange experimentation with chord progressions: all of these were present in the early jazz. If Armstrong only used his powers for the popular enjoyment, Art Tatum, for example, did not, and bop is present in its fullness in his work.

And, well, yes, I'm saying Miles had neither tone nor taste: greater men have said so before me; I've met about two people who actually enjoyed "Bitches Brew" all the way through, and they didn't even like jazz. I'll thank him for giving Bill Evans a boost, and for bringing together pretty good musicians; but, finally, he turned out to be mostly "that guy who used to be Charlie Parker's roommate." As Philip Larkin once wrote: "he had several manners: the dead muzzled slow stuff, the sour yelping fast stuff, and the sonorous theatrical arranged stuff, and I disliked them all." And he wrote that before "Bitches Brew!" Clifford Brown was light-years ahead of Miles; he would've been the new Louis, if he had had time.

I should say, since this is a Coltrane thread: as weird and bad as Giant Steps might be (you're not supposed to record exercises!), so much of Coltrane is soulful and beautiful. Spicynuts mentioned "Live at the Village Vanguard," which is incredibly gorgeous. But, to everyone who is 'into jazz' but 'doesn't get' the older stuff: go back! Listen to it! It's worth it!
posted by koeselitz at 4:01 PM on December 6, 2004


I like Bitches Brew...
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:25 PM on December 6, 2004


one of my jazz instructors suggested that the best way to solo over Giant Steps was to just ignore the changes altogether. With all the unrelated keys it goes though, most notes you play are going to sound plausible if not always quite consonant at any given point in the changes.

as for koeselitz's comments about modes, it may be a new way of looking at an old system, but that's certainly not to say that modal jazz is indistinguishable from older styles of jazz. I would argue that while modal jazz is simpler conceptually, it is actually much more difficult to perform. In forms of jazz that rely more heavily on harmonic movement, the chord changes can often carry an unimaginative solo simply by virtue of the fact that changing the underlying harmony redefines the notes in the solo. In modal jazz, harmonic changes are much sparser, requiring the soloist to come up with compelling medolic lines that can stand on their own without the benefit of constant harmonic shifts in the underlying chord progression. You can't get away with mindlessly running up and down scales or arpeggios without boring your listeners to tears.
posted by boltman at 6:13 PM on December 6, 2004


Sorry Koeselitz, I just can't let some of your statements remain unchallenged: But it's overplayed-- and it's correct to say that earlier jazzmen really did understand theory just as well, if not better

I'm not sure what you mean by overplayed- do you mean that contemporary jazz has gotten more exposure than you think it should? As far as understanding theory, the older jazzmen had an intuitive grasp of theory, yes, but very limited by today's standards and certainly by Miles'. As sophisticated as Armstrong et al. were, they would simply be fish out of water trying to negotiate the harmonic and melodic vocabulary of Miles and Trane and their contemporaries. In other words, Miles and Trane could play Louis Armstrong tunes successfully, but the reverse is extremely unlikely, primarily due to the leaps in theoretical understanding that occurred in the 40s starting with Parker.

the much-vaunted 'modes' are only one new way to look at the same old system of "flat the five, flat the third, sharp the second, etc.

Modal playing was more than just using "old" scales- it was a revolutionary way of playing, using drone elements and in Trane's case investigating the upper partials of the harmonic series as a way of extending logical melodic possibilities off of a single pitch center. There was also an aesthetic shift towards eastern influences and again, in Trane's case a treatment of music as a spiritual force and a pusuit of the ecstatic. There is nothing comparable in the older jazzmen. To say that they were merely reworking the old scales is like saying that Michael Jackson was just reworking Palestrina because they both used the diatonic system. It's not the just the nuts and bolts, it's what you do with them.

As far as Miles' quote goes, he is correct insofar as it true that the emotional, expressive and sonic possibilities of the trumpet were well understood by Armstrong etc. He was not referring to the expansion of the melodic and harmonic possibilities that arose in later jazz that Armstrong could only have imagined. Whatever experimentation with tritone substitution, complex harmonic alterations, strange experimentation with chord progressions that occurred in early jazz were quite sporadic and isolated(i.e. Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton) and didn't become part of the fabric of the jazz mainstream until the advent of bebop.

Armstrong only used his powers for the popular enjoyment, Art Tatum, for example, did not, and bop is present in its fullness in his work. This statement is patently false. Tatum was an entertainer as well as a jazzman, and although he had an unmatched virtuosity and incredibly sophisticated harmonic and melodic facility, he thoroughly entertained the audiences of his day.

As far as Miles' tone and taste go, there are few if any trumpeters who have more tone and taste IMO. Consider the exquisitely chosen notes on "So What from "Kinda Blue" or the deep melancholy of Sketches of Spain- gorgeous! I know that we're disputing a matter of opinion here, but to denigrate his tone and taste? these are two of his most universally lauded qualities. Well, you're a brave man to stand up and admit it.

To compare Clifford to Miles is definitely an apples/oranges comparison. Both men were great artists.

BTW, Bitches Brew is one of my favorite albums of all time and I do like jazz! That quote by Larkin only shows his lack of imagine aand his closed mind. Pearls before swine.

And Giant Steps is neither weird nor bad nor an exercise. It may not have been his greatest solo, but it was a great tune and a great performance despite the caveats listed in my comment above.

koeselitz, as I said before, you are missing out on some fantastic music from your inability to leave your prejudices behind and just listen and that's just too bad for you.

I don't mean to be hostile, so please don't take it as such. In my work as a jazz teacher I'm always endeavouring to expand my student's horizons, and they always are grateful when suddenly become aware of the beauty in something they didn't previously get. It's an something that I hope you will eventually experience with Miles' work at some point.

And really, Bitches' Brew has some very beautiful stuff on it, if you're open to it. You'll be amused to learn that when I first heard it, I thought it was the worst music I'd ever heard. Something kept me coming back though, thank god.
posted by kamus at 7:23 PM on December 6, 2004


I can only speak for myself, but I love Giant Steps and feel sorry for anyone who doesn't.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:38 PM on December 6, 2004


Having watched the deer-in-the-headlights stare of non-musicians when me and other musicians argue, I'm just going to smile and read the other thread about poop.
posted by Captaintripps at 12:16 AM on December 7, 2004


What kamus said. I feel sorry for anyone who can't appreciate the amazing musicianship of Miles Davis (and I feel sorry for Larkin for many reasons, including his sad inability to move beyond a pathetically limited corpus of "true jazz"). I might add that I used to despise the music of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, feeling that they were both anti-musical and that what popularity they had was the result of fools trying to one-up each other with their superhip taste; I came to love both and now have a bunch of their CDs. It's always better to open your ears than to assume that you have the final word on music.
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on December 7, 2004


kamus: okay, okay. I promise at least to go dig out my old copy of "In a Silent Way" again, and maybe it'll lead to "Bitches' Brew." But I can't agree with some of the things you say here; I don't want to push this all too much, but it's rare that I can have a good conversation about this stuff. I think it's pretty important.

I know that there's no arguing taste, and I know that, at a certain point, most people will just say that you should be open to music. But open-mindedness only goes so far; and, if you're interested in truth and believe that music has a profound impact on society, it's important to make judgements. There are still a lot of us who will never forgive Miles Davis for introducing rock music into jazz. This was a monumental blunder, and I can't but believe it was done without any sort of thought into the matter. (It was sort of ironic, too; for the past thirty years, jazz musicians have seemed bent on proving to society at large that they know absolutely nothing at all about rock music. Of course they don't; they're "old people.") I know rock music; there is a tiny amount that's good for the soul (um... pavement, maybe?) and a vast amount that is bad. This is because rock is, at its heart, a purgative art; and jazz is an intellectual and political art. It is higher, purer, and better for the soul.

I know it's uncouth to say these things these days; I know that it's popular to say that music has no effect on the soul, and that it's all just in what you want to hear. But it has a profound impact on people. I find it interesting that you try to prove that Art Tatum was not a bop musician (Bud Powell agreed with me, by the way; compare their different versions of "Over the Rainbow," for example) by saying that "he was an entertainer." I disagree with the premise-- I find bop musicians pretty entertaining, and pretty great as well-- but it's true that, after a certain point, something changed. I posit that that something is this: Louis, Sidney, Duke, Ella, Bix, and the rest of the great musicianers of their era were striving to make people happy, no matter who, no matter when. Their music, a brilliant, shining thing, was populist. People seem to hate populism these days; they hate entertainers, and they hate "bourgeois values." I think that's a mistake; and it's a reason why a lot of people have the idea that apparent complexity is a mark of superiority. I'm only arguing that that's not true; to take an example that seems immediate, any song on "Live at the Village Vanguard" is better than "Giant Steps." Coltrane himself knew this; as complex as "Giant Steps" is, it's not what he was meant for, and it's not what he wanted to play. He played differently later.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2004


kamus and koeselitz: you guys are awesome. keep it up. i'm thoroughly enjoying the discussion, and i'm learning as well. thanks.
posted by Igor XA at 10:47 PM on December 7, 2004


koeselitz, with all due respect, you seem to have misread jazz history or, at the very least, you have come to some odd conclusions:
There are still a lot of us who will never forgive Miles Davis for introducing rock music into jazz. This was a monumental blunder, and I can't but believe it was done without any sort of thought into the matter.
Well, you may not forgive him, but true to his ever restless questing spirit, he took jazz in a direction that it bound to go sooner than later. Not only that, but contrary to your assertion that "no thought was given", Miles moved towards this point gradually with a series of remarkable albums from Filies De Kilimanjaro through In a Silent Way. When he finally made the breakthrough in Bitches Brew he had created something not seen in either jazz nor rock before: a seething caldera of group improvisation informed by some of the finest voices in contemporary jazz: John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and others who went forth and spawned such landmark groups such as Weather Report, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Herbie's groundbreaking Sextet. Miles thought about this for several years and he had the input of some of the best and thoughtful musicians of that era.
Far from merely grafting rock rhythms to bebop or whatever else a less inspired musician might have done, he did what all great artists do, he created something brand new. You may not have like dit, but there's no denying the break from the straightjacket of the jazz tradition up to that point or the influence his shift had upon jazz and music in general.

This is because rock is, at its heart, a purgative art; and jazz is an intellectual and political art. It is higher, purer, and better for the soul.
That is a very questionable statement. Bad jazz is not better for the soul than good rock. Your statement is too much of a sweeping generalization to have merit. You may not like rock but to dismiss it as an inferior art form is to misunderstand art itself. And if anything, rock has been more political over the years, is as capable of being intellectual as jazz has of being purgative.

Re: Art Tatum: I'm not trying to prove that Art Tatum wasn't a bop musician. He simply wasn't. He was a descendant of the stride piano school, a style that was severely at odds with the bop aesthetic of the day which involved a radically different treatment of left hand technique than was evinced by the stride masters like Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum Fats Waller and others. Furthermore, Art was primarily a solo pianist- his attempts at group playing are widely regarded as being the low point of his career and bebop if nothing else was a group aesthetic. In addition, Tatum rarely played with other bop musicians, didn't play bop tunes and really just kept going at his own style (fantastic as that was) while Parker and Gillespie were fomenting revolution. I don't know what statement of Bud Powell's you're referring to, but I'm guessing that he was laying tribute to Art's astonishing virtuosity, harmonic sense and rhythmic daring that he did share with the bebop masters even as his music was stylistically divergent.

Your line about Populism falls flat for me too. Parker may not have wanted to have played for dancers like Duke did, but he wanted to be popular (Bird with Strings for example) the problem was that people couldn't follow the pace of the revolution in music he and Dizzy et al were prosecuting and so a certain segment of the audience was left behind just as you were left behind by Miles in the 70s. It wasn't the jazzmen leaving the people except in the sense that they continued to forge their music according to their vision by refusing to pander. And fortunately they did, and they made a lot of people very happy just a bit later by creating a new beauty and expanding artistic boundaries. Complexity may scare you and strike you as intellectually arrogant but if it were not for the few brave artists who dare rise above commercial concerns, art and music would have moved very little throughout history and left us culturally impoverished as a consequence.

any song on "Live at the Village Vanguard" is better than "Giant Steps." Coltrane himself knew this; as complex as "Giant Steps" is, it's not what he was meant for, and it's not what he wanted to play. He played differently later. Sure he played differently later- he moved on throughout his career. But in his case, the journey was always the destination. To compare his periods against each other and say "Giant Steps is worse than the Village Vanguard stuff" is a matter of opinion, of course. I strongly disagree: Coltrane produced a wide range of astonishing music during his tragically short career and all of it had merit and interest and I would no sooner pit one of his milestones against another than I would say that Beethoven's Ninth is "worse" than his Fifth.
posted by kamus at 7:09 AM on December 8, 2004 [1 favorite]


substitutions, speed, complexity--- whatever: the reason Trane is one of my favorite musicians of all time is that regardless of all of it, an incredible spirit came through, a kind of searching humanity, joy, shone through all of it, whether he was playing a single note (listen to the last section of "A Love Supreme"), or a sheet of notes, (as in "Giant Steps").

Like all great artists, he challenged himself mercilessly, and took upon himself the obligation of all great artists: the risk of mistakes and failure. Even his weaknesses summon passionate debate, which I consider a testament to his genius and humanity.
posted by buddhanarchist at 9:22 AM on December 9, 2004


I should say first: this is really great. I value this a great deal; this is the kind of thing that's been smoldering in my mind for years over the records that I buy and listen to on saturday nights. I don't talk about it much, and it's nice to put it out there.

I was probably too hasty in saying that jazz is better for the soul than rock. I think this is true, in a general way; and this can be explained in terms of tendancies, i.e. rock's predilection for shock effect, jazz's heady intoxication. however, music in general is, as one great jazz musician would say, beyond category.

That said: where I really disagree with the things that you've said so far, I think, goes back to a previous post; you had said, "In other words, Miles and Trane could play Louis Armstrong tunes successfully, but the reverse is extremely unlikely, primarily due to the leaps in theoretical understanding that occurred in the 40s starting with Parker." This might be true in some ways; if you asked Sidney Bechet to play a lydian over the relative minor, he wouldn't have been able to. (Duke Ellington, by the by, probably could've; but a conversation about Duke's knowledge is an altogether different barrel of potatoes.) On the other hand, I, for one, believe that, if you asked both John Coltrane and Sidney Bechet to take alternating choruses on "I Got Rhythm," Sidney would have been able to play a little faster, and probably would have worked in just as much theory. That doesn't wholly decide who won the cutting contest; but it does mean that they can both go against each other. And I somehow doubt than any of the later painists you mentioned had Art or Fats' left hand; without meaning any disrespect, that is.

But jazz musicians should be compared, and we should be willing to judge them; they were only too willing to do so themselves. There are all kinds of stories about Willie the Lion making Jelly Roll cry by killing him in a cutting contest; but he loved the kids, and kept helping them learn. This professional cutthroat courtesy that had a habit of destroying arrogance and pretence is something that I'd like to see again in jazz. Also, cutting contests. Heh.

Music, and especially jazz, isn't wholly about how much theory you know, though it helps. It's difficult to know which modes to use where, in what situation they work best, and it is in this that I contend that Louis Armstrong was just as good, if not better, when compared to those who went before. His sense of the fitting was astonishing, and he really was already using almost all of the notes. Miles Davis was right: he played everything.

There's also the question of tone, which I brought up before: yeah, I don't like Miles', which might be a matter of taste. But it's more to the point to say that it's recognizable to all chiefly because it's fairly uniform. Louis was capable of tone like Miles', and used it on occasion, though he was a very different person and played very different solos. Clifford Brown I mentioned because he was of the same era as Miles, and because I believe his tone was much broader as well; further, he could, without doubt, play a lot faster than Miles.

There is something behind all music; you can call it taste and say it's not arguable, but it's something that we at least share to some degree. What you say about populism is precisely what I was trying to say: Dizzy is a good example of an ambassador for the new music. He brought bop to the world, tried to show people how fun it was.

As far as Art Tatum is concerned: look, I know he isn't officially classified as a bop musician, and I know that maybe he doesn't meet whatever criteria there are. But the fact remains that Bud Powell's harmonic conception is something that he lovingly transcribed from Art Tatum records, if I'm hearing them correctly. Seriously, listen in sequence to Fats or Willie the Lion, then Art Tatum, then Bud Powell. Art is closer harmonically, disregarding the different-hand stuff, to Bud; he loves tritone subs and diminished chords, and those weird, wonky chromatic things that he does... really. I think this is one of the neglected debts in jazz.

It's neglected because people just look down on older musicians. I know complexity isn't a bad thing, but you have to have noticed that jazz after bop was cursed with the stink of pretentiousness. This sense makes people think those old guys were just honking around, that they were folksy idiots who weren't really very talented; really, they were faster than anybody that came after them, and they were the intellectual and musical fathers of those bop and post-bop musicians we all love. I just wish more people would give them credit. I know you weren't dismissing Art when you said he was "an entertainer;" but I don't see how his entertainment comes into it. In fact, that's all a jazz musician is: an entertainer. Some of the newer guys (e.g. since 1950) might want to remember that.

And finally, to buddhanarchist: you're correct. Coltrane was a beautiful person, and his music is beautiful because of it. It's ours to try to figure out just how that causality works.
posted by koeselitz at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2004 [1 favorite]


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