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Interviews

John Law: Deeper into the Music

By Published: November 4, 2009

John LawThere are quite a few other examples. But I suppose what you're really asking is a more generalized statement on how I feel I relate, in general terms, as someone who would loosely be called a jazz pianist/composer, working in the 21st century, to my musical past and how does it inform what I do now. I do think that's mainly for an outside observer to comment on but here are some thoughts. I think I try and retain some of the best elements of classical music—chief among these has to be classical (functional) harmony; it's unique in the whole of world music—and mix them with those elements I get from jazz which I don't get from the classical tradition—mainly what I sometimes call the voodoo element. The repetitive rhythm and groove, which classical music never has.

You can say, as some people jokingly do, that Boogie Woogie started with Beethoven because he uses a texture and left hand figure remarkably similar to that style in one of the variations in his last piano sonata. But the difference between this and the drive of boogie is actually very revealing. Similarly, you can point to the rhythm and drive of some Systems music, and you can hear, in something like Steve Reich

Steve Reich
Steve Reich
b.1936
composer/conductor
's "Electric Counterpoint" (with Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
) that there's a great deal of rhythm, but, again, the difference between this music and, say, the African music he derived some of his language from, or jazz rhythms, reveals that they are very different. The classical rhythm lacks an essential, deep groove.

Then there's the element of spontaneity. Funnily enough I try and achieve, with my improvising, a feeling that it's sort of almost been composed beforehand, and with my compositions, the idea that they're made up on the spot. I don't always try for this but it's somewhere at the back of my mind. Because, on the one hand I truly believe that only through real time composition can one achieve some of the most amazing results in music, in terms of perfect form and in terms of matching the atmosphere with something totally appropriate. But on the other hand, I'm very conscious of the fact that when improvising's lost its way and is meandering, then it's suddenly the very poor relative of written music. In times like those I'd sort of rather be playing something I know is really beautiful and works.. <> You asked about how I see a link between mainstream and avant-garde. I don't really do these distinctions. I leave that up to critics! I think most critics would be hard pressed to accurately describe what they mean by these terms. And certainly not in technical terms that a musician would agree with. When people start using the term avant-garde it sort of winds me up. My stock response is how much more avant-garde can you get than a piece by Nam June Paik, which involves the performer crawling inside the vagina of a live whale!

John Law Abacus Quartet (l:r): John Law, Jon Lloyd, Tim Wells, Gerry Hemingway



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