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John Law: Deeper into the Music

By Published: November 4, 2009

John LawAnd one of the reasons is that, because there isn't enough work for the current jazz musicians, a lot of them are teaching at colleges and universities themselves. So there are some quite amazing instrumentalists all involved in the education system.

I think the new breed of jazz musician is someone who's into trying lots of different things out. Mixing lots of different influences together. It's very exciting.

But I do worry sometimes that the public might be being left behind somewhat. You can go to a small jazz club in London and hear some quite remarkable music and sometimes I wonder whether some members of the public, who clap reasonably enthusiastically, but not wildly, realize quite what level of musicianship they've just heard.

The perennial question is always that American vs. European one...I think it's sort of become a non-question. Maybe not for people like me, as I definitely feel European and still grapple with the American jazz traditions and try to assimilate some elements into my European art music aesthetic. But perhaps for most of the younger breed. They've already assimilated all they want from the American traditions and they're moving on and doing their own thing.

Here's something strange: I got this idea, a while ago, after attending a concert by the Tord Gustavsen trio, that for people like that, for the pianist Tord and for many other Europeans, when we play something bluesy we seem to change the blues ( the scale, the sound, the vocabulary of the genre, because the blues is sort of like an Indian Raga, isn't it? It's not just a scale, it's a set of certain moods and contains also melodic phrases as part of the scale and part of the language), we change it so it sort of mutates into a folk scale, which is sort of what it is anyway.

But that's not quite what I mean. When someone like Tord plays something bluesy it sounds somehow really European, like European folk music. Definitely not black music. And I've heard other people do that. Jan Garbarek used to do it. There's an Italian pianist I really rate... he does it. I somehow try to do it too. I was recently looking at the score of Strauss' opera Salome. I started experimenting with the so-called 'Salome chord.' It's sort of a C# diminished chord over C# minor. That's a bluesy sound, if you like. But the reference points are very different.

So that's the sort of way my mind works and, I'm sure, from the results I hear across Europe, many other musicians' minds work. We're in a time of synthesis, where we take and adapt ideas. It's all a result of a lack of belonging. And it's an attempt to find a new belonging as well, I feel.

AAJ: What is your stance on criticism and the role of value judgment in music. In his 1968 book, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
famously criticizes what he calls "well-meaning amateur criticism and fascinated opinion." Is the prerequisite for being a good critic a theoretical understanding of things such as melody, harmony, form and rhythm or is it enough to have a more intuitive understanding of these matters in order to make a sound aesthetic judgment?

John LawJL: Where to start? With a funny story... Quite a few years ago a critic emailed me to say he was writing an article, interviewing pianists about their thoughts on Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
and something about their favorite Monk tunes. He asked me what my favorite tune of his was. I emailed back at length, explaining that I don't do favorites. It's against what I believe in and is simply not the way I see things. He emailed back saying fine, but if I had to choose, which one. I emailed back again saying that I didn't do favorites. I explained that I didn't do favorites among my pupils, nor among my children. I just don't compare like that. He emailed again saying yes but which one. So in the end, to please him, I gave him a couple I tend to play a lot. He said Thanks John!

Being a critic he just didn't understand.

I really dislike comparisons. They don't make sense. What's the point in saying artist A is not like artist B? Of course they're not the same; that's why they're different people. What's the point in saying that artist A's album from two years ago is not the same as the one he did this year? Of course they're not; they're different albums.

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