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Artist Profiles

Introducing Booker Little

By Published: July 25, 2010
What Little wants to accomplish as a composer involves drawing on his knowledge of what he terms "the legitimate aspects of writing" without being confined by them.

"Those who have no idea about how classical music is constructed are definitely at a loss—it's a definite foundation. I don't think it should be carried to the point where you have to say this is this kind of phrase and this is that kind of development. Deep in your mind though you should maintain these thoughts and not just throw a phrase in without it answering itself or leading to something else. Say I know the chord I want the pianist to play and I give it to him. But the other instruments won't necessarily be playing that chord. Most of the guys who are thinking completely conventionally, they'd say, 'Well maybe you've got a wrong note in there.' But I can't think in terms of wrong notes.

"In fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong, I think you're thinking completely conventionally—technically—and forgetting about emotion. And I don't think anyone would deny that more emotion can be reached and expressed outside of the conventional diatonic way of playing which consists of whole notes and half steps. There's more emotion that can be expressed by the notes that are played flat. Say it's a B flat, but you play it flat and it's not an A and it's not a B flat, it's between them. And in places you can employ that and I think it has great value. Or say the clash of a B natural against a B flat.

"I'm interested in putting sounds against sounds and I'm interested in freedom also. But I have respect for form. I think sections of a piece can sometimes be played, say, on a basic undersound, which doesn't limit the soloist. You wouldn't necessarily tell him how many choruses to take. You say 'You blow awhile. You try and build your story and resolve it.' One thing I wrote for [producer] Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff
b.1925
on the Candid date is like that completely. The undervoices were playing a motif and I just improvised on the sound. It had a definite mood, and the mood didn't warrant my running all over the trumpet.

"There are a lot of people who think the new direction should be to abolish form and others who feel that it should be to unite the classical forms with jazz. The relationship between classical and jazz is close, but I don't think you have to employ a classical technique as such to get something that jells. I think the main reason a lot of people are going into it is because jazz hasn't developed as far as composition is concerned. It's usually a twelve-bar written segment and then everybody goes for themselves. Personally, I don't think it's necessary to do either of these things to really accomplish something different and new. And I think sometimes a conscious effort to do something different and new isn't as good as a natural effort.

"In my own work I'm particularly interested in the possibilities of dissonance. If it's a consonant sound it's going to sound smaller. The more dissonance, the bigger the sound. It sounds like more horns, in fact, you can't always tell how many more there are. And your shadings can be more varied. Dissonance is a tool to achieve these things."

Little has been impressed by the writing of Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
. "He's been thinking rhythmically, in terms of breaking up rhythms, and that interests me. He's definitely a giant as far as writing is concerned. He stems from another giant, Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
. Duke is one of my favorite writers. He's a man who's worked at a sound and never wavered, and his musical personality is always identifiable as his. Slide Hampton has impressed me when he's writing for no other reason than himself. He has a terrific mind. And I thought the Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
b.1925
composer/conductor
Atlantic date with Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
had some terrific writing."


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