What Is Jazz Now?
When John Corigliano wrote the brilliant score to Ken Russell's movie 1980 Altered States, he created new musical notation that in turn created natural sound effects from each instrument in the orchestra. When you listen to this amazing score it sounds electronic but it is not.
For the last six months, besides going to performances and scouring YouTube, I have developed a distinct point of view about jazz then and now. I wanted to see if others agreed with me or am I being too narrow-minded for this day and age. I sent out four questions to some important players. I was surprised that many did not answer, or even respond to say "I don't have time" or "I'm not interested." By not responding, I felt it was a sign of disrespect. The same musicians who are big proponents of jazz popularity, when given a chance to say and express what they mean and feel in the biggest jazz website with hundreds of thousands of followers, doesn't make sense to me. So many times you hear from musicians who send out proposals or email an agent and they never get a response. It is understood that these people are busy and sometimes overwhelmed but it takes less than thirty seconds to write "not interested." There is a rudeness that has perpetuated throughout this art form and the many businesses connected to it.
I would say that guitarists use more electronics than other instrumentalists. But I did send four questions to some very important non-guitarists, too.
I contacted pianist Hal Galper, who responded immediately, for which I am very grateful. Hal is one of the greats, and if you are not familiar with him, there are many of his videos up on YouTube. What he had to say, I felt, was very important:
Dom Minasi: The illusive "they" are always talking about moving the music forward. Do you think by adding electronics such as wah-wahs, loops, distortion etc., it is helping do that?
Hal Galper: On this question I have a particular bias, but no, I don't think electronics "move the music ahead." There is a big difference between style and innovation. Electronics fall in to the former category. Miles said, and I paraphrase, "there hasn't been any innovation in jazz since Coltrane, just the development of style." Electronics, world music and all the fashionable hybrids fall into the style category as well.
My bias is that there still is room for innovation in the rhythm of the music. In the last 50 years harmony, melody and form have grown increasing sophisticated but the rhythm has not. I believe a change in the format of background/foreground can offer more creative possibilities, as well as rubato playing, in other words playing on structures in time with the quarter-note flow still informing the music, allowing greater rhythmic variety. But, then again, that is my own personal bias as that's the way my trio plays. Is it innovation or just a stylistic change? To that question I offer this story: Stan Getz was sitting in front of Jim & Andy's bar, the jazz musicians' New York City hang for decades. Stan was crying the blues to Miles that he needed to come up with a different sound. Miles said, "All you need to do is change your background and play the same shit over it." That's when Getz came up with the Bossa Nova style. This begs the question: was Miles' electric bands a change in style or an innovation? According to the man himself, it would have to fall into the style category because all he did was change his background.
DM: Is there a place for electronics in jazz?
HG: Questions one and two are almost the same. To answer this question you'd need to define what jazz is. Good luck with that. That's a minefield that anyone with any sense would avoid and I ain't going there. Jazz is a music that is open to all influences electronic or whatever, the jazz part being in the ear of the beholder.
DM: Some musicians are using odd time signatures ( 7/8, 11/8/ 13/8); is that really what jazz is suppose to be?