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On and Off the Grid

What Is Jazz Now?

By Published: September 10, 2012
SS: Two names: Dave Brubeck and Don Ellis. There's lots of talk today about "what jazz is supposed to be." There are "illusives" who believe jazz is supposed to be one thing only because they want to control it; financially, culturally. That is not what jazz ever was. If jazz is supposed to be only one thing, then it probably was only supposed to be what the music of Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
was and stopped there. Jazz is extremely flexible. It has changed many times over the years and now we are in an era with no real style to be named. I strongly believe that we've moved beyond what used to be defined as eras into an era of highly individualized jazz. Certain sectors of our community wish for jazz to be only one thing. They've set up their museums for what jazz is supposed to be and it's important to have that, but there are recordings of the originals. As to time signatures, what many people don't know is not only was there a Don Ellis and a Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
Paul Desmond
1924 - 1977
sax, alto
but, in free jazz, there was Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
1925 - 2010
trumpet
's jazz Composer's Guild. Those musicians met weekly and discussed eliminating time signatures and bar lines. That was in 1964!

DM: Just because it's improvisation, is it jazz?

SS: To me, "jazz" is a world music that is flexible and always growing. Improvising has been around a lot longer than jazz itself. It was jazz though that brought improvisation back into western culture. Musicians now are exploring all that is available to them as improvisers. Traditional jazz (swing, bebop) being one aspect. And because improvisation is an important part of jazz, people who improvise with no jazz background or approach get lumped together with those that started in jazz and branched out and incorporated other techniques. There is even a case to be made of new generations coming up simultaneously learning traditional jazz improvising and other kinds of improvising. It is just where we are with the information that is available. The main criterion for me in all this is depth of feeling: Soul. Depth of curiosity, making the music interesting. Today we have the choice to stay in strict accordance with one definition of it or whether you want to use all of music's rich languages to create your own identity which is what jazz or a life spent in any music should be about. Then, there are the fans that listen to our music to be surprised by it and have it take them wherever their hearts and minds let them. Fans, and musicians will move the music forward, or backwards or skywards or around the corner or wherever it wants to go, never worrying about what to call it.

Very strong statements from Steve.

Here's another point of view from guitarist extraordinaire, Joe Giglio, who has worked in duo settings with every guitar great on the planet.

DM: The illusive "they" are always talking about moving the music forward. Do you think by adding electronics such as wah-wahs, loops, computers, distortion, etc. is helping do that?

Joe Giglio: Not really, Dom. I believe that people are what truly move the music forward. Any stimulus, be it sunshine, electronic effects, one's musical collaborators, the way an instrument feels on a particular day, etc, can have an effect on how/what one plays. My belief, by which I musically live, is that if one is in the moment, then so is the music—moment after moment, after moment...

DM: Is there a place for electronics in jazz?

JG: Yes. Some of the most beautiful and soulful music I have ever heard is Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
's recording, "Super Woman." He uses analog synths and traditional rhythm section instruments together, in the most musical and expressive manner. While it was not jazz, it's relevance to your question is thus: If one plays with feeling, that feeling will come through the music regardless of genre played, or instrument used.

DM: Some musicians are using odd time signatures ( 7/8, 11/8/ 13/8); is that really what jazz is suppose to be?

JG: If they are feeling those fractions, great—If they are using them because that is the prevailing trend, not so much.

DM: Just because it's improvisation, is it jazz?

JG: No. One might ask, if "Just because it is improvisation, is it flamenco, blues, Bach in his day, Indian classical music, etc?" jazz does stand out in our musical culture because improvisation is a key component. Though one might also ask, "If it is jazz, is it improvised?" Sadly, the answer can often be no.

Short and right to the point the way I like it.

Guitar great Ed Cherry
Ed Cherry
Ed Cherry
b.1954
guitar
, who earned his bones working with Dizzy Gillespie, has something to say, too.

DM: The illusive "they" are always talking about moving the music forward. Do you think by adding electronics such as wah-wahs, loops, distortion etc. is helping do that?

Ed Cherry: If it's done with taste, restraint and good sound, then I'm all for it.

DM: Is there a place for electronics in jazz?


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