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On and Off the Grid

What Is Jazz Now?

By Published: September 10, 2012
EC: You mean like, when Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
1916 - 1942
guitar, electric
showed up with an amp and electric guitar to the gig? Or when Miles put Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
in front of a Fender Rhodes, or when Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
plugged his tenor sax into a Varitone? Um, yes, I, I think there's a place in jazz for electronics (to me this is similar to your first question)...



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

EC: Well, I guess it's cool. I mean I really liked what Steve Coleman
Steve Coleman
Steve Coleman
b.1956
saxophone
was doing with odd time back in the '80s, but for me, I can't listen to that all night, I want to tap my foot and dance if I want to. I think Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
said something like "it don't mean a thing...if you can't tap your foot to it." It's got to be swingin' at some point during the night. My dad told me back his day, that he and my mom would dance to "Just Friends," by Charlie Parker or "This Is Always," by Earl Coleman
Earl Coleman
b.1925
. This is music for the people, let's dance!

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

DM: Dizzy called it "our music." If we are playing "our music," there's got to be swing, it's got to be soulful, the feeling of the blues and the African American church has to be up in there somewhere, or else to me, it isn't jazz (America's classical music—another name Dizzy used in describing "our music"). Charlie Parker had all those ingredients in his playing whenever you heard him (and if you are a young non-African American student of this music, you have to understand and appreciate the full spectrum of Black Music in this country and be fully aware of the socio-political aspects that went into its formation). There are influences from other countries in the music all over the place now, and that's great, but if the soloist is playing stiff and sounding like a classical musician playing what he thinks "our music" is supposed to sound and feel like, well, I shut down immediately on that. No matter how far out John Coltrane got, you always heard that "moan" or "shiver" in his solos. That's the blues, that's the church you are hearing (I think I heard Wynton say that somewhere).

These are some very strong statements from four great musicians from different backgrounds. Almost all agree in some way or another. I personally believe that there is nothing really new in jazz except the approach to the music as an individual player. And what I mean by that is, each instrumentalist, in order to move forward, has to move forward on his instrument. His/her approach to the way the instrument is played and what that approach can bring to the music in an innovative way and usually that is by phrasing, harmony, rhythm and technique. Some players have so many pedals that it is no longer about the music, it's about the effectss and learning to use those effects is like learning a new instrument. I personally don't have the inclination or the patience to do that. I find there are always new techniques to discover in the use on my instrument without dabbling into effects. Playing with musicians such as Tomas Ulrich
Tomas Ulrich
Tomas Ulrich
b.1958
cello
, Jason Kao Hwang
Jason Kao Hwang
Jason Kao Hwang
b.1957
violin
and Ken Filiano
Ken Filiano
Ken Filiano
b.1952
bass, acoustic
, who are masters of improvisation and instrumental acoustic sound effects without the electronics, is good enough for me. But that's me, and you the public may have a totally different take on it.

Did jazz die in 1959? I don't think so. It was on pause for a few years.

What is jazz now? It's whatever we want it to be and that can be a personal issue for each and every one of us.

Photo Credits

Page 1, Hal Galper
Hal Galper
Hal Galper
b.1938
piano


Page 3, Steve Swell: John Rogers

Page 5, Ed Cherry: Lena Adasheva


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