Best of 2012
I've noticed that when a lot of the younger groups rearrange a standard or pop song, they take out a beat here and there. It keeps me off guard and if I don't count I lose track of the downbeat. But that's fine. What I'm wondering is: Where do those beats go?
Beats Are Missing
It's horrible to say, but this is simply the thinning of the species; natural selection favoring the beats that matter most, at the expense of those proven to be expendable. Oh, to believe in Intelligent Design, that benevolent fairy tale glossing over the destruction of the weak and defenseless! But, no, my belief system offers no such consolation; these superfluous beats will someday be entirely extinct, thoughtlessly offed by young composers yet to develop a musical conscience.
What does this mean for the future of jazz? 4/4 time will no longer be the standard; first 3/4, then 2/4 will eventually rise to the fore, with sporadic dropped beats continuing to mark the music's evolution. The brutal process will continue until there's just one beat left; a powerful and utterly adaptable beat, granted, but one that in itself will appeal to only the cruelest and most simpleminded among us. Which, conveniently, may be the only humans left by then anyway.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
My group was playing in a remote South American town for people who had never heard jazz before. We were billed as a jazz trio, and after the show one of the audience members asked me, "Who is Jazz?" What should I have said?
Howard In The Tropics
Jazz is slippery. It carries no passport or credit cards, and refuses to reveal its name at hotel check-in. Hiding from authorities, it can take on any physical form it choosesfrom trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to saxophonistJohn Zorn, from guitarist Pat Metheny to saxophonist Kenny G. Its diet is high in alcohol and THC, and it often smells rank. Jazz has no fixed name; it's a psychopath, changing identities faster than you can say "harmolodic funk."
So who is jazz? For the time being, apparently, it's my next door neighbor Bill, a surly tugboat captain who keeps building weird additions to his house. Go figure.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
When people use big words to describe their music, is that supposed to make it better? Like I know a bassist who says he's "contextualizing" his music. Why does he do that?
Bassist Uses Lofty Language
He's practicing Grantspeak, of course. A few decades ago, granting agencies grudgingly started funding jazz projects. But how can their panelists judge the applications when they know nothing about jazz music?
Well, what they are comfortable judging is intellect, so they depend on jazz artists to put it on full display. That's why savvy applicants like your bassist friend keep their eye on the prize and practice at every opportunity. In fact, if you'd stuck around a little longer you might have even seen him go from contextualizing to "re- contextualizing." Extra credit!
Although grantors were the original targets of Grantspeak, its use has become more widespread. Other people in positions of power in the jazz worldespecially presenters and journalistshave proven equally susceptible to its charms. And it's even starting to influence artists, not only in their music, but also in their interactions:
Andrew: Hey, Bob, what's happening?
Bob: You know, just shedding, trying to keep my chops up. How about you?
Andrew: Actually, in my new multidisciplinary song cycle, based on a contemporary reading of recovered scripts from the earliest matriarchal societies, I'm reexamining the relationship between soloist and ensemble, looking for ways to evoke a more egalitarian, communal paradigm.
Bob [embarrassed]: Cool. Um, guess I'll go practice Stablemates.
Andrew [silently]: "Heh, heh, heh."
People ask where jazz is heading, BULL, and I can answer definitively: Grantspeak is the future! Not only as a descriptive language, but as a quasi- paradigmatic, non-idiomatic re-contextualization of jazz itself. Buy your thesaurus now, before you and your music are left behind!
Dear Mr. P.C.:
At the end of my gig, the bandleader told me that my playing is "timeless." Is that good?
Drummer in Doubt
Does he pay you by the hour? If so, he may be trying to pull a quick one on you. Think about it: If you've just played a gig from 9:00 to midnight, you'd expect him to pay you for the three hours you put in. But by calling your playing "timeless," he can pay whatever he wantsif anything.
Historically, this has happened to drummers more than to any other musicians. That's how they became timekeepers; first for themselves, and eventually for the entire band. Unfortunately, being responsible for tracking everyone's billable hours carries a lot of pressure with it. That has taken a harsh toll on drummers' playing, causing them to rush and/or drag unpredictably.