Jazz Theory

AAJ Staff By

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A dictionary is not a language. Organic chemistry is not fine cooking. A census is not a community.

People who theorize about music like to reduce it to three dimensions: pitch, intensity, and time—exactly what's found on sheet music. When you play a CD, you're listening to a string of bits that encode precisely those three elements. But as anyone with a brain instead of a silicon chip can attest, the experience of listening to music is a whole lot more involving than such a simple explanation would suggest. All the rules of harmony fall flat before the human spirit.

So we take the music direct from the source and accept compromise when that's not possible. Recordings work pretty well. DVDs are wonderful. Books can also help illuminate the human element.

Pictures are not bad, either. Especially in an art form like jazz, freezing a performance in time forces you to look beyond that simple three-dimensional theory into the raw human element. When you see Jan Garbarek, hands on horn, eyes closed in rapture, you can tell he's really singing. That sweeping, soaring gesture may be devoid of sound, but it's pregnant with feeling.

We've added nine new galleries to the archive this month, each featuring an artist's distinctive vision of the music. They are all quite different: Henry Benson 's take on the Monterey Jazz festival is all about a look in the eye, whether curious, soulful, or assertive. Karlheinz Klüter likes to frame musicians within the context of their instrument, emphasizing the unpredictable relationships involved.

Painter Kevin Neireiter pulls musicians into a swirl of light and geometry: Fela Kuti's raised-fist gesture of defiance seems almost skeletal and somber. Tom Priemon interprets Jason Moran's music "through a geo math metric cubist/expressionist improv within an abstract dimension"—yet another confusing theory—through photos in constant flux. No matter how many times you see a musician blow a horn, the look is never the same. Each picture demands a new perspective.

We've changed our perspective as a publication as well. The site design team proudly reports that, along with other spring cleaning, our home page also underwent some sprucing up. You'll notice more space and balance, cleaner lines and clearer organization, easier access to the content you desire. Hats off to our fearless leader, Michael Ricci, for the vision and the execution.

In case it hasn't become obvious by now, we're publishing new material on a daily basis, and lots of it. New articles appear on the home page right as they come online (as well as in the archives later); CD reviews come out nearly every day. One of those days we chose to be particularly indulgent... If you feel foolish, you might want to visit our April 1 page and peruse the reviews and articles. We assembled a crack team of writers to cover the most serious music we could find. (Ha!)

In the interview department, we bow down deeply to Fred Jung, who seems to be spending all his time sitting by the fire talking to jazz musicians. Maybe he just cut down a forest—who knows?—but over the last month he sent us ten interviews with artists like Dave Douglas , Ahmad Jamal , and Ken Vandermark . Try not to burn out any time soon, okay Fred? We need you!

All foolishness aside, it's a pleasure to see what each of our contributors brings to the music. Every new perspective reveals something unique about that hopelessly intangible human element which pervades jazz—which, of course, is probably the reason we like it so much. And the reason we're constantly trying to sort it out.

Oh well.

Photo Credits: Jan Garbarek by Tasic Dragan and Fela by Kevin Neireiter .


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