The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music

Tom Greenland By

Sign in to view read count
The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music
Ben Ratliff
Hardcover; 256 pages
ISBN: 0805081461
Times Books

Jazz critic Ben Ratliff's new book, following closely on the heels of his well-received expose of the sound and influence of saxophonist John Coltrane, is a compilation of annotated interviews originally published in The New York Times as a series titled "Listening With." The dramatis personae includes a veritable who's who of jazz MVPs, including trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, drummers Roy Haynes and Paul Motian, pianists Andrew Hill and Hank Jones, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Dianne Reeves, and composer Maria Schneider, plus two surprises: Cuban pianist Bebe Valdés (Chucho Valdés' father, memorable for his appearance in Calle 54), and Argentinean pianist Guillermo Klein, an under-recognized up-and-comer.

Ratliff's modus operandi was to conduct each interview while listening to recordings that his subjects had preselected, using the music as lubrication and inspiration, a set of "changes" to blow over. This would, hopefully, provoke spontaneous reactions instead of usual worked-out "licks" that many understandably self-promotional musicians are likely to regurgitate in the heat of media attention.

For the most part Ratliff is successful and the reader is treated to a variety of engrossing insights into each artist's aesthetic ethos: Metheny talks of the "glue" that makes musical ideas cohere; Schneider reveals underlying metaphors of flying in her compositions; Klein revels in the impact of "freshly discovered" harmonies; Haynes and Motian offer insightful critiques of their drumming peers; Brookmeyer advises "Keep your hand on the soloist"; Reeves pays homage to Shirley Horn by duplicating every nuance of her sung phrases; and Coleman expounds and expands on his concept of "unison". Some of the most interesting moments occur when Ratliff ventures an opinion of his own, only to stand 'corrected' with a clarifying riposte.

In spite of Ratliff's careful preparation, proprietary editorial hand and brusque, pithy prose, these interviews emerge finally as co-improvisations, freewheeling blowing sessions that, like many a classic Verve side, make up for in panache what they might lack in polish.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read "The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965" Book Reviews The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 11, 2017
Read "Soul Jazz: Jazz In The Black Community, 1945-1975" Book Reviews Soul Jazz: Jazz In The Black Community, 1945-1975
by James Nadal
Published: July 7, 2017
Read "Whisper Not: The Autobiography Of Benny Golson" Book Reviews Whisper Not: The Autobiography Of Benny Golson
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 20, 2016
Read "Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge" Book Reviews Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 21, 2017


Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.