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Just because it's improvised doesn't mean it's jazz


Terje
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There is improvising in all styles of music and in live and living music there is always an element, often a pretty large one, of improvisation. Two classical examples I can think of: Indian classical music (especially Northern Indian classical music) and our Western classical music.

 

North Indian classical music is to a very large extent improvised. There are melodies to start from, traditions to follow, meter and rhythm to follow but the soloist is very free to do ornamentations and improvise.

 

It used to be like this in our classical music too. Beethoven was famous for his improvisations and much of his writing was done that way. He improvised, experimented with an idea and wrote it down.

 

Someone told me that in fact it was with him that these improvised cadences started to become written parts of the music and played the same way every concert. Before Beethoven this was seldom the case and the soloist would improvise the cadences himself.

 

Some classical musicians still do this today but it's not very common.

 

My point is that neither of these two traditons sound like jazz, yet there is (or has been) a large element of improvisation in them. It is one thing to learn how to improvise and not necessarily the same thing to learn how to make it sound like jazz. Sometimes you beed to think about what your goal is.

 

Sometimes I think it's sad for jazz that so many players are concerned with making it sound like jazz instead of just improvising. Pretty soon jazz will be in the same situation as Western classical music, so formalized that we can no longer speak of actual improvisation.

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This was a popular debate in the 80's when jazz purists were taking a stand dividing themselves in categories such as traditionalists.

Well in a nutshell..

Jazz is essentially African ideas and influences in music that came to america in many different forms. Spirituals, hymnals, gospels, field work songs, and nursery rhymes. Pentatonic scales, polyrhythmic patterns, percussive patterns were brought with the slaves to America. Eventually black people learned to play western instruments, Slave rhythms were turned into parlor music which turned into Jazz.

Jazz was never defined, it just happened. African rhythms and melodys, slave hymnals turned into vaudevillian shows and new orleans marching band standards. During the 20's all these ideas were branched out and embraced by many different artists. Many subgenres and styles came from the ideas of jazz including swing, dixieland, blues, ragtime, even going to europe inspiring gyspy jazz.

Throughout the years more and more styles of Jazz were embraced, and It's easy to see why the definition of Jazz is so misconstrued. Even the older Jazz Musicians like Louis Armstrong had a hard time embracing the ideas of Coltrane and Miles (free jazz, bop, modal jazz, fusion).

Wikipedia "Jazz is an original American musical art form which originated around the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States out of a confluence of African and European music traditions. The use of blue notes, call-and-response, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note of ragtime are characteristics traceable back to jazz's West African pedigree."

Jazz has a deeper history than just improvisation, and I'm glad you're interested and on the path to figuring out exactly what it is.

- spidey

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Jazz is essentially African ideas and influences in music that came to america in many different forms.



Jazz has so little to do with Arica and african music that it's not even worth mentioning. The deep roots of jazz lie in Europe and in later european classical music, although I'd look for the deepest roots in Bach and baroque in general.

It is with the tempered scale that jazz becomes possible, it is with the tempered scale you can move from one key to another, even if they happen to be fairly distant to each other, something that wasn't possible before the introduction of said scale.

Melodically amd harmonically the bulk of jazz standards have next to nothing to do with african music but owes a great deal to for instance Russian classical music, such as Tchaikovsky. Rhythmically... nah, swing has more in comon with marching bands and marches than with the complex rhythms of Africa.

If you want to find african roots in american music I'm afraid you're gonna have to look further south. In South America the african influence is much more clear, rhythmically, melodically and harmonically.

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Jazz has so little to do with Arica and african music that it's not even worth mentioning. The deep roots of jazz lie in Europe and in later european classical music, although I'd look for the deepest roots in Bach and baroque in general.



Ummm, . . ok . . if you say so . . .

Hey Virgman, got any room left in that foxhole?

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Sometimes I think it's sad for jazz that so many players are concerned with making it sound like jazz instead of just improvising. Pretty soon jazz will be in the same situation as Western classical music, so formalized that we can no longer speak of actual improvisation.



it's been that way for about 35 years. rock is the new jazz

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Something wrong with finely crafted elegance? There's a universe of jazz inspired composition yet to be.



Where some find elegance and nuance, . .
. . . others see only rules and constrictions.

I guess it's a matter of whether your a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" kind of person.

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And just because it's not improvised doesn't mean it's not jazz. ;)


Recommended reading:

41T22RR077L._SS500_.jpg

In his book Derek Bailey interviews musicians from various genres where improvisation is important (Indian music, flamenco, baroque, organ music, rock, jazz, contemporary, "free" music...) and ask them how THEY do it.

Food for thought. :thu:



Improvisation is at the origin of all music, IMO.

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Where some find elegance and nuance, . .

. . . others see only rules and constrictions.


I guess it's a matter of whether your a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" kind of person.



Can it be said then that just because it's all written out doesn't mean it's not jazz ? Bit of an anal point but I do long for the genre to develop.

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http://www.allaboutjazz.com/timeline.htm

:wave:



There's a lot of african romanticism in jazz history. It doens't make it more true though. If you actually listen to the music you'll hear it. People who say that jazz has its roots in Africa generally haven't heard that much african music. I haven't heard that much either, it's not what I listen to regularly, but I know that what I've listened to and especially the little I've played has had extremely little to do with jazz.

I've played with a folk musician from Ghana and that had nothing to do with blues nor jazz. There wasn't a blue note in sight, trust me, all major scale, very simple changes, very modal. Folksy, beautiful but not bluesy at all. Not even the rhythm which was for the most part 3/4 time, if I remember correctly. The songs would be based on the endless turnarounds, like I-IV-I-VI, and just keep going round and round on that. No key change, no new chords intrudiced later in the song... doens't sound like jazz to me. A little closer to blues, perhaps, but not really.

If we look upon the songs known as "standards", most of them are american pop tunes from the 30's and 40's, maybe 50's. Play through that stuff, then play through some traditional West African music. Then, just for fun, play through some of Tschaikovsky's stuff. Play a little Bach, why not the first 12 bars of his very famous Air. That bassline... it could have been a jazz musician playing it. After you've played that stuff, please, tell me which one was closer to which.

Aside from "modal jazz" and some modern free forms, the rest of the material generally goes through key changes and has a lot of chords that are from anouther key and chromatic melody notes that suggest harmonies from other keys... none of this is really found in african music.

Jazz isn't african music, it doesn't really have african roots, jazz is from America. It's american folk music at its very best. It couldn't have happened anywhere else and it didn't happen anywhere else. The strongest music influence from another continent comes from Europe. After that there is a small influence from Africa but it is more political than it is musical.

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And just because it's not improvised doesn't mean it's not jazz.
;)



Absolutely! Some of the best jazz I know isn't imprtovied at all, or very, very little. Like most of the big band stuff, it's fairly heavily arranged, apart from a solo or two, and even then, if you listen to these players night after night you'll notice ho they will play pretty much the same solo over and over each time. Nothing wrong with that.

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Can it be said then that just because it's all written out doesn't mean it's not jazz ? Bit of an anal point but I do long for the genre to develop.



I wouldn't say so. I mean where do you draw the line? Even improv isn't completely original. Jazz players study and practice a lot. Think of all the time a jazzman invests in scales, arps, learning tunes and cop'ing the solo's from other artists, not to mention how long it takes to learn to improv well.

Improv'd lines aren't neccesarily lines that the player has never played before. Melodic lines and riffs are practiced in lot's of different keys, in lot's of differnt ways. Many of the melodic lines that I like are bits and pieces of melodies from standards and popular music.

It's not the real jazzman that work within rigid sets ofrules. It's those trying to learn jazz that cling to rigid thought and overly-generalized simplifications as they try to make sense of what jazz is.

cheers,

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Hi Terje,

By LISTEN to the music what jazz should I be listening to? Why don't you tell us which European artists are the roots of Jazz.

I listen to a ton of African music, and Jazz, and European Jazz, so please enlighten me. I'm very open to all schools of thought on this subject.

In my opinion, when Jazz was born it was a bit like Gumbo, and musicians from all over brought what they knew and mixed it in the pot. Django Reinhardt was heavily influenced by american artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Then he took what he knew from Gypsy musicians he heard and applied it to Jazz music which became known as Gypsy Jazz. If you look at his European influences you'll realize they would play classical and folk music.

Please enlighten me on what you know.

- Spidey

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I wouldn't say so. I mean where do you draw the line? Even improv isn't completely original. Jazz players study and practice a lot. Think of all the time a jazzman invests in scales, arps, learning tunes and cop'ing the solo's from other artists, not to mention how long it takes to learn to improv well.


Improv'd lines aren't neccesarily lines that the player has never played before. Melodic lines and riffs are practiced in lot's of different keys, in lot's of differnt ways. Many of the melodic lines that I like are bits and pieces of melodies from standards and popular music.


It's not the real jazzman that work within rigid sets ofrules. It's those trying to learn jazz that cling to rigid thought and overly-generalized simplifications as they try to make sense of what jazz is.


cheers,



Agree, and this is what I find frustrating. Human error. I for one can easily hack my way through too many choruses. There should be a standard repertoire of legit music modeled on Jazz - music that melds the slickness of the new jazz harmonies and rhythms with the craftsmanship of legit music.

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Agree, and this is what I find frustrating. Human error. I for one can easily hack my way through too many choruses. There should be a standard repertoire of legit music modeled on Jazz - music that melds the slickness of the new jazz harmonies and rhythms with the craftsmanship of legit music.



:confused::confused:

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Hi Terje,


By LISTEN to the music what jazz should I be listening to? Why don't you tell us which European artists are the roots of Jazz.


I listen to a ton of African music, and Jazz, and European Jazz, so please enlighten me. I'm very open to all schools of thought on this subject.


In my opinion, when Jazz was born it was a bit like Gumbo, and musicians from all over brought what they knew and mixed it in the pot. Django Reinhardt was heavily influenced by american artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Then he took what he knew from Gypsy musicians he heard and applied it to Jazz music which became known as Gypsy Jazz. If you look at his European influences you'll realize they would play classical and folk music.


Please enlighten me on what you know.


- Spidey



Yeah, yeah, jazz came from Africa. It was invented there by illiterate bushmen who used to sing these songs to celebrate the full moon.

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