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Thread: Jazz Theory (What is it?)

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    Jazz Theory (What is it?)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQMgXPFzdg8#t=1m58s
    In this piano solo, I have trouble understanding what makes it jazz. There doesn't seem to be one scale or scales that all of jazz goes through. It all seems to have similar sound, but I don't really know the intervals or scales to get it. I understand there is a lot of seventh and 9th chords, but I have trouble understand what makes a jazz melody, jazzy.
    If you could help, it would be greatly appreciated. I want to understand it, rather than copy melodies from a "Fake Book".
    Last edited by xerox02; 10-29-2010 at 11:38 PM.

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    That certainly sounds like jazz to me, and I'm slightly baffled as to what you're asking. But let's go back to first principles...

    "Jazz" is defined many ways. Essentially it's music originating in African-American culture in which improvisation plays a central part. Anything which fits that bill - or is influenced by music which fits that bill - can be called "jazz". (Blues fits that bill, and is closely linked with jazz, but has essential differences - mainly that blues is harmonically very basic, while jazz is harmonically complex.)

    It's nothing to do with scales. Jazz uses the same scales used in other western music - essentually combining classical major and minor scales (including modes) with blues scale.

    Rhythm and rhythmic feel is a big part of it. And that's not simply a matter of "swing" or "syncopation" either, which people used to think of as defining "jazz". Not all jazz swings (eg the Latin jazz in that clip). And syncopation is very common in rock music.

    Classic jazz tends to use certain kinds of instruments, mostly acoustic (piano, sax, trumpet, double bass, drum kit). But over the last 40 years jazz has increasingly used amplified instruments, from guitars to synths etc.

    Really, the only thing in the end that sets jazz apart from other forms of popular western music is its interest in IMPROVISATION. Jazz is not jazz without a healthy level of improvisation. You get improvisation in other forms of music (rock, blues, folk, baroque), but it's a non-essential peripheral option.
    Eg, in rock music, a "solo" may be written beforehand, and always played the same way. In jazz that never happens: the whole point is to improvise solos differently every time.

    So real-time human input is crucial to jazz. You don't get drum machines in jazz (unless the musician is operating it in real time, able to make changes).

    Jazz represents a particular ATTITUDE to music - this is crucial too. While it requires high levels of technical accomplishment and creative imagination, it's a democratic music. It means nothing unless performed in front of an audience, with whom the musicians can interact. When jazz is recorded, it loses most (if not all) of its raison d'etre.

    As an attitude, you can play any kind of music with a jazz attitude. In this sense, "jazz" is not a noun, it's a verb or adjective. It's a way of playing music, not a type of music. You can take a rock song, or a classical piece, and play it in a jazz way - by essentially disrespecting it to some degree: treating its composed elements not as things to be reproduced faithfully, but as jumping off points for the performers' own creativity.

    IOW, the composer is downgraded in jazz. The performer is exalted. Jazz respects composers and many jazz musicians also compose, of course. But the composer just "delivers the kit". It's the performer who puts it together, according to his own instructions.
    To a jazz musician, a composition is little more than a sketch, a line drawing. He puts the colours into it, and they may be different colours for each performance.

    There are still idiomatic rules, of course. We can tell a jazz improviser from an Indian raga improviser - partly that's the scales used, but also the kinds of things played, the kinds of ground rules. Even within jazz, we can tell a "gypsy jazz" soloist from a "post-bop" soloist, and a "swing" soloist from a "fusion" one. But we still know it's "jazz". How? Because of that improvising attitude. The way that not just the soloists improvise but the rhythm section does too - not merely individually, but as a group, all the way through a tune. They conduct a musical conversation, alert to inspiration the whole time.
    Last edited by JonR; 10-30-2010 at 12:38 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    That certainly sounds like jazz to me, and I'm slightly baffled as to what you're asking. But let's go back to first principles...

    "Jazz" is defined many ways. Essentially it's music originating in African-American culture in which improvisation plays a central part. Anything which fits that bill - or is influenced by music which fits that bill - can be called "jazz". (Blues fits that bill, and is closely linked with jazz, but has essential differences - mainly that blues is harmonically very basic, while jazz is harmonically complex.)

    It's nothing to do with scales. Jazz uses the same scales used in other western music - essentually combining classical major and minor scales (including modes) with blues scale.

    Rhythm and rhythmic feel is a big part of it. And that's not simply a matter of "swing" or "syncopation" either, which people used to think of as defining "jazz". Not all jazz swings (eg the Latin jazz in that clip). And syncopation is very common in rock music.

    Classic jazz tends to use certain kinds of instruments, mostly acoustic (piano, sax, trumpet, double bass, drum kit). But over the last 40 years jazz has increasingly used amplified instruments, from guitars to synths etc.

    Really, the only thing in the end that sets jazz apart from other forms of popular western music is its interest in IMPROVISATION. Jazz is not jazz without a healthy level of improvisation. You get improvisation in other forms of music (rock, blues, folk, baroque), but it's a non-essential peripheral option.
    Eg, in rock music, a "solo" may be written beforehand, and always played the same way. In jazz that never happens: the whole point is to improvise solos differently every time.

    So real-time human input is crucial to jazz. You don't get drum machines in jazz (unless the musician is operating it in real time, able to make changes).

    Jazz represents a particular ATTITUDE to music - this is crucial too. While it requires high levels of technical accomplishment and creative imagination, it's a democratic music. It means nothing unless performed in front of an audience, with whom the musicians can interact. When jazz is recorded, it loses most (if not all) of its raison d'etre.

    As an attitude, you can play any kind of music with a jazz attitude. In this sense, "jazz" is not a noun, it's a verb or adjective. It's a way of playing music, not a type of music. You can take a rock song, or a classical piece, and play it in a jazz way - by essentially disrespecting it to some degree: treating its composed elements not as things to be reproduced faithfully, but as jumping off points for the performers' own creativity.

    IOW, the composer is downgraded in jazz. The performer is exalted. Jazz respects composers and many jazz musicians also compose, of course. But the composer just "delivers the kit". It's the performer who puts it together, according to his own instructions.
    To a jazz musician, a composition is little more than a sketch, a line drawing. He puts the colours into it, and they may be different colours for each performance.

    SCALES??? forget scales...
    Quick Reply: Like melodically for some reason in that song, not rhythmically the melody sounds jazzy and I just want to learn I can make a jazz melody.
    Is there a certain melodic interval in that piece the song tends to go? What improvisation techniques make that sound?

    Will Post Bigger Reply After: Ah I see, Jazz is basically a feel on music done through improvisation. Improvisation is a foundation of jazz. How can I learn the basics of jazz improvisation? It just seems weird that there isn't a melodic relationship used consistently in jazz because in a lot of the stuff I hear sounds roughly similar. But I do understand that there are many kinds of different jazz, which do not sound similar at all. And also that it's not just a melodic relationship or rhythmic one, but more a feel as it's roughly defined.
    Last edited by xerox02; 10-30-2010 at 12:39 AM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by xerox02 View Post
    Quick Reply: Like melodically for some reason in that song, not rhythmically the melody sounds jazzy and I just want to learn I can make a jazz melody.
    Is there a certain melodic interval in that piece the song tends to go? What improvisation techniques make that sound.

    Will Post Bigger Reply After: Ah I see, Jazz is basically a feel on music done through improvisation. Improvisation is a foundation of jazz. How can I learn the basics of jazz improvisation? It just seems weird that there isn't a melodic relationship used consistently in jazz because in a lot of the stuff I hear sounds roughly similar. But I do understand that there are many kinds of different jazz, which do not sound similar at all. And also that it's not just a melodic relationship or rhythmic one, but more a feel as it's roughly defined.
    To get down to details, I guess you can point to CHROMATICISM as what makes a melody "jazzy".
    So if one is playing a tune in the key of C major, one doesn't just stick to the C major scale. One COULD be jazzy that way (with rhythmic devices), but it could sound very "cute", or "sweet".
    To get more deeply jazzy, the player will use chromatic "outside" notes - either as approaches to chord tones (eg Eb before E, or F# before G), or as whole outside passages (say a brief phrase using the Db or B major scale before coming back to C).
    Many of the chromaticisms come from blues (which normally adds Eb, Bb and Gb to the C major key) but others are more "angular". A jazz player will typically stress chromatics, dig into them, in a way a blues player might not.

    Of course, chromaticism is part of avant garde "classical" music too, and some rock. There is still that other element that makes it "jazz", which is something individual. Commonly it's a kind of humour, or joie de vivre, but it can also be a particular personal intensity, almost spiritual, as in Coltrane or Keith Jarrett.

    IOW, although one can discuss technical details (like chromatics, or swing) it's kind of missing the main point. You could apply all that stuff, but you still might not be playing "jazz". A great old example was when Yehudi Menuhin tried playing with Stephane Grappelly. Menuhin was fascinated by jazz, and tried to adopt some of the techniques - but he was hopeless. He just didn't "get it". He'd had the wrong education, basically. A classical musical training can destroy any hope of playing jazz - it doesn't have to, but it can. Many jazz musicians started with a classical education - usually because that was the only academic musical education available. But the REAL jazz education comes from listening to recordings and watching great jazz musicians. You have to enter the culture and learn the language.

    When you are a jazz musician, incidentally, you often don't think of yourself that way. You are a musician playing music. It's other people that call it "jazz" - especially once it's old enough to be able to be analysed and categorised.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    To get down to details, I guess you can point to CHROMATICISM as what makes a melody "jazzy".
    So if one is playing a tune in the key of C major, one doesn't just stick to the C major scale. One COULD be jazzy that way (with rhythmic devices), but it could sound very "cute", or "sweet".
    To get more deeply jazzy, the player will use chromatic "outside" notes - either as approaches to chord tones (eg Eb before E, or F# before G), or as whole outside passages (say a brief phrase using the Db or B major scale before coming back to C).
    Many of the chromaticisms come from blues (which normally adds Eb, Bb and Gb to the C major key) but others are more "angular". A jazz player will typically stress chromatics, dig into them, in a way a blues player might not.

    Of course, chromaticism is part of avant garde "classical" music too, and some rock. There is still that other element that makes it "jazz", which is something individual. Commonly it's a kind of humour, or joie de vivre, but it can also be a particular personal intensity, almost spiritual, as in Coltrane or Keith Jarrett.

    IOW, although one can discuss technical details (like chromatics, or swing) it's kind of missing the main point. You could apply all that stuff, but you still might not be playing "jazz". A great old example was when Yehudi Menuhin tried playing with Stephane Grappelly. Menuhin was fascinated by jazz, and tried to adopt some of the techniques - but he was hopeless. He just didn't "get it". He'd had the wrong education, basically. A classical musical training can destroy any hope of playing jazz - it doesn't have to, but it can. Many jazz musicians started with a classical education - usually because that was the only academic musical education available. But the REAL jazz education comes from listening to recordings and watching great jazz musicians. You have to enter the culture and learn the language.

    When you are a jazz musician, incidentally, you often don't think of yourself that way. You are a musician playing music. It's other people that call it "jazz" - especially once it's old enough to be able to be analysed and categorised.
    Wow, that's really interesting. I personally love jazz and I try to make it out to shows as much as I can. But I guess I will have to find my own way to enter the culture. Also, study it on my own personally, but I really adore jazz music.

    I think someone told me a cruel false joke when they said jazz was all about just musicians hitting a bunch dissonant notes to make it sound kind of consonant.

    Hopefully through personal study, I will get "IT" lol.

    Btw, reading the title of this thread is baffling in how ridiculous it's titled lol.
    Last edited by xerox02; 10-30-2010 at 01:10 AM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by xerox02 View Post
    Wow, that's really interesting. I personally love jazz and I try to make it out to shows as much as I can. But I guess I will have to find my own way to enter the culture. Also, study it on my own personally, but I really adore jazz music.

    I think someone told me a cruel false joke when they said jazz was all about just musicians hitting a bunch dissonant notes to make it sound kind of consonant.
    There is some truth in that.
    If you play dissonance often enough, you get used to it. It doesn't actually become consonant, but you get to like it, and eventually find it (almost) as boring as consonance.

    The history of European classical music (from the middle ages to the 20thC anyway) has been about gradually expanding our acceptance of complex harmony. There was a time when "God's music" would not accept harmony (different notes at the same time!) at all - it was essentially monophonic plainchant. Then they allowed perfect 4ths and perfect 5ths. Very gradually (and reluctantly) they accepted major 3rds and major 6ths. Eventually most intervals were OK, but there were very strict rules about how they went together in sequence - and the tritone was still banned.
    The impression you get all the way is that they wanted music to be "smooth and blending" ideally, but a little dissonance was welcome as contrast and to provide tensions - to set off the consonance and make it seem that much more perfect and desirable. But as those dissonances became more familiar they came to seem too mild or bland, so slightly more clashing ones were required. Harmony is like any addictive drug, the addict needs to up his dose to get the same effect.
    Eventually, by the end of the 19thC, they'd run out of road. They were at the bottom of the barrel. The tonal key system (7-note major and minor scales) had been exhausted; there were no tensions left in it to exploit that hadn't been well used. So composers tried to abandon the system entirely. Some went back to pre-tonal modal ideas (Debussy, Satie, Ravel); some went into 12-tone atonaliy or serialism (Schoenberg), where they tried to make every note equal; others (later) abandoned the idea of 12-note octaves altogether - either splitting it into more divisions, or using what previous generations would have called noise, or unmusical sounds (Stockhausen etc). John Cage even tried to get rid of the notion of "composer" altogether by using chance methods.

    In jazz, meanwhile, they went through a similar process, over the course of around 50 years. (Part of the reason for the much greater acceleration was audio recording - everybody could hear what was happening, and consume music - and get bored with it - at a much faster rate than in the pre-recording era.)
    Happily tonal and key-based in the swing and bebop eras (albeit infused with the chromatic accent of blues). Bebop did begin to introduce serious dissonances (which many contemporary critics found very unpleasant), but nothing really changed until the late 1950s, when Miles Davis (in the main) got tired of bebop chasing its tail round all those frantic cyclical progressions (disappearing up its own ***), and invented a new form of peaceful, meditative, one-chord jazz, which got dubbed "modal". That caught on for a few years, and then Ornette Coleman came along and threw that out too - basically abandoning chords keys and modes altogether for a freewheeling melodic style - which he called "harmolodic", and others called "free jazz", and yet others called "a load of meaningless noise".
    Then Miles came back in the late 60s (abetted by Chick Corea and other keyboard players mainly) with sounds borrowed from rock music to create "fusion": jazz with a more aggressive electronic edge, but reviving old tonal and modal harmonies, meshing the two together. Again - as with all these advances - the old school would say "that ain't jazz!" Until, of course the next advance, where everyone would claim the previous one had been "real jazz" after all.

    It's like I said before, the musicians themselves just think about playing "music". They build on what they grew up with, of course, the jazz of the previous generation(s). But because true jazz is about finding your own way and your own voice - speaking the language with your own accent - good jazz musicians always move the genre on into new ground. Critics and jazz buffs tend to hate this, because just when they've pigeon-holed one style of jazz - "swing", "bebop", "post-bop", "modal", "free", "fusion" - the damn musicians abandon it and come up with something that doesn't sound like "jazz" at all, according to those old definitions.
    To a jazz musician what was great about Charlie Parker wasn't the notes he played, the stuff you can write down and analyse. It was that he was himself; he wasn't Louis Armstrong, or Sidney Bechet. He played what he played because of who he was - he had the confidence and self-belief to make the music his own. That's what's inspiring about him. Listening to him should make you want to play your own music, not copy his! (OK you might start out happily copying his; but it's a springboard - for you it's a beginning, not an end.)

    Of course, there are countless amateur jazz musicians who just want to play Charlie Parker all the time, or whoever. There's something safe and reassuring about playing a genre that's safely defined and understood, with clear rules. But to real jazz musicians, while they respect and maybe even idolise figures like Bird, they know it's not about playing "Cherokee" or "Confirmation" over and over. That's circular, it gets nowhere. As a choice for live performance (rather than something to learn at school) bebop ought to be dead and buried. One might as well be playing elevator music. Real jazz is about NOW, and how you feel about NOW: what music is happening now, and how can we get hold of that and shake it by the neck until it coughs up something fresh? People like Brad Mehldau or the Bad Plus, who take modern rock songs and "jazz" them. Just like Bird and his ilk did with the pop songs of their day. (Why play an ancient pop song like Autumn Leaves, when you can play a new(ish) one like Smells Like Teen Spirit or Paranoid Android? There's just as much space for improvisation and exploration in the latter as in the former.)
    At the same time, it's not about being confrontational for the sake of it. A lot of modern jazz is mellow, highly consonant (see below). But still distinctly modern, and unlike anything before it.

    There's a great quote by British avant garde jazz-blues guitarist Billy Jenkins, which basically says "jazz" is what the music gets called after the event, when you've made an album, and it's far enough in the past to be recognised as belonging to a genre. "At the time, we were just playing music; but you look back and it's 'jazz'!" It has to be called "jazz", because then a record company can sell it. They know what box to put it in.

    Here he is with one of his typical rants:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF6gvK-JeTM
    - the observation in question comes around 1:00. You can hear some of his actual music a little later. (Of course I should apologise to him for calling him an "avant garde jazz-blues" guitarist. Basically he's a guitarist. End of. )

    Here's some great modern jazz:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txVSX...eature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJb46qdcoEY&feature=fvst
    (OK, they're both using the old fashioned acoustic trio format - there's still mileage in that. In a sense this is a totally traditional scenario.)

    But listen to what Bill Frisell does with an old American tune:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Svzv-YkUzdk
    Nothing like Louis Armstrong! - but if this isn't jazz, what else is it?
    Last edited by JonR; 10-30-2010 at 12:34 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    There is some truth in that.
    If you play dissonance often enough, you get used to it. It doesn't actually become consonant, but you get to like it, and eventually find it (almost) as boring as consonance.

    The history of European classical music (from the middle ages to the 20thC anyway) has been about gradually expanding our acceptance of complex harmony. There was a time when "God's music" would not accept harmony (different notes at the same time!) at all - it was essentially monophonic plainchant. Then they allowed perfect 4ths and perfect 5ths. Very gradually (and reluctantly) they accepted major 3rds and major 6ths. Eventually most intervals were OK, but there were very strict rules about how they went together in sequence - and the tritone was still banned.
    The impression you get all the way is that they wanted music to be "smooth and blending" ideally, but a little dissonance was welcome as contrast and to provide tensions - to set off the consonance and make it seem that much more perfect and desirable. But as those dissonances became more familiar they came to seem too mild or bland, so slightly more clashing ones were required. Harmony is like any addictive drug, the addict needs to up his dose to get the same effect.
    Eventually, by the end of the 19thC, they'd run out of road. They were at the bottom of the barrel. The tonal key system (7-note major and minor scales) had been exhausted; there were no tensions left in it to exploit that hadn't been well used. So composers tried to abandon the system entirely. Some went back to pre-tonal modal ideas (Debussy, Satie, Ravel); some went into 12-tone atonaliy or serialism (Schoenberg), where they tried to make every note equal; others (later) abandoned the idea of 12-note octaves altogether - either splitting it into more divisions, or using what previous generations would have called noise, or unmusical sounds (Stockhausen etc). John Cage even tried to get rid of the notion of "composer" altogether by using chance methods.

    In jazz, meanwhile, they went through a similar process, over the course of around 50 years. (Part of the reason for the much greater acceleration was audio recording - everybody could hear what was happening, and consume music - and get bored with it - at a much faster rate than in the pre-recording era.)
    Happily tonal and key-based in the swing and bebop eras (albeit infused with the chromatic accent of blues). Bebop did begin to introduce serious dissonances (which many contemporary critics found very unpleasant), but nothing really changed until the late 1950s, when Miles Davis (in the main) got tired of bebop chasing its tail round all those frantic cyclical progressions (disappearing up its own ***), and invented a new form of peaceful, meditative, one-chord jazz, which got dubbed "modal". That caught on for a few years, and then Ornette Coleman came along and threw that out too - basically abandoning chords keys and modes altogether for a freewheeling melodic style - which he called "harmolodic", and others called "free jazz", and yet others called "a load of meaningless noise".
    Then Miles came back in the late 60s (abetted by Chick Corea and other keyboard players mainly) with sounds borrowed from rock music to create "fusion": jazz with a more aggressive electronic edge, but reviving old tonal and modal harmonies, meshing the two together. Again - as with all these advances - the old school would say "that ain't jazz!" Until, of course the next advance, where everyone would claim the previous one had been "real jazz" after all.

    It's like I said before, the musicians themselves just think about playing "music". They build on what they grew up with, of course, the jazz of the previous generation(s). But because true jazz is about finding your own way and your own voice - speaking the language with your own accent - good jazz musicians always move the genre on into new ground. Critics and jazz buffs tend to hate this, because just when they've pigeon-holed one style of jazz - "swing", "bebop", "post-bop", "modal", "free", "fusion" - the damn musicians abandon it and come up with something that doesn't sound like "jazz" at all, according to those old definitions.
    To a jazz musician what was great about Charlie Parker wasn't the notes he played, the stuff you can write down and analyse. It was that he was himself; he wasn't Louis Armstrong, or Sidney Bechet. He played what he played because of who he was - he had the confidence and self-belief to make the music his own. That's what's inspiring about him. Listening to him should make you want to play your own music, not copy his! (OK you might start out happily copying his; but it's a springboard - for you it's a beginning, not an end.)

    Of course, there are countless amateur jazz musicians who just want to play Charlie Parker all the time, or whoever. There's something safe and reassuring about playing a genre that's safely defined and understood, with clear rules. But to real jazz musicians, while they respect and maybe even idolise figures like Bird, they know it's not about playing "Cherokee" or "Confirmation" over and over. That's circular, it gets nowhere. As a choice for live performance (rather than something to learn at school) bebop ought to be dead and buried. One might as well be playing elevator music. Real jazz is about NOW, and how you feel about NOW: what music is happening now, and how can we get hold of that and shake it by the neck until it coughs up something fresh? People like Brad Mehldau or the Bad Plus, who take modern rock songs and "jazz" them. Just like Bird and his ilk did with the pop songs of their day. (Why play an ancient pop song like Autumn Leaves, when you can play a new(ish) one like Smells Like Teen Spirit or Paranoid Android? There's just as much space for improvisation and exploration in the latter as in the former.)
    At the same time, it's not about being confrontational for the sake of it. A lot of modern jazz is mellow, highly consonant (see below). But still distinctly modern, and unlike anything before it.

    There's a great quote by British avant garde jazz-blues guitarist Billy Jenkins, which basically says "jazz" is what the music gets called after the event, when you've made an album, and it's far enough in the past to be recognised as belonging to a genre. "At the time, we were just playing music; but you look back and it's 'jazz'!" It has to be called "jazz", because then a record company can sell it. They know what box to put it in.

    Here he is with one of his typical rants:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF6gvK-JeTM
    - the observation in question comes around 1:00. You can hear some of his actual music a little later. (Of course I should apologise to him for calling him an "avant garde jazz-blues" guitarist. Basically he's a guitarist. End of. )

    Here's some great modern jazz:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txVSX...eature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJb46qdcoEY&feature=fvst
    (OK, they're both using the old fashioned acoustic trio format - there's still mileage in that. In a sense this is a totally traditional scenario.)

    But listen to what Bill Frisell does with an old American tune:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Svzv-YkUzdk
    Nothing like Louis Armstrong! - but if this isn't jazz, what else is it?
    Wow, so much amazing information. Let me have some time to take this all in and reply

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    Wow, Jon, it seems you write nothing but masterpieces. It seems someone just has to give you the right intro.

    I really enjoyed the music you posted. Particularly that second one, I really identified with that one more than the others for some reason.

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    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    Wow, Jon, it seems you write nothing but masterpieces. It seems someone just has to give you the right intro.

    I really enjoyed the music you posted. Particularly that second one, I really identified with that one more than the others for some reason.
    The Bad Plus? Yes, they're cool, and they groove. That's jazz, ma-a-a-n.

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    After reading the article, I realize the importance of the obvious thing of doing what you like and worrying about labels later. Constantly genres are expanding and different styles are coming up. It's interesting because what you said correlates with some other music styles as well. For example IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) experimental electronic music, basically the genre had a lot of artists that were very experimental with electronic obviously and later on, so many people started reinventing the genre with so many different cross genre songs, none of the artists sounded too similar. The only proper name to label the music was by saying, experimental electronic, with jazz melodies, even tho it could technically fit into the IDM genre.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xerox02 View Post
    After reading the article, I realize the importance of the obvious thing of doing what you like and worrying about labels later. Constantly genres are expanding and different styles are coming up. It's interesting because what you said correlates with some other music styles as well. For example IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) experimental electronic music, basically the genre had a lot of artists that were very experimental with electronic obviously and later on, so many people started reinventing the genre with so many different cross genre songs, none of the artists sounded too similar. The only proper name to label the music was by saying, experimental electronic, with jazz melodies, even tho it could technically fit into the IDM genre.
    Right. There's no sense - as a musician - in worrying about what genre your music is going to fit into.
    Of course, you yourself are going to be moved by particular sounds, particular kinds of music that inspire you to pick up an instrument (or maybe a DAW!) and learn how to do it yourself. You may find yourself gravitating towards what other people call "jazz", or "rock", or "IDM", or whatever. (And those labels are useful in that they can help you find out more about music of a similar kind, to expand your knowledge outward gradually.)
    But when you make your own music, you will inevitably add something of yourself. You're not going to mechanically copy your heroes note for note. Even if you try to do that, it won't come out the same, it will come out with your fingerprints all over it. Which is as it should be.

    Really, what we are all doing - outside of the academic classical sphere of course, which is reverentially devoted to preserving past masterpieces - is playing a kind of "folk music".
    There's that great quote by Louis Armstrong, when asked if he thought what he was doing could be defined as "folk music". "Sure it is," he replied. "I ain't never heard a horse play it!"
    IOW, he saw "jazz" as simply a "music of the people".

    In the past, "folk" music was defined quite narrowly because folk musicians had access to very little music. They kept playing and singing the same kind of stuff, because that was all they ever heard! Of course it made sense to them culturally too, as "their" music. So they kept it alive because that was simply what "music" meant to them. If they didn't, they'd have had no music at all.

    Today, our "folk music" consists - just like theirs - of everything we hear and relate to. Every and any kind of music that we like when we hear it. Due to audio recording and mass media - not available to traditional folk musicians - our "folk" music includes pop, rock, R&B, jazz, blues, hip-hop, rap, country, reggae, etc etc. Even snippets of ethnic music of other cultures find their way in. So when we make music - from our own impulse to do it, not from education - we naturally just grab what we like and throw it in the pot.
    Or at least that's what we should do. It's silly to worry about whether we are obeying the "rules" of rock, or of bluegrass, or of bebop, of whatever. Who cares?

    Naturally, when it comes to commercial factors, they are going to have a limiting effect. That's where the question "who cares?" starts to have real impact!
    Music is a social art. Musicians naturally limit or channel what they play (to varying degrees) according to what they perceive their audiences want to hear. And - if they are professional musicians - to what that audience is prepared to pay for (either in admission to gigs, or for CDs or downloads).
    "Folk" music (in the broad sense, which might be better termed "vernacular" music), therefore, is governed by commercial factors, which tend to divide it up into genres, the better to promote and sell them.
    The most commercially successful vernacular music is dubbed "popular" music. The rest is experimental or personal to the musicians to varying degrees. It will still have its audiences, but they will be smaller.

    So the point about the rules of any vernacular music is that they are ad hoc, governed by contingency all the time - by what is perceived to "work": not just what "sounds good" to the musicians, but what is going to get an audience interested and excited.

    The opposite to "vernacular" in this sense is "academic". The rules of academic music (ie classical, basically) are written in books, and preserved. The theory of that music is well understood, and taught in college, and changes very little over time.

    One problem with jazz in recent years is that its rules (or at least those of its "golden era", of the 1930s-60s) have started to become academic. That leads, obviously, to the preservation of those vintage sub-genres of jazz.
    But jazz was always supposed to be vernacular: Louis Armstrong's "music of the folk". As such it should be organic, able to grow and develop with no external inhibition placed on it.
    The past does matter in jazz - because it is such a complex form, compared to other vernacular musics. It's rather difficult to learn all the rules purely by ear - it can be done, but takes years, decades even. So some "academic" understanding can help when learning it. But the rules are foundational guidelines, not immovable laws.

    With other vernacular music (from blues to rock to techno to hip-hop), it can remain pure "folk" music - handed down by ear. That means, of course, listening to recordings, not sitting at the feet of some old guru! And vernacular musicians tend to be instinctively reluctant to limit their listening to some narrow genre, or to written rules. The best popular musicians are always those who perceive no limits to their influences. (They may, in practice, have a fairly limited range of influences depending on their experience, but they don't deliberately impose those limits themselves.)
    As Bob Dylan said, early in his career, when asked what his influences were: "Open your eyes and ears, and you're influenced". The Beatles could have said the same thing: what made them great (put them head and shoulders above their contemporaries) was the breadth of musical genres that they listened to and absorbed. Nothing was out of bounds. They never said "we're a rock'n'roll band so we'd better only listen to rock'n'roll". (A lot of latter-day rock musicians do seem to believe something similar!)

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