Author Archives: Ratzo B. Harris

Notes Before the Road

Clare Fischer’s inability to gracefully accept the dilution of his musical vision might be at the heart of his relative obscurity. He writes what he intends to be performed and is exacting in his use of notation. One of the reasons that so few collections of his sheet music are available is because when music editors don’t believe what they see in his manuscripts and begin to “correct” them, Fischer withdraws from the association.

Jazz in the 21st Century

An inversely proportional relationship exists between artistic integrity and socio-economic solvency for the vast majority of us, so it comes as no surprise that many historical examples of musicians whose reputations were founded on artistic freedom and originality also include stories of tragic and, often, shortened lives. The exceptions to this rule usually start their careers from a place of relative financial freedom where decisions about where and when to play music are based solely on aesthetic considerations rather than on earning a living.

Remembering the Changes

I posed a question last week asking if anyone could offer insight into the development of the letter-based chord system(s) used by so many improvising musicians today. While no answers were offered, a question was posed, “Have jazz compositions ever shown voice leading using anything like figured bass notation?”

How Strange the Changes

On Monday, I was working at Iguana New York in pianist/vocalist Rick DellaRatta’s group, Jazz For Peace, with drummer Art Lillard. It was part of an event sponsored by Celebrate Shamone and Make a Better World Foundation to celebrate the legacy of Michael Jackson and raise funds to donate musical instruments to underprivileged children. The three musicians are very similar in their backgrounds and changed styles for each song as part of their program, which consisted largely of DellaRatta’s original compositions and arrangements of jazz standards.

Improvising a Moment

I don’t believe that music, as it exists in our world today, is a language in the true sense of the word—that it’s capable of communicating any part of our thoughts or intentions with any level of precision. But I do think that, like language, music is culturally significant and “belongs” to societal units (villages, tribes, institutions, etc.) and enhances our ability to communicate.

Monterrey to Woodstock

One of the great things about playing music like this is how the performers leave the concert with new eyes and ears. Although Harvey Sorgen and I have known about each other for a while, we had never played together before (that I can remember, anyway) and we both found ourselves playing things we normally wouldn’t in a “free-jazz” setting. Part of that was each of us just seeing what the other would do when presented with an impromptu “motive” and part was the discovery of what we can do well together.

Deep Music of the South

Last Monday I went to hear yet another concert at University of the Streets. This time, though, I had no reason to be there other than to watch and listen to the group headed by guitarist/composer Omar Tamez of Monterrey, Mexico. The 37-year old Tamez is a moving force in the Mexican music scene. For the last fifteen years he has led the Non-Jazz Ensemble, a group with a varied personnel and repertoire.

Saturday In the Park

I’ve been blessed to be playing in several regularly repeating performance situations where the personnel and repertoire are fairly fixed as well as situations where the performances and personnel may not occur or assemble again. The regularly occurring performances are in restaurant/bars where the management appreciates music and takes pride in making a place where music can be presented as an art and not as a backdrop to small talk.

Back On the Streets Again

To this day there is a tacit understanding that jazz improvising comes less from study and practice than from divine inspiration. That includes a premise that the more deeply one is ensconced in a culture of literacy, the less able one is to “properly” perform jazz music. Of course, most professional musicians know this to be fallacy. The best and best-known jazz icons throughout the history of the genre learned the basics of music at an early age and continued to engage in intensive training throughout their careers. Jazz is not, nor was it born of, a musically illiterate culture, although it is generally accepted to be born from a culture that was kept illiterate for purposes of controlling them.

The Value of Improvisation?

What a pleasure to play in pianist/composer David Lopato’s concert at the University of the Streets performance space last Tuesday. The line-up included; Marty Ehrlich on clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones, and flute; James Shipp on vibraphone and hand percussion; Richie Barshay on drums and percussion; and Hal Friedman on piano (when David and I were playing synthesizers).