Articles by Ratzo Harris
The lines between what would be considered “jazz” and what would be considered “aleatoric” improvisation are becoming increasingly blurred. This might, or might not, be accepted as real jazz playing, but it’s important to remember that the musicians who played the music that was originally called “jazz” rejected the term, sometimes vehemently.
While it might seem paradoxical to some, that an improvising musician would be writing a part for a performance, it’s actually not at all at odds with how improvisation works.
How audiences receive a movie or a musical performance is an expression of cultural stratification. Whether or not we feel that direct sales of their works is more ethical than viewing them second-hand for little or no cash outlay has a lot to do with how we’re raised.
A connection I have with Dave Brubeck is the state of Indiana, where both of our paternal grandfathers are from, but in all of the obituaries I’ve read about Brubeck there is no mention of his Native American background, a point vital to his music as well as jazz in the big picture.
I was thrilled to see and hear the recent release of never previously issued recordings by the seminal guitarist John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery. Until now, there was no audio record of his work available from the six years of his life he spent playing music on a half-mile long stretch of night clubs in Indianapolis that catered to jazz musicians and aficionados known as “The Avenue.”
The voice of San Francisco native Mary Stallings, who came to national prominence with the 1961 recording Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings, is still a marvel of precision and technique that has been presented for the last 24 years, three nights a week, at the downtown San Francisco restaurant Bix.
Drummer Pete “La Roca” Sims, a man who exemplified a philosophy of music that ran counter to the corporate culture that established and disseminated jazz as America’s music, lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 74 on Monday, November 19. Best known as the original drummer in the John Coltrane Quartet, Sims later also played an important role in jazz history as a lawyer, assisting attorney Paul Chevigny in changing New York City’s oppressive cabaret laws in the 1980s.
Playing music interpreted from even the most detail-oriented notation includes elements of improvisation (especially when sight reading). So improvisation is ubiquitous; it always comes down to a matter of degree. But we live in a world where things are most easily explained or taught in relation to binaries, such as: good/bad, high/low, left/right, or right/wrong.
Last night, Le Poisson Rouge in New York City’s Greenwich Village staged a benefit concert-revue, Jazz for Hurricane Sandy Relief, to aid musicians in the New York area who lost everything, or nearly everything, during the hurricane’s assault.
I think it’s obvious that ingesting mood- and mind-altering substances has an immediate and noticeable impact on a person’s creative output. I discovered about 17 years ago that my best strategy is to keep it to coffee or tea; even too much sugar has a negative impact on my playing!