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!
It’s not at all uncommon that the instruments musicians travel to work with become damaged or even lost. The mostly unwritten anthology of musician road stories is loaded with instances where instruments are sat upon, driven over, and misused.
This year’s fundraiser for the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund, presented at the Cotton Club’s current incarnation in Harlem, was a finely sculpted presentation featuring some high-energy performances.
Misunderstanding can almost blind us to what is really going on, but it is also a powerful thing and can lead to rhetorical questions that are worth thinking about from time to time.
The case of Ellingtonian misattribution is an example of professional symbiosis where both parties have something to gain from the obfuscation of authorship, one that only deceives the public and whatever higher power(s) might have something to say about it in the hereafter. It appears to be, or have been, a fairly common practice.
While the works of Western music are generally credited to specific individuals, it can be said that no music is about a single individual; it’s a team effort. The overlay of that on the musics of subaltern American cultures has opened the door for a variety of phenomena that would not exist otherwise, such as the tradition of authorship misattribution that exists in the history of jazz.
While the word jazz is shrouded in mystery, less so is the music; at least to my thinking. The notion that improvisation is an essential element to the music has been dispelled by research involving alternate takes of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings as being so close as to be composed.
I have heard at least one person say that they believe the name Tin Pan Alley to be pejorative and disrespectful. I would argue with the validity of this point of view as much as I would argue with the idea that the phrase was coined as descriptive prose, which is to say not at all.