Author Archives: Ratzo B. Harris

Jazz – Re: Sources

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.

What’s in a Name?

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.

A Bird Uncaged

John Cage was a maverick in his field. He was running against the grain, breaking with a hegemonic tradition that was at odds with his Zen-informed principles. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, while innovative, were part of a culture that was, and mostly still is, excluded from being part of that tradition’s world view.

Festivities

Last Sunday was the final day of the 2012 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. All in all, there were eleven events spread over ten days and taking place at seven different locations. I was able to attend the last concert of the last day—a free outdoor event in Tompkins Square Park which is near Parker’s last official residence.

From Yore E-Ratus

My omission of vocalist Kaylé Brecher when I listed jazz artists who include some kind of socio-political messaging in their music must be rectified. Spirals and Lines, the latest CD from this Philadelphia-based singer, composer, arranger, lyricist, and educator who self-produces her music, is highly messaged.

Thinking in Jazz

Improvisation is still a mystery to many non-jazz trained musicians and intellectuals who want to quantify, and possibly codify, the elements and techniques that go into it. Jazz improvisation is about tapping into a state of awareness where the self is connected to others—not different, but the same—and when that state is reached, the music happens.

Listen!

When I realized that Glenn Miller had little interest in music as an expressive act, I lost my interest. To be sure, I find his music fairly boring anyway, but the socio-political apathy I understood to be part of his message really turned me off for good. When I hear jazz, I hear a music that’s about socio-political issues.

What the Herd Heard

One of the things that a recent debate confirmed for me is that there exists a group of very creative musicians who believe that rap music is devoid not only of melody and chord changes, but of socio-political messaging as well.

Granting Audiences, Pt. 2

There has been a pernicious fallacy that music sets up moods and can be used for the control of the masses. The arts can enhance the methods used to shape the thinking and actions of groups of people, but cannot be equated as a method for doing so.

Granting Audiences, Pt. 1

It can be so easy to think of music as existing separately from the society it’s performed in, as if it weren’t a cultural phenomenon.