Articles by Ratzo Harris
Usually, when I hear concerts of free improvisations, I sense that there’s an initial period of “group-grope,” where the performers are settling into what they’re going to do. This wasn’t the case with Mat Maneri, Ed Schuller, and Randy Peterson at The Stone on Monday. While it was clear that they were freely improvising, they were so “in tune” with each other that their improvisations were examples of musical perfection.
I keep hoping that somehow, somewhere, someone will tell me where and/or when letter-based chord symbols came into existence. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Nashville. I’ve been asking around among the jazz historians at Rutgers and the Institute for Jazz Studies, but nobody seems to know for sure.
Slash chords are not superior to chords with long extensions and it always comes down to a matter of context whether or not they should be employed. But I do agree wholeheartedly that they’re easier to read when their lower half is placed directly under their upper half instead of being written left-to-right.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.