Mike’s Monthly Musings – November

Keep Music Live!
Even though our Listening to Jazz group spends its monthly meeting listening to music on records, there is nearly always at least one or more disc which features a live recording.  There is nothing like hearing music live, whether it is a classical concert, a leading pop or rock group, or (for me at least) the sound of a jazzman, group or band, warts and all.
Inevitably live jazz will contain its range of fluffs and errors.  Several gigs I’ve attended over the years have featured a name soloist, if lucky in front of a local rhythm section who are used to playing with guests, and if not the guest is playing with a bunch of musicians who may or may not have played together before and whose quality may vary from the enthusiastic amateur to the seasoned professional.  And even with a regular group, there may well be a ‘dep’ sitting in for someone who is booked elsewhere.  As someone who has booked bands over the years, I’ve become accustomed to receiving a late message telling me that X is not available and that Y will take his or her place.  It never ceases to amaze me how well jazz groups manage to settle down and produce gigs which please or excite the audience by the quality of their music, even when the musicians are unfamiliar to each other.
In part, this unexpectedness is what makes jazz so attractive and exciting.  Though there are rules to which most musicians keep (chord sequences/scales), the music does depend on the ability of the musicians to improvise when it comes to their turn to solo.  How well they do so depends not only on their technical ability, but also on their experience and individuality.  Jazz musicians have always been encouraged to ‘find their own sound,’ that is to play in a way which reflects their personality and interests.  But jazz musicians also follow their predecessors – trumpeters follow in the footsteps of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis for example, whilst tenor saxophone players owe much to Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or John Coltrane.  Alto sax player Charlie (Bird) Parker influenced virtually every alto player coming after him.  Today’s students learn the solos and phrases (‘licks’) such musicians played as part of their musical development and education.  And what seemed difficult to appreciate fifty years ago is nowadays commonplace.  The music of pianist Thelonious Monk seemed difficult when first heard in the 1950s – nothing compared to Cecil Taylor: today’s young players make it sound as simple as eating apple pie!
All of this can come together at a live gig.  A bunch of happy musicians, familiar with each other, but still trying to do something new, can excite and enthuse an audience, even though mistakes occur.  Live gigs give time for extended versions of tunes, allowing soloists to improvise at length in telling their own story.  OK, sometimes these stories are a little long winded, but when they take flight and come alive, then the sound they produce beats anything you are likely to hear from a studio recording – and that’s why it is so essential that we keep all forms of music live!  Mike Goldsmith.