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Chet Baker and Music Theory

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, May 13, 2004.

  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    This thread originally began with the following post by Bruce Lindfield. It has generated a lot of discussion and some heat as well. At one point Bruce decided to delete the thread because he felt that others were criticizing him and that he was not being allowed to respond.

    I think that the content of the thread is too good to lose, and others agree. I have revived the thread and will add more material as of the date of revival.
  2. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Wow Bruce, this is a good stuff! I subscribe to that thread... thanks
  3. Your "tutor" is insane!
    Chet's playing wasn't limited by anything...Anyone, in my opinion who says Chets playing was limited by anything, especially theory or harmony is Wacko!
    To give you an idea of how little Chet knew about harmony and theory....Someone was taping the band one night, so I have this on tape. We were working this jazz club here in Denver called " El Chapultapec "
    Chet calls "But Not For Me"
    I say "Chet, you want to start on the one chord or the two chord?" and Chet says "Paul, Paul, I don't know chords"
    Now, that's really something when you can't tell someone what chord you like to start on, especially in terms of numbers! As it turned out I suggested we start on the b5 chord which I learned from Red Mitchell....What i'm trying to say is it didn't matter to Chet what you started on, he heard and played it all! No problem!
    Tell your tutor to go get some tutoring!
    And, by the way, i'm a self-taught ear player and I don't think you can tell by my playing!
  4. Don't know if it addresses your topic exactly, but here's a snip from an interview of Stan Getz done by Bay-area saxophonis Mel Martin:

  5. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Bruce, this is not exactly what you requested but,damn, you cannot beat first hand experience...
  6. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    i have always found it fascinating how musicians that went to the "Conservatory without Walls " (to quote Bert Turetsky) are/were able to play ,as in the case of Chet, so beautifully.
  7. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Bruce what is your take on this idea given your familiarity with with contemporary classical composers ? The Messian quote for example.
  9. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    It's interesting what you say about "getting more out of chords..." Maybe Chet felt that he was getting all he could ? Don't know.
  10. Bruce, while your instructors resume is impressive, Paul played with the man in question.
  11. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I have been playing and studying jazz since my teens..I have had many opinions on "Whatis Jazz" st first it semed like a sport-first to the finish line wins...Then I went thru various and sundry ideas. Now I just play it and I do not try to figure out "why"

    I would like Paul to expound on his playing in terms of being "untrained."

    It seems that since he has the rep and experience maybe he can articulate his approach.
  12. Theory is extremely valuable, it's a great way to learn the language of music. Many people will be limited if they don't have some understanding of theory. However, I don't think Chet Baker was one of these people. It seems that he was able to get the music that was in his head to come out of his horn and his voice. Because much of that music may have been theoretically simplistic doesn't make it "simple" or "limited". If a person is thinking about theory on the bandstand it will likely be less enjoyable than someone who is using their ears. I would bet dollars to donuts that a quintet of "ear" players would smoke a quintet of "theory" players. That's not to say that cats who have a lot of theory knowledge can't also be ear players.
  13. Or, in the interest of brevity:

    Use theroy to study music, use your ear to play music.
  14. Bruce - I think this says everything most eloquently. Its not an either or question you pose, but one of choice at the time to you take your horn to your mouth or bass to hands.
  15. I would have to spend more time listening to Baker to make that judgement. You seem to be drawing the line between traditional tonal standards and microtonal/non-western/serial type compositions and using that to judge whether or not something is "theoretically simplistic". By that standard yes Chet Bakers music tends to be simplistic. But I personally don't think that really speaks to your instructors comment about Chet's lack of theory knowledge "limiting" him as a soloist.

    Well, I mean if you take one combo playing "Autumn Leaves" and listening and reacting to each other and another (also playing Autumn Leaves) where the soloist are saying to themselves "if I play this scale over this chord it will be hip", I beleive the former will smoke the latter.

    All of this stuff sounds very cool to me and right up my alley. I just think that comparing someone like Chet Baker to this type of stuff and therefore determining that Baker was "simple" or "limited" is a bit unfair. Also, I feel that if any of the above performers puts theory before ear on the bandstand it will have negative results.

    That's all that really matters.
  16. In interest of survival in a rhythm section, unlike Chet, i've learned basic survival tools so that I can "feed" changes to a pianist or guitarist.
    Being 62 years old helps in terms of knowing the tune vocabulary and the experience that goes along with it all helps. But, in terms of just "musicianship", i'm pretty low in scale of musical knowledge. I've been playing this stuff for so long that eventually everything takes on a pattern. I'm also a firm believer in learning the lyrics of standards.
    Just because i've learned to yell out changes doesn't mean that I can take 'em apart and put 'em back together again. It's kind of selfish on my part to just know enough to get everybody to play my changes!
  17. No trouble there, I'm in the same boat. For those of us who are part-time or amateur and (at least in my case) not amazingly naturally gifted, I think theory knowledge becomes even more important. I certainly don't have the practical experience that might make up for not knowing one chord form another.

    It does sound like you have a great instructor to work with there. Like you say the "limited as a soloist" comment about Baker may be somewhat of a misunderstanding.
  18. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    From what I've seen and heard, most monster jazz musicians have great knowledge of music theory, as well as great ears.

    What's kind of funny to me is people treat ear and theory as to diffrent things, while they should be the same! You want you ears to be able to hear all those substitions and progressions you write down on paper etc.

    Working in both areas will make you a better musician.

  19. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    For any "theory" to be useful at all in a playing situation, it has to be internalized to the point that it becomes ear playing - otherwise the application of the theoretical principle is either mere experimentation (good, if it leads to a better understanding of the sound being experimented on) or just wanking (semi random or digital). It's all about "pre-hearing" before playing and trying to make sense, just as in language it's best to have an idea of what you say before setting your tongue in motion...or you can simply repeat out-of-context platitudes in no particular order, in which case you have a bright career in politics ahead.

    While we're on the subject of Chet being an example of a great player with no formal theory, another famous and pertinent view is that all great "ear players" are demonstrating their mastery of theory without being aware of the verbal or written explanation of that sound...for instance, I am sadly unaware of the official "rules" of grammar to the point that I couldn't even tell you what an "adverb" is or does, yet able to write at something more than an eighth-grade level because I've absorbed the language in an intuitive sense from reading a lot of books by those with a much greater understanding of the language than my own. It is not uncommon for the same phenomenon to happen in the language of music. I know a lot of great players who have absorbed the language of their style in this way, and who can (figuratively speaking), play their asses off...yet couldn't tell you much, if anything, about what they were playing or why it works. Tyrone Wheeler is a local player here like that, and he's the most in-demand bassist in the region. Does it (the fact that he doesn't "know" theory) limit his playing? I suppose the argument could be made that it does - it's just not likely to made by anyone sitting and listening to him play, if you know what I mean. :)
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    There are too many variables involved to know. As far as I'm concerned, theory is nothing more than a tool to help facilitate increased vocabulary, and in some cases help explain the context in which certain sounds have worked in the past. Obviously, since I'm a theory teacher, I find it useful in certain situations. But as I said, in the end it's not about how you came to know what you know, but what you can say with it once you know it. I think the point some are taking exception with from your teacher's statements is the notion that Lovano (for instance) is somehow "better" than Baker because he can do things that Baker never did. In my estimation, this is a worthless argument, as its apples and oranges. Is NHOP a "better" bassist than Charlie Haden because he can play faster, more complex solos? I've got about about 20 records with Charlie Haden on them, and only one with NHOP, so perhaps I'm listening to an inferior bassist? Or maybe they're both great, and I'm just more into what I hear from Charlie?

    Is pasta better than rice? I'll eat either if it's cooked well.