Choice of material and the jazz audience

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Jul 30, 2004.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Lately here in town I've been playing quite a few gigs to younger audiences, which I consider a good thing. For the most part, these folks seem to enjoy listening to what jazz players have to offer in terms of musicality, as I doubt that many of them have had much chance to hear live improvised music - for most of the folks in this age group, their live music experiences have likely been listening to near-exact recreations of what was on their recordings...a situation I have always felt to be something of a let down. But I notice that there is a built in disconnect between many "jazz" groups playing here and the potential younger audiences: the material most of the "jazz" groups play is made up of a canon of songs that the younger audiences have little or no personal experience with. In my own experience, in those situations where I've played with a group that plays a couple of more current numbers played "in a jazz style", the result is that the audience immediately perks up and tunes in because they can relate to both the music and the way it is being treated, which then carries over into the songs/material they might not have experience with.

    This seems like a good thing to me, and I plan to pursue this a lot more in the future, since to me "jazz" simply means improvising music in the moment rather than a specific repertoire of material played in the stock "jazz" way. When I look at some of the jazz artists who have been somewhat "popular" in recent years, it seems many of them have been trying to incorporate newer material that younger audiences might be able to relate to...Joshua Redman covering Clapton, Mehldau covering Radiohead, The Bad Plus covering Nirvana, Lynne Arriale covering Clapton and even a Guess Who song, etc. In my own experience, I play in an original music group (Java Men - which uses a similar approach of writing original material which can sometimes be a little more "pop friendly" and then using the material as a springboard into "jazz" type explorations, and the younger audience seems to really be able to relate to it.

    I know that there is often resistance from the "Old School" jazzers to this kind of thing, but I think a discussion of this topic would be worthwhile. To that end, let me pose a few questions:

    * What are your feelings about covering newer popular music as vehicles for improvisation? Why is this or is this not a good idea?

    * What are your experiences with how newer material either does or does not help make connections to a potential younger jazz audience?

    * What are some tunes from the last 20-30 years that you think either are or might be fun to cover as springboards?

    Just to get the ball rolling, there are a couple of Pink Floyd tunes that I plan on charting out and working into the sets in some situations: Us and Them, Time, Comfortably Numb, and even possibly Nobody Home. Clearly, covering tunes such as these isn't any big new original idea, but it is one I'd like to explore more since in my own experience it has proven to help build a sense of context for younger listeners that is hard to get with older material. Thoughts, insights, inspirations, suggestions?

    AMJBASS Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2002
    Ontario, Canada
    I think if you really want to make it as a professional working musician, you need to incorporate some contemporary or more well known show tunes into your rep. Most of the gigs that I play are winery and hotel gigs. I always get a better response when we play show tunes mixed with Jazz Standards. Moon River, Georgia, My Favorite Things...etc. Those are fairly old tunes though. I think that there are some great pop tunes out there that can be played in a Jazz style. Good music is good music.

    I was listening to 91.1 Jazz FM(Toronto) a few weeks ago, and they played a great latin jazz version of Iron Man. Now, I am not one to go as far as to play Sabath tunes during a Jazz set, but you can see that it is possible! I am into a lot of the older Jazz/Swing tunes.
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    That' what the original American Songbook / Jazz experience was all about.

    I think it can help, and also gives you a new road or two to travel.

    Norah Jones has quite a bit of material that would work. I'm not too up on pop, so not much to offer here.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Agreed, 100%...which is why I think this issue is important (for me, at least). Of course, this opens the subject up into a potential sweeping philosophical discussion, but that's fine with me. Personally (that means, "In DURRL's own backwoods personal opinion" ), when the "Old School Museum Curator" contingent starts taking it upon themselves to dictate to me what is and isn't jazz, it gets so far up my *** I don't even have words to describe it. But having said that, I'd still like to hear both sides of the issue. :)
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    There IS only one side to the issue and unless you want to get started with the Marsalis thing again and try to prove it to the idiots, there isn't anything to discuss on that.

    Incorporating new material is the same as writing new material, incorporating new grooves / influences / pop music / instruments / etc, etc, etc. It IS the tradition!

    In a general sense, I find that there is little material from current times that swings well. Or maybe I just haven't heard it done. If you venture out into straight-eighth feels and such there seems to be a lot more ground to cover. Beyond that, I'm still looking (not so actively currently as I'm on other things at present, i.e. The Stick) and hoping someone finds something cool.
  6. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Two thinks:

    a) Cover tunes that reach out to YOU. The point isn't "play Radiohead because it's now." The point is, "I dig xxx so much that I did this arrangement of it -- what d'ya say, fellas?" As you point out, THAT is the essence of the jazz experience.

    You already knew that. But no point in asking "what's kewell now" because you already know what you like, eh?

    b) There are ways to make original jazz SOUND more accessible without pandering. Arrange "handles" for listeners -- background parts, interludes between solos, whatever -- so that people are not hearing, "Head -- 20 minutes of improv -- head." Heck, many folks even omit the pedestrian four-bar intro.

    Even deep jazz fans don't mind the handles (and joke 'em if they do). People who are used to 3.5 minute pop tunes simply require them, and they subconsciously appreciate them. Which, in turn, causes them to subconsciously think your band is pretty kewell.
  7. Comfortably numb has just been coverred by the Scissor Sisters in a Bee - Gees esque p*** take - a demolition job to match the one Rolf Harris did of Stairway to Heaven (this might not be known in the US). This ain't jazz but I just thought I'd let you know what the competition is.

    There is the Yuri Honing Trio which have at least 2 cds of covers that include Abba. Abba have really strong melodies and can therefore take any treatment or rehamonisation and still stay recognisable. The same applies to some Beatle melodies - I've heard 'Here there and Everywhere' played jazz let alone by Emylou Harris.

    Tim Whitehead, a UK tenorman did a cd called personal standards that was all pop tunes and began witht the Celine Dion Titanic theme.

    Several people have done jazz versions of Bowies Life on Mars - a strong tune with a harmonic progression good enough to leave more or less intact.

    What Tim W and Yuir Honing did that sounded so good to me is that their treatments weren't the tired head solo head but took you on a journey in which the tune emerged and went somewhere. It didn't end where it started. If only this was applied elsewhere.

    Whether this is too much for a pop audience to swallow I couldn't say. At least it has the merit of not appearing to be a pop tune played by a jazz band (which would upset both camps) but jazz played to a pop tune. But to me, the problem of most modern pop songs is not the pap harmonies - you can always do something about that, but its very dfficult to make them swing.

    However, this is a trend in a lot of jazz composition too, such as the Esbjorn Svenson Trio - great compositions but swing doesn't figure. This can leave you with cod latin or playing over an ostinato - the most common approach it seems to me.

    Miles did it - for instance Cyndi Lauper's Time after Time (not the old standard BTW) and Michael Jackson's Human ***** (forgotton second word).

    However, whilst every good tune can be borrowed [and why not relate to your auience] the pop chart audience is based on youth and fashion - as it ever was just in case people get too sniffy although you can make a good case for the swing era being exceptional - and the adult/young adult pop market fragmented. This means pap or fewer songs with general appeal and currency.

    But since jazzers can restrict themselves to well known standards I supose why complain. I'd vote for a treatment of Britney's first hit 'Do that to me one more time' - well worth a close listen. They don't get pap to start someones career off and this is a gem. I can even imagine this one to a swing beat!

    What does astonish me though, is that to my ears, a lot of pop hasn't changed a bit - all that changes is production values and the rythmic accompanyment to a degree. The one influence that has changed pop songs rythically is 'drum and bass'. In fact, this influence figures in jazz groups and jazz drumming even though it started out on drum machines. The previously mentioned Esbjorn Svenson Trio is an example of this.

    Some groups have tried to integrate rap but you could argue Mingus got there first. Mingus, although playing mostly originals and becomming deeply unfashoinable for a while, at least kept contemporary by relating his material to events. In the UK we have Gilad Atzmon who carries on this tradition. His peices often tell a story - usually politically charged - and go on a journey. Since he lets you in on the secret it becomes a captivating puzzle that draws you into the music which stands up message or none. He also gets rave comments from people who are not jazz fans.

    I think the essence here is trying to reach out to an audience - any audience - even a jazz one. Most jazzers fail miserably on that score - they just don't bother or bother to make the music matter to anything. Art for arts sake? Fine. Just don't expect anyone to pay for it. Don't expect it to matter to anyone but you. As Chris hinted - get your audience with you and then take them to where you want to go.
  8. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I liked your post until this bit. It inherently leads to pandering if taken a certain way, I think.

    My personal experience as a band leader is that I've found the most success in connecting with people if the combination of players is interesting and you as a band are having a great time. Less seasoned listeners seem to glom onto the energy that is coming off the stage, regardless of material.
  9. Yeah I agree wholeheartedly - I'm not making a case for pandering as you put it - I've just been to the local jazz fest to showcase jazz and the local players (its free in the city centre) and some acts were boring in any context and seeming to just ignore the audience and trundle through a rountine - hell they weren't exactly Miles - I keep plugging jazz and felt let down I guess so I went a bit overboard. Top pros are top pros for more reasons than just ablility to play. Appleby jazz festival last weekend just blew me away - we used to get some visiting US folks to this gem of a town with Norman castle - well worth a trip - the energy and sheer enjoyment of the players filled the whole Eden valley!.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Good stuff, everyone. Time is limited at the moment, but I wanted to respond to something that Sam said, as I think it's important to those of us who no longer have the time and inclination to listen much to what the latest current thing is...

    Agreed. The potential problem is that (as mentioned above), many of us reach a point in life where there is no time for sifting through all of the drivel looking for a gem. This is the point where many decide to give up, but I'm not sure this isn't just laziness. As a teacher, my students are often far more "up on what's going down" than I am, and picking their brains on the subject seems like a good way to get a filtered version about what might work. I'll also be asking some good friends about this for suggestions, and hopefully, they'll be able to do some of the filtering in advance, leaving me to listen to some stuff that comes recommended to see if any of it resonates.

    I totally agree about the "play what reaches YOU" part. But for that to happen, I have to find a way for some of it to "reach" me in the first place. Especially since part of the reason I am doing this is because I've been asked to supply just such a list of possible vehicles for an older, more accomplished musician who I happen to play with a lot. (Three guesses? :D) I figure the time spent will be worth it. If not, then I will have also learned something worthwhile.

    Yes, yes, and yes. In Java Men - a group that will be making it on to the Sampler page before too long - we do exactly this, and it acts exactly as you say. It makes perfect sense when you think about it: if you are playing to an audience that is used to "hooks", throw a few in every now and then and you might be able to reel a few new folks into the boat.
  11. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Well, dang, I just listen to Modern Rawk in the car sometimes if I'm not digging NPR or SportsTawk. So here's two suggestions:

    a) An easily-recognized smash monster hit with a bullet is System of a Down's "Toxicity" off the album of the same name. It's in 6/8 which even the most conservative bebop cats sometimes play. "Some . . . time . . . between the sacred silence and sweet . . . disorder . . . disorder . . . disorrrrrr-derrr " . . . I mean, you could give that one a serious wack, Durrl.

    b) The tune is, I think, called "Grudge" and I think it's off the latest Tool record, Lateralus (2001) which was ****ing HUGE, mahn. The lyrics are, "I know the pieces fit cuz I watched them fall away . . . " I guaranty that the multi-pierced sales-droid will know the band and album if you quote the lyrics. It's in 7/4 mostly -- if you don't dig mixed meter there might not be as much point in doing it . . .

    Go forth, young man. Have fun . . .
  12. I try to jump around several radio stations while driving in the car to find pop and rock tunes that are halfway interesting. Many are limited by uninteresting melodies but gain pop appeal by good rhythms, production, or vocal tricks. I agree with many of you that you have to hear something in the tune that you can carry to the bandstand and make it speak as your own.

    That said, we lean more toward the standard jazz reportoire and show tunes but here are some more recent attempts as pop tunes:

    Things We Said Today (Beatles) -- done sort of like Fever

    Come as You Are (Nirvana) -- This has a weak melody but a highly recognizable ostinato riff. So, we make the melody more angular and "out" sounding to give it flavor.

    Theme from Sesame Street -- bluesy.

    Manic Depression (Hendrix) -- Again, not a strong melody but a highly recognizable bass riff. Good for going "out" and making grinding noises.

    Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog sings this in the Muppet Movie).

    Bella Maria de mi Alma (from the movie The Mambo Kings)

    Still Crazy (Paul Simon) -- give it a gospel feel.

    Caramel (Suzanne Vega) -- This one jumped right out in a Latin feel. The piano player nominated the tune.

    Also, we've done jazz demonstrations for junior high school music classes so we try to think of pop stuff or standards that might have been on TV recently. For example, The Way You Look Tonight was in a beer comercial. In one class we played a bunch of this stuff but got the biggest reaction from an uptempo version of Impressions. The hook was huge "sound bombs" dropped at random during improvization--heavy bass and drums downbeat in unison with a heavy left hand in the bass range on the piano. There's a hook hiding under every rock.

  13. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    I could probably be accused of being somewhat of a traditionalist, but I'm not absolutely opposed to using pop material. I just think it should be GOOD material.

    I love some of the stuff that Charles Earland used to do on his recordings. He would almost always put some pop tune (Check out his version of Sweet Love). Ditto for Kevin Mahogany's recording of Motown tunes in a jazz style.

    However, all these have good melodies and are well written. As the saying goes, you can't polish a turd. I may be a reactionist, but hearing the bossa nova version of Light My Fire by the Red Garland Trio may have done some signifigant damage to my psyche. :rolleyes:
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Great suggestions, everyone. I've been compiling possible new songs on iTunes and will be making some charts over the next few weeks and months. It's interesting to me how "pop" songs can be ignored for a long time by jazz musicians until somebody "famous" decides to cover one, at which point it seems almost as if a lot of people start to pick up the same number. Maybe all it takes is for the path to be cleared, then everyone starts to "see the light"? I'm thinking of some of the following:

    "Blackbird", "Exit Music" - Mehldau
    "Tears in Heaven" - Joshua Redman
    "Norwegian Wood" - Herbie
    "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - The Bad Plus

    This leaves me thinking tht there's a lot of groundclearing left to do. :D
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    As a regular audience member at Brighton Jazz club and one of the younger members (believe it or not!) at that, I feel fairly qualified to talk on this subject....;)

    Seriously, one of my favourite UK Jazz bands of recent time is "Acoustic Ladyland" - who were set up as a Jazz quartet (Sax, piano, DB & drums) to play Jazz inspired by the music of Jim Hendrix - but at recent gigs they have introduced music by other, more contemporary rock bands - so a number by the Strokes ('Is This It?' )went down very well at a recent gig.

    They do atttract a much younger audience than for other more "conventional" Jazz gigs - but their drummer Seb Rochford, does seem to have a "following".

    I talked to the leader/arranger/Tenor Sax player, Pete Wareham at the first gig I went to and he said how much he liked rock and I said to him that they should do some Led Zeppelin - and he said they already had some rehearsed and apparently they do these now, athough I haven't heard them yet!!

    I do agree with what Sam says, that you should do songs you really like - and with the Hendrix thing, I think Peter Wareham was trying to get at the fact that behind all that distortion and flash, Hendrix had some great tunes - I still think the same about Led Zeppelin - but the thing is now that, most younger audience members know even less about Led Zep than Jazz, what with show like Pop Idol (American Idol) having sessions of Big Band swing ! ;)

    If I was going to throw out a suggestion to "get down with the kids", I might suggest the White Stripes song which has a catchy bass riff, played on guitar - reclaim it for the real bass!!! ;)

    Of course you could go the other way - so I was part of a group that did Joe Lovano's "in the Land of Ephesus" as a Drum 'n Bass tune, with programmed drums, and a 17 year old guy on decks!! :eek:
  16. McBass


    Mar 31, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    I think there may not be so much groundclearing left. It's rare that a "pop" song meets the qualifications of a great song. Good song writing is good song writing , pop or jazz, and it seems like were not getting much of it coming through the pop channels. So much of the pop that's written today is rehashed or is so tied in to a short lived fad that it sounds dated 6 months later. There's not much emphasis on good song writing in pop, it seems to be all about production and hook, and the dreaded video. Even the examples you've chosen, while they're better than much of the pop today, were written and released 10 years ago or more. Most music that could be considered good song writing gets marginalized as alternative or singer/songwriter or worse, jazz, and it never gets the recognition that would allow it to be recognized by wider audiences.
  17. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Personally, unless the song is a "good" song, I hate hearing people attempt to play pop songs in a jazz format. IMO, it sounds tortured and more often than not it's just plain awful. It's like reverse vocalese. :spit: :D

    The problem with Pop is that there is a big lack of a strong melody IMO. You can't do any hip-hop as a instrumental for that fact and usually pop tunes don't have a strong melody. They might have a hook, but most music these days revolve around droning the same chord or simple things like that. There are exceptions of course. The great thing about the old standards was that the melody could stand up on it's own and didn't even need lyrics. I think modern pop has more of a focus on lyrical content not melodic content. If I wanted to cover this stuff, I'd make it easy on myself and get a singer, then you cover the song's real intention - delivering the lyrics.
  18. moped10


    Apr 9, 2003
    Wilmington, NC
    I agree with you on the substance quality of standards, but there do exist songs of the pop genre with strong melodies- How about the melodies of Stevie Wonder, Lennon/McCartney, or the less mainstream and more recent works by groups like The Shins or Spoon?
    I gig with a Hawaiian jazz group and we throw in a Pixies song, a Sublime one, a Ben Harper tune, as well as a Johnny Cash, The Clash, and even a Tom Petty number- It gets the younger crowd out and we enjoy exposing them to some jazz standards and hapa haole Hawaiian tunes...
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Personally, I have my eye on a couple less-popular tunes by The Police. Sting, thankfully, had some good melodic sense. Someone else brough up Led Zep, there are some other fun songs (instrumentals included) from the Hard Rock category too. Yes, Rush, Queen, et al.

    More recent stuff... hrm... Coldplay?

    Oh yeah, Ska would probably be totally transferable. How about Madness' "One Step Beyond". Yeah, yeah i know, ska is dead. :bawl: :p
  20. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    Sense Ska started with the Double bass, I'd say most definitely. Also reggae works great to :bassist: