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Intimacy of Tone in jazz

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Apr 10, 2005.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Probably a stupid title, but I'm not sure how to put it. I saw a duo performance by Frank Morgan and Cyrus Chestnut tonight, and Morgan's tone was so gorgeous I actually got a lump in my throat that stayed there for almost an entire set. From the first note, he caressed every single sound that came out of his horn from the beginning of each note to the end, and phrased the melodies in such a way that had me thinking, "there's no way a younger man could have played that". It was almost like he was praying through his horn...softly, as if he knew that god wasn't the least bit deaf and didn't particularly care to be shouted at. He could seemingly convey more meaning with a single note than most players can with a hundred. I was completely spellbound the entire set. At one point after a tune, he smiled and said, "man, it's good to be alive, isn't it?".

    I knew I had just heard something very special, and yet very familiar at the same time. His tone had something in it that I think of as "the spirit of jazz" (although I don't want to belabor or argue that point - it was just my own personal impression) - that sound of something very simple that is packed full of soul and meaning, like the words of a zenmaster or true holy man. I remember thinking, "what is that thing that seems so familiar?" I couldn't say, but at the same time, I remember thinking that Miles had it, and Joe Henderson had it, and Ray Brown, Getz, Mulligan, Dexter, Jarrett, Evans...all these guys have their own gorgeous tone that's almost instantly recognizable, and yet there's some thread that ties them all together. It's too damn late for me to think straight, but I think it was some sort of musical peace and clarity of intention I was hearing, some sort of pure musical flow that seems to come from a higher place through the performer.

    At any rate, it was a great show, and I guess I wanted a chance to rave about it. But if anyone knows what I'm talking about with this sound I'm trying to describe (and yes, I was and am sober at the time) and wants to chime in with their thoughts, I'd love to hear 'em.
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    When talking about Charlie Haden with a student, I openly pondered, "How the hell does he get that sound?"

    The student replied, "Because he thinks he can."

    I should have given him the money that day :)
  3. One of my frequent partners in crime is a pianist who always plays with Frank when he comes to town. He has commented many times about this exact thing - about what an elegant, swinging player Morgan is, and how exquisite his tone is, and how a sound like his comes from (among other things) having the horn in his mouth for sooo many years. I believe what you also heard is the wisdom and perspective that hard living and general life experience has given him. I am always humbled and inspired when I hear artists who are clearly adept at expressing themselves, or as you put it, even being a conduit for expressing things larger than themselves. Whatever it is that is being expressed, whether it be joy or sorrow or anything in between, the mere act of expression is so uplifting.

    There is definately a "spirit of jazz". You can't really put it into words, but you know it when you hear it. It speaks to you, and you want to be a part of it. And this is why we do what we do.
  4. Of course the opposite of what everyone has written so far is equally true and beautiful. Coltrane's sound comes immediately to mind as an example. Jazz.

    And instead of projecting our selves onto the music by playing the kind of day we had we can be transparent. When I hear Bach I don't hear the choir master of a small church with a wife and thirteen kids at home and Bird didn't play like a junkie. That music, as it is with all of the masters, is something that exists beyond themselves that comes out of them because they're more transparent than the rest of us.
  5. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I have been observing this phenomenon for several years, and while not to derail your thread in anyway, I have to add that it transcends jazz.

    I have played with many, many players over 20 years, and sometimes you run across one who simply has that "thing." Because of my beliefs, I call it giftedness. Others may want to call it something else. Without regard, it's that element of musicianship that goes beyond technical mastery or education and training.

    Perhaps it comes from experiences (on and off the stage). Perhaps it comes from maturity. It may just be the way you are molded in the first place. But, simply put, there are people out there that musically express the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

    When you get the chance to hear one, it's a true blessing.
  6. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Enrico Caruso. Fritz Kreisler. Sarah Vaughn. Miles. Trane. For me, Chick Corea and Michael Brecker. There's something about their sound that just makes you stand up and pay attention.

    For me it goes beyond musicianship. John McCormack was every bit the musican that Caruso was, but Caruso had The Voice. Carreras and Domingo are incredible musicians but Luciano Pavarotti has The Voice. There are many fine jazz players with unique musicianship and identifiable tones that don't have The Voice.

    Chas, I'm constructively jealous, man. I've been around some very gifted musicians but I've never played never with anybody who has The Sound.

    Good one, Durrl. I could talk about this stuff all day.
  7. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I don't know about "THE" sound. The folks you guys are talking about are the elite among the elite.

    My point was that there are people from most all styles out there that can play Twinkle, Twinkle and you hang on every detail.

    A couple that I have played with have sold plenty of records in the Christian music scene. One spends most of his days crawling under houses installing HVAC ducts.

    You just never know.
  8. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I think that it trance-sends the sound in that the effect is as much or even more a charisma thing.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Great observations, folks, keep 'em coming. To clarify, I didn't mean to exclude other performers or styles of music by saying "the spirit of jazz"...I suppose I just meant that when THE SOUND (whatever that may mean to you) is used in an improvisatory way, that's sort of particular to jazz, or at least to improvised music.

    Other performers from other styles definitely have this "VOICE THING" I'm trying to describe. The first two that come to mind are Leonard Bernstein (as a conductor) and Bonnie Raitt. I could (and have) listen to them interpret absolute crap and still find something beautiful to hang onto because of their particular vision of it.
  10. appler

    appler Guest

    Man, I sit here relatively quietly, reading all these posts on the technical aspects of music, gear, and playing, but this post really left more of an impression on me than the hundreds of threads I've browsed during long nights on the computer. (edit: I need a life!) Sam, I totally agree with you about Michael Brecker. I saw him with Herbie and Roy Hargrove at NJPAC doing a kind of Wayne Shorter tribute (got a free ticket from the education program there!), and his tone was so defined and complete that it made me tune out the rest of the world. Like Chris alluded to, it is kinda a Zen-ish thing.
  11. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    What makes me laugh about this thread is how we sit here and discuss minutiae about instruments like it matters (guilty as charged here, so don't think I'm pointing fingers), and all that matters is the amount of heart that goes into your playing. It transcends all kinds of music. Most people in here like jazz, but you can be playing punk rock and if you have the heart, that's all that matters. It doesn't matter if you're a great musician at all. It doesn't matter whether you play a $50,000 carved bass with a $5000 bow, a plywood King, a Fender Precision, a shiny black $350 CCB from Ebay with weed eater strings, or a kazoo through an octave divider. It doesn't matter if you even own an instrument! The only thing that matters is your level of heart that you put into it. If you have that going for you, you will always find a way to get the music out of you.

    I always try to put all my heart into every note I play, even if I make tons of mistakes, even if I hate the music I'm playing, or even if I think the audience are a bunch of stupid redneck morons. And when I put all my heart into it, people can much more easily see all the icky disgusting stuff inside it. Some of it is black, some of it is a reddish brown, some of it is filled with the white stuff inside Ding Dongs.

    But I digress. Just play what you feel inside you with everything you have to give, and the rest of it takes care of itself. Except the money.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Apparently this is not the case, from comments I've had around here about EUBs....? ;)
  13. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    EUB's are alright if you like your bass sound pasteurized.

  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I rest my case, m'lud!! :D
  15. I reccomend two superb cds that meet Quick Fitter's description - Changing Places and The Ground by the Tord Gustavesen Trio. Have a look at The Dialectical Erotism of Improvisation on http://www.tordg.no/index_2.html - its the sort of title you couldn't make up - but worth a read. To my mind he puts it in practise and the results are superb.

    It brings to mind a comment of Brad Meldau's - roughly remembered as: that if you create a personal space with enough conviction people will come to you.

    In terms of the mechanics of creating the feeling IMHO its down to control of space and time. Great players who acheive Chris's nirvana leave a feeling that not all space need be filled but also that nothing is missing in the gaps - as Beethoven had it they play the rests.

    IMHO you can't do this without a great feel for time - poise if you will - placing notes with precision of intention: that is exactly in the right place but not in such a way that it sounds as if you've done it by scientific calculation - rather in such a way that you've expressed a feeling, a rythm of life.

    Ed thread on Lennie Tristano seems to decribe what you'd aspire to do to acheive this rather well.
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Excellent observations - proof that you know exactly what I was trying to describe. It's a beautiful thing when it happens, what?
  17. Thanks Chris - it is indeed a beautiful thing that feels profound when it happens. IMHO it demands a shared and total conviction of the players involved, a belief in what they play that cannot waver. A belief that neither has the desire to establish credibility nor the arrogance that what is played is so good you must listen to it. More that it is statements honestly expressed because you think they should be. It frightens the life out of a lot of amateurs to play this way - no establishing credentials with licks, pleasing the audience with bounce - just you alone and what you have to say. It's my aspiration.
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    And yet it should be the very thing that encourages amateurs rather than frightening them since sincerity doesn't require monster chops. Quite a Catch-22.

    And mine.
  19. This is so well put. Especially about the shared part. If everyone is not on board, it shows...No agenda, just honest expression. Something I have been aware of, but had not heard articulated so accurately.
  20. JTGale


    Oct 26, 2004
    Hummelstown, PA
    Ever since TRIPSHAIRMOLD first launched this thread, I have had deep thoughts about it. This discussion has brought to the forefront a theory I have been building for some time that may be apropos to the discussion. So, here goes.

    The very essence of human nature is dichotomous. This or that, black or white, us or them, dark or light, hot or cold ... however you want to couch it, we view our world through this two-dimensional prism that is mostly impossible to escape. As a result, we tend to feel the need to outline any and all things with "rules" that portend to our view. Let me give a few examples ...

    Language: Ever since the first humans walked on this earth, they have been communicating. Whether it be with gestures, symbols, fire, spoken word, what have you, we have been interacting with our fellow human beings. And since that time, we have tried to codeify our spoken and written language. Thus, in America, we learn the "dos and don't" of English. We write down its methods, track its usage, outline the proper way to use it through the black-and-white method. As a result, we have a set style that is adherent to the codex of English.

    Religion: A hot topic, I know. But think about it: most all religions began as an oral tradition, stories handed down by word-of-mouth from generation to generation. Then, as with all human nature/impulse, we codeify what is right and what is wrong according to that system of beliefs. Most modern religions were started by drawing lines in the sand with the certain sect from which they were breaking away.

    Music: Again, we either play the right note or we play the wrong note. Play at the right time or the wrong time. Maybe you don't have time, maybe you do. Again, black and white within the forms of music. Thus, the codeification of music through genres, stuctures and standards.

    My point? Humans are stiffling their creativity through dichotomous codeification. The beauty of language transcends the "correct" way to use it. The rhythm, the intricacies of local dialecticals, the cadence of speech all lend to a beauty that cannot be written down and enforced, let alone punctuated. And there is beauty in the oral tradition of religion. There is room for interpretation, inflection of voice for emphasis, cultural significance that will only be understood by the regional listener. As soon as you biblify it, you kill it. Dogmatics stiffle the very essence of belief and the foundation of faith.

    Now, to music. I believe that music is born out of people, not pulled from the ether. Music is a language that speeks across all cultures, all datelines, all boundaries and borders. Styles and forms of music are given birth and grow within distinct cultures, seasoned by their tradition and steeped in their history. When the rest of the world hears it for the first time, it appears fresh and heart-felt. The performers have a vested interest in telling their story through their music. Then, as happens with everything, we try to "figure out" how they are making this new music. We find the intricacies and outline them, codeify them so we too can play the music. Seeing their music through the dichotomous prism of human nature, simply put, we kill it.

    Let's use jazz as a fine example of the point I want to make. Jazz was born and grew as a wild outcry of the downtrodden American trying to find happiness through expressivity. Through their instruments, they told their stories in a way that only they knew how. It was different, fresh, new. Musicians built on this aural oral tradition and stretched it, molded it, grew it into their own sound. They pushed the music and bent it to their will, to tell their story. Then, we killed it through codeification. We wrote down the changes note for note. We figured out how to transcribe it so anybody could play it. We planned the scales, tracked the modes, quantified the changes. Now, anybody can play it by just reading the music. Now, we no longer are telling our story, but rather we are only trying to mimic their's.

    To Chris's original post, there are players that transcend the structure of jazz, that forego all the dos and don'ts, and bend their instruments to tell their story. That is what it truly is, I think: speaking from your heart through your instrumet to impart a story to the listener, not playing the changes and scales because you "know" them. And when you are in the presence of someone who transcends all the dichotomous structuralization of humankind, you will know it. You are feeling something beautiful that speaks to the very rhythm of the universe that is inside all of us. We are in tune with the story. Chris is right: It truly is a thing of real beauty.

    ~ jtg