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Phil's WHAT AM JAZZ AND WHAT AMN'T thread

Discussion in 'Off Topic [DB]' started by Phil Smith, Sep 4, 2002.


  1. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    I've created this new thread based upon comments by Bruce Lindfield and Chris Fitzgerald in another thread. Bruce seems to think that the chords i.e. the progressions are what make music Jazz. Chris seems to think this excerpt of a cover of Outkast's Ms Jackson is R&B. The excerpt here is an improvisation over the changes to the tune. Countless Jazz tunes have their origins from show tunes i.e. the chord progressions from show tunes have been used as a improvisational framework.

    Can the improvisation in this excerpt be considered Jazz? Moreover, if inner city youth had launched the hip hop movement with harmony and instruments as opposed to rhythm and lyrics, what would be calling the resulting music?
     
  2. Moreover, if inner city youth had launched the hip hop movement with harmony and instruments as opposed to rhythm and lyrics, what would be calling the resulting music?

    That raises an interesting point--I've always thought of a freestyle rapper as being very much like a jazz musician. Each has a repertoire of favorite phrases, and each is expected to be fluent in his respective language. Thematic development is crucial for both--I'm a sucker for a dis on somebody's mom that can last eight bars :D

    FWIW, I'm much more impressed with a good freestylist than some of the sorry-assed Miles and Trane wannabes who I've seen in student jazz ensembles. Something something find your own voice yadda yadda.
     
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well this is very much taken out of context and is not really what I believe.

    Basically, Jazz is a type of music that has developed organically over a whole century and it is impossible to pin down what it is, in a sentence. In my view this is far too simplistic!

    What I was saying however, was that if you take a plain, unaltered 12 bar Blues sequence and only play the Blues Scale (Pentatonic) over it - it will sound less "Jazzy" than if you add chord substitutions, altered chords etc. and then play different scales over it.

    I think most people will hear the difference and hear one as more Jazz(y) than the other.

    I know lots of UK musicians who play Jazz professionally, but also will do sessions on rock, R&B records, chill-out ambient, pure pop or even hip hop!

    So the main difference when they play Jazz is that they are changing their note choices - they know that there are a set of chords/scales that will work in Jazz but not in other styles. Ok there is style and attitude, but the most noticable difference is a set of extended scales and chords that "work" in Jazz but not everywhere else.
     
  4. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Yeah, totally. Freestyle rap is awesomely impressive. I saw Herbaliser a few years back and they had some big dreaded rasta geezer rapping with them for few songs - he was rhyming on the spot in perfect rhythm and groove about anything everything at the gig, SO damned cool.

    For what it's worth, the relevant dictionary definition I have is follows: from Collins concise dictionary
    Jazz: music of US Black origin, characterised by syncopated rhythms, solo and group improvisation and a variety of harmonic idioms and instrumental techniques.

    ...sounds pretty good to me?

    Personally, I find musical 'genre' a very hard thing to decribe.
    Chords themselves can be jazzy, but this is because you associate the sound of certain chords with 'jazz'... in the same vein certain scales, melodies and harmonies are associated with 'jazz'.

    I don't think there is an either-or definition.

    Another idea would be to say that jazz is ANY musical improvisation over a structure.

    In which case Outkast's clip mention above is in fact jazz.
    I wouldn't refer to it as jazz, because jazz has become more of a record store genre than a way of playing, like punk. The attitude of punk is what defined the name for the genre, but now the genre is limited to a certain sound & style.

    The guys who first played jazz in marching bands or whatever in the late 1800s maybe called their musical style 'jazz'.
    But almost a hundred years later the likes of herbie hancock are recording a weirdest mix of repetative beats and synthesised noises, which purists of the earlier style might not think of as jazz.

    So who's to say that jazz can't incorporate any kind of improvised music around a structure?

    I think the problem is that the marketing of music (on any scale) requires it to be classified into genres.
    So we think of jazz as a genre, rather than a method of making music - which I think is closer to the truth.

    Howard K's definition: A method of making music defined by improvisation, usually around a common form.

    :)
     
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I have no idea.

    Just to set the record straight, what I said in the other thread was in answer to this:

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Originally posted by Phil Smith


    Jazz isn't a chord progression, the what and the how that's played over a progression is Jazz.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    Exactly my point. Smooth Jazz = R&B style over jazz changes, hence the "smooth". I'd only give the nod to the word "jazz" in the title because ATTYA is a jazz standard. But to my very bucholic ears, that excerpt was what I'd call R&B. All it needs is BOYZ TO MEN IN THE HOOD singing, "Baby, I'm so sorry I ****ed that other girl, she don't mean nothin' to me, please take me back". :D



    Yes, jazz is a way of playing, but it is also a harmonic language. I don't know where that line is drawn, and I don't much care. And before I get labled an "elitist", I'd like to mention that in the original group I play with (Java Men, viewable at www.javamen.com ), we don't draw any boundaries between styles. Although three of us are primarily "jazz" players by label, we write tunes based on whatever we're feeling at the moment. We've got Jazz tunes, "Prog" tunes, a "Cajun" groove tune, Funk tunes, a "New Grass" sounding tune in 5/4, etc. It doesn't really matter what you call it as long as it sounds good.

    And I'm not going to get drawn into any argument about where the boundaries of "Jazz" are, as I don't even pretend to know or care. I just thought that excerpt sounded like R&B to me, so I called it R&B.
     
  6. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    No it's not taken out of context, here's what you said in the other thread:

    You seemed to have changed your position somewhat or should I say softened your line.

     
  7. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
     
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I disagree with this entirely - so Dave Holland, for example, is widely recognised as one of the best Jazz bass players and composers aroudn today, but he very rarely if ever, plays with a swing feel. None of his own compositions are like this anyway and he and his regular drummer do lots of feels and not just swing.

    The way Blues players phrase solos has been taken up by a lot of Jazz players, but it is the extended vocabulary in terms of chord/scale relationships that really defines someone as a Jazz soloist.

    So - all the Jazz educators I have worked with, would not consider that you knew very much about Jazz, at all if all you played was a Blues scale. You wouldn't pass the audition for "Jazz school"! ;)

    The reason I seem to have changed my position from the other thread is that, that was about Chord Substitutions and this is about "What is Jazz".

    So in the other thread I was saying that altering chords and using different scales can make it sound more "Jazzy". This is not the same thing as saying that this is Jazz!

    I think that Jazz has developed organically and it is not possible to say exactly what is Jazz - why restrict yourself to definitions anyway? - just that soem things sound a bit Jazzier than others.The line between Blues and Jazz is not cut and dried, but I think that people can hear the difference between a Jazz Blues - 2 chords per bar and lots of substitutions - and the basic 12 bar.

    But really what purpose does it serve to ask : "What is Jazz?" unless you are in Marketing? ;)
     
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Thank you for backing me up on this - of course I will defer to your superior knowledge on all of this - I'm just the pupil while you are the teacher! ;)

    But I would be very unhappy with any Jazz teacher who didn't talk about functional harmony and note choice for each chord sequence - and just said play it....but with a swing feel and Jazz inflection. ;)
     
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

     
  11. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I agree 110%. My hard rock band played a gig supporting a 'signed' US metal band on tour - they called themselves 'jazz-metal' because they did just that - dropped the odd chord that "wasnt a power chord" ;) and called it jazz. It left me seething, I ranted about it for bloody hours. Not that I am able to say what jazz is, but I know that rehearsed metal with a couple of weirdy beardy chords isnt fkn jazz!
    Anyway, in that statement I didn't even begin to imply that jazz was as mind numbingly simple as just throwing in a 'jazzy chord'. Don't even bloody go there!

    Your original comment was "...the most noticable difference is a set of extended scales and chords that "work" in Jazz but not everywhere else"

    I then suggested that I didnt think the use of these chords/scales is what defines jazz simpley because you dont hear those scales/chords played anywhere else and that it was limitations of other musical genres, the average listener and the industry that bring about the over simplification of non-jazz music, and the lack of these 'interesting' scales/chords.

    If you're saying that only jazz can make good use of these extended scales/chords and what is commonly known as 'jazz theory', that's pretty damned limiting, IMO?
    I also didnt say that 'squarepusher' was jazz. I used it as an example of non-jazz music that obviously uses 'jazz theory' to some degree.

    So does this jazz theory you speak of HAVE to used in the context of jazz?

    If this 'theory' can only be used in the context of jazz it kinda reduces the potential for development somewhat, don't you think?
    I mean where does jazz go once it's pushing the boundaries of it's theory?

    Sorry, but I think the phrase 'jazz theory' is a limitation in itself. I thought the beauty jazz was the limitless possibilities and the freedom of expression to be found in improvisation?
     
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I suppose you're right in that "Free Jazz" is limitless in theory and improvisation is the only constant - that's why it is so difficult to define what Jazz is - of course Jazz isn't just II-V-Is - but you now it when yo hear it! ;)
     
  13. marc40a

    marc40a

    Mar 20, 2002
    Boston MA
    Though jazz and rap are two distinctly different styles, I consider rap (the real deal, roots, street corner, freestyle stuff) to be the 'jazz' of today. Or should I say, the equivalent of what jazz used to be in it's heyday.

    Rap is clearly along the same lineage as jazz as far as being an American music form based on improvisation, rooted in African tradition and pioneered by African Americans.
     
  14. Kraken

    Kraken

    Jun 19, 2001
    Aylesbury, England
    I'll listen in on this one, I love it when Bruce gets a full head of steam!!

    (even if I've been the one to get the steam there - Noone mention TAB)

    Sorry folks just here to keep up with where this goes

    Krakkers
     
  15. marc40a

    marc40a

    Mar 20, 2002
    Boston MA
    Ed, I agree. I just wanted to point out that there's a direct lineage.

    As far as what qualifies as jazz - we're totally on the same page.
     
  16. marc40a

    marc40a

    Mar 20, 2002
    Boston MA
    >>As far as hip hop and jazz, dint we have that discussion already? I still have yet to hear a "free styler" that has either the rhythmic flexibility and responsiveness of a Billy Higgins OR the melodic inventiveness of Bird....<<

    Definitely not the melodic inventiveness of Bird but the artform is really pushing the boundaries of rythmic complexity vocally. So much in fact, that, like bebop was initially, it's not commercially viable or even palletable to the average listener or fan.
     
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes - this is what I was trying to say to Howard and why the things he mentioned weren't Jazz. Chords , as such, were only the focus of this debate as it started out with somebody asking about Chord Substitutions.

    Of course chords are involved in this approach, but it is the way that they fit into the functional harmony that is important.

    I agree with Ed that improvisation is essential for it to be Jazz, but a lot of people don't see it that way - so they hear the "sound" of "Rhapsody in Blue" and say - that's Jazz and it's difficult to disagree - Gershwin did improvise himself on the piano and his compositional style includes elements which sound like improvisation - I've heard Wynton Marsalis arguing about this!! ;)

    PS - to Ed - so what about Free Jazz that has no harmony or form?
     
  18. marc40a

    marc40a

    Mar 20, 2002
    Boston MA
    >>Definitely not the melodic inventiveness of Bird but the artform is really pushing the boundaries of rythmic complexity vocally. So much in fact, that, like bebop was initially, it's not commercially viable or even palletable to the average listener or fan.<<


    I thought I'd clarify this. I'm referring to the stuff that doesn't get mainstream play.
     
  19. Yeah, I have a feeling that when most people put down rap, they've only been exposed to the stuff that's on MTV. It's not all about bling-bling and Thug Life.
     
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well there are crossovers - so like US3 have live musicians who play mainstream Jazz in the UK along with sampled and programmed beats, but generally this type of thing limits the flexibility of the rhythm section where it isn't really part of the overall music as much as a backdrop against which people play - Jazz is really about playing with other people and reacting - and if you have a static element you are definitely losing something.