IT’S ALL ABOUT MELODY
I was interviewed by author Andy Hamilton for his new book on Lee Konitz which I just read cover to cover-a fantastic document. First of all the format is very interesting. It consists of an over two hundred page interview of Lee covering different stages of his career with comments by other musicians interspersed. Konitz is known in the biz as a very honest, outspoken and verbal person with an ability to cut to the chase when he comments on almost any subject. He is merciless in his opinions (being eighty gives you that right I suppose), highly judgmental (on himself as well), yet very clear and able to back up his comments with plausible explanations. I have always felt that musicians are the best sources for review and comment on others in the field, as long as they keep it objective, include comprehensible musical evaluations with of course nothing personal. Lee does just that. For example he admired Stan Getz except when he “pushed” his sound in the upper register, an observation I absolutely agree with. He is equally critical about himself, mentioning among other things perpetual intonation problems as well as a dislike of playing very fast tempos for example. But the major component of Lee’s aesthetic is his absolute allegiance and emphasis on melody making as the essence of improvisation, a view which over the years, I as well increasingly subscribe to.
My generation especially was entranced by harmony. I guess with my book on the subject, I am a prime target for what I am about to say. It was in essence “Giant Steps” which launched many of my peers on that path (or in some cases, a completely reactive “free” of harmonic content style). I was and still am entranced by the richness of color and its subsequent emotional power that I hear and feel from deep harmony as played to such a high level in the mid 60’s by specifically Hancock, Tyner and Corea. The same could be said about at a great deal of 20th century classical repertoire with Bartok, Scriabin, Shostakovich, etc., leading the way. My long relationship with pianist Richie Beirach has been predicated to a large part on harmony, which entices the intellect by challenging one to understand and use it. Naturally, it is also a bottomless pit of discovery with unending combinations. Therefore the trap!!
In jazz specifically, rhythm is still king. Without some aspect of swing, the core of the tradition is not present. What constitutes “swing” is a separate discussion, but suffice to say there are numerous ways that in my opinion music can so call “swing.” But ultimately, the supremacy of melody has to be acknowledged. As a consequence of its being universal, timeless (beyond style and even culture), with the ability to cut to the core of a listener’s visceral reaction to the experience of hearing music as a whole, one must deal with it. As I understand better now, when I hear someone like Chet Baker or Lee play to name two examples, inventing a SPONTANEOUS melody, set in a “swinging” feel as we are expected to do in jazz improvisation, I am duly impressed. In the final analysis harmony shades and supports melody, hopefully enhancing its intrinsic beauty and depth. Of course, as I discuss in my class at Manhattan School of Music on the subject, one’s personal judgment as to what constitutes a “good” or a “lyrical” melody are quite subjective. This perception is affected by one’s listening experience and in this case, culture, etc., hence an area of discussion always open to analysis and discourse. One way of the other, creating a good melody stands as a crowning achievement, be it written or improvised.
I highly recommend that you read Andy Hamilton’s “Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art” (Univ.of Michigan Press). It will inform you about a great artist who has stayed true to his course flowing from the very beginning against the tide; is acutely aware of who he is and what surrounds him; has earned his place in the historical continuum of jazz and most of all is unfailingly honest. (I hope that someday, an interested party would produce a similar format with me like Andy did Lee for this book!!)
KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN: Inadvertently when discussing the history of classical music, I and probably others will often state as a sort of overall generalizing statement something to the effect of “from Bach to Stockhausen” meaning the beginning and the end. In the past months by coincidence, Stockhausen received a lot of media attention as a supposed listening influence on the direction Miles Davis took in the 70’s during my time with him as we hear on the recent “Complete On the Corner” sessions box set release (see past Intervals on the subject). As an aside, to be honest I never directly witnessed or discussed that aspect with Miles. However, in any case the German composer had a tremendous influence on several generations of classical and jazz players. His “Gruppen” and “Licht” cycle to name two works certainly turned me around when I heard them. In a way, Stockhausen along with Cage, Boulez and several others were responsible for the unofficial announcement that the element of “color” had arrived, meaning that a texture, sound, color, whatever one might call it, could stand on its own merit as a valid musical gesture, not necessarily co-dependent with harmony, rhythm or melody per se. This is a mid 20th century innovation for sure and jazz has definitely taken that aspect to the limits as have many contemporary composers in the classical field. Stockhausen represented a different way to think about music.
QUARTET WITH DANIEL HUMAIR. BOBO STENSONS, JEAN PAUL CELEA: I had two great gigs with a real “all star” quartet. Two of the icons of European jazz are drummer Daniel Humair and pianist Bobo Stenson. Their roots go back to Bud Powell and countless American jazz players who used to barnstorm across Europe with pickup rhythm sections. But most of all, these are artists who have found a unique way to play that comes out of the tradition, yet reflects their surroundings and influences. Free jazz is natural to them, but they also can play “inside” when called upon. Playing with this caliber of musicians incorporating such different influences from my own always brings out another aspect of my playing which I really enjoy. Hopefully there will be more work with this group in the future.
QUEST TOUR: Reuniting for the second time after our fifteen year hiatus (2005 was the first tour with a live recording “Redemption” on Hatology), it always feels good to go back home for me, so to say. Playing with Richie Beirach, Ron McClure and Billy Hart is like visiting one’s family. We have a way of communicating that is only possible with the four of us-a certain understanding and common experience which is palpable. We had the opportunity to record at the NDR in Hamburg, Germany (the state sponsored radio/TV network) under what could only be described as stellar conditions: separate engineers for lights, monitors, PA sound, recording and piano tuner on call (even in between tunes during the concert!!). On hand were our old friends from the former German jazz and world music label CMP for whom we recorded and I have done several of my solo projects, producer Kurt Renker and engineer Walter Quintus. The conditions were fantastic, recording for a live audience over two nights and one afternoon. Hopefully we will find a label for the music. In my experience, Germany still stands as the place where the most respect for art is realized in many different ways. When they do it right, it is the best situation for creativity.
SAX MASTER CLASS:My 21st Saxophone Master Class will be held from Tuesday, July 29th through August 3rd at East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Interested students must send me a tape of their playing and should go to that area of my web site for details.
TEO MACERO: A documentary is being made about producer Teo Macero who of course is best known for his work with Miles, but also with Monk, Brubeck, even Johnny Mathis and more. In fact 3000 albums produced!! I have had a lot of sessions with Teo and he is a great guy who really is into the music. This is a short clip, I assume as a preview for the upcoming film:
CHET BAKER SITE: Great clips and recordings of a master:http://chetbakerfoundation.org/
ANOTHER CHILD PHENOM:Amazingly we get blasé about the amazing talent we discover around the world these days. But go to this video to see the latest ten year old from Israel playing Giant Steps, his own way: http://www.slide.com/r/hEIoBvLpwj8i6TMevbJ9l9ge22mGGsjy
Web site: http://www.arielpiano.com/
JANUARY:IAJE Convention in Toronto –appearance with Mike Murley, Ian Froman and Jim Vivian at the Rex;England tour with giuitarist Phil Robson and drummer Jeff Williams;concert with drummer Tony Bianco and Evan Parker in London
FEBRUARY:Quest at Birdland, NYC;Cocnert in Torino, Italy with bassist Furio DiCastra and drummer Roberto Gatto; with Manahattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra performing Porgy and Bess and Miles Ahead at Zankel Hall,NYC; workshops and performances at University of Virginia, Charlottsville and University of Miami, Florida
Peace and the best for the New Year to you all; above a picture of a Palestinian and Israeli kid-my hope for the new year!!