[f_minor] Take Five

Jörgen Lundmark jorgen.lundmark at mypost.se
Wed Dec 5 20:48:34 MST 2012

Hello all,

I apologize in advance for this non-Gouldian posting. I haven't checked 
up on Gould's writing on jazz, but I know he liked Evans -- more about 
that below -- and he said he felt, at least early in his career, that 
the New Orleans jazz was fun to listen to. But I don't really think he 
was very happy with jazz as an art form. The improvised element was 
anathema to his approch to music. I also don't think he appreciated the 
showing-off element of group improvisations; the sometimes almost 
duel-like character of the individual solos. Anyway, for those not 
interested in the jazz discussion we're having at the moment, please 
stop reading now.

Well, Bob, I can't agree with you there. That the Rolling Stones and the 
Beatles are more jazz true -- or how I shall interpret you -- than Dave 
Brubeck??? You've gotta be kidding me!

The degree of improvisation is in my mind always in question in most 
jazz performances. When listening to for example Art Tatum's mastery at 
that I get the distinct feeling that more is prepared than we might 
think. There's at least one single example of him really inventing when 
he plays, and that sound VERY differently. Gould's favourite jazz 
record, Bill Evans' "Symbiosis" I think, could also be a questioned on 
the amount of on-the-spot improvisation there really is. This kind of 
over-dubbing probably demands a greater percentage of preparation. And 
that is my point really: the higher the degree of complexity, the more 
amount of preparation, "composing" if you like (at last in the head), 
there is.

The fact that Brubeck uses contrapuntal devices in his jazz -- yes, I 
will not call it anything but that -- makes him less free in the 
over-all structure of a piece I guess.  But -- I have no proof, I'm no 
jazz musician -- I doubt if Brubeck was that bad at improvising as you 
say. There are example of him really inventing complex things. Listen 
for example to him and Paul Desmond playing "Brother Can You Spare a 
Dime", an almost successful improvised two part contrapuntal invention 
on the theme (which by the way sounds very much like the first movement 
of Bach's D minor concerto for two violins).

If your "white man's jazz" label on Brubeck has to do with him playing 
pretty, that's also not very apt either. Few pianist can sound so brutal 
and harsh -- he was pretty bad at making the piano sing. Evans was much 
better at that, then again his dynamic levels weren't as pronounced as 
Brubeck's. Lastly, if I'm correct when it comes to Brubeck's 
intellectual approach, I doubt he'll ever be the safe alternative, at 
least not for a general public. In this respect, what would you 
categorize "Moden Jazz Quartet" as? It can't be jazz since John Lewis 
pretty much sticks to his formula -- a wonderful formula, full of 
contrapuntal devices; his fugues are hardly improvised! -- and isn't 
exactly full of folk music feelings is it? Does this mean MJQ doesn't 
play real jazz??? I also think you're forgetting that Brubeck and his 
units really could swing. Doesn't that count for anything? By the way, 
complexity is in my mind something positive. I'm no folk music man at 
all. Bach enriched and purified (another positive word!) the popular 
dances and folk music. The original is pretty uninteresting as music goes.

If you don't like Brubeck, fine -- I don't like the Beatles or Rolling 
Stones. But I think it's sad if jazz is diminished into a discussion of 
"what's more improvised, down to earth and closer to the roots". Jazz is 
like classical music a very broad canvas and the better for it.

Your last questions how much we are willing to risk for our music, or in 
a broader sense art is really important. It's easy to take the abundance 
of the modern world for granted. We might even stop appreciating what we 
have. Gould playing the 5th English suite might just become another 
pastime, streaming from our digital systems. It must not happen, ever!


> Nil nisi bono de mortuis.
> Beyond his freakish finger span -- I think he could play a 12th -- 
> Brubeck filled a very undistinguished niche in jazz. He produced a 
> "safe," unsurprising product that white college-educated audiences 
> felt comfortable consuming. It was also "television safe" because with 
> very few exceptions, USA commercial networks took decades to broadcast 
> African-American (Negroes in those days) artists.
> (Only Hefner's "Playboy After Dark" featured integrated or black jazz 
> artists; it was a syndicated show never broadcast in the racially 
> segregated South.)
> With his "revolutionary" and whack time signatures, Brubeck's work was 
> European//classically sophisticated -- but soulless. He seemed to view 
> improvisation -- the heart of jazz -- as a slovenly embarrassment; 
> there's not a measure of improvisation in his super-selling 
> breakthrough albums.
> That's why saxophonist Paul Desmond deserted the DB Quartet. He knew 
> Brubeck wasn't playing jazz and never would. Desmond and Gerry 
> Mulligan were the only white contemporaries of Brubeck who "got it," 
> who seamlessly recorded with black artists.
> I'm sorry to say that in the USA 1950s, genuine, historical-roots 
> black jazz and R&B scared white Americans. It was spontaneous, 
> energetic, exciting, thrilling, and worst of all, highly sexual, its 
> sexual references only thinly veiled with puns and jokes. That didn't 
> matter until the 1960s, because none of the major recording labels 
> would touch black artists; their brilliant (and naughty) work got its 
> limited airplay and sales on "race" labels sold only in the black ghettos.
> Brubeck got all that airplay and filled stadiums because his stuff 
> wasn't very challenging, contained references to respectable classical 
> music, and didn't frighten white kids (or their parents who snooped to 
> hear what the kids were listening to).
> Brubeck didn't invent this niche. In previous decades, Paul Whiteman 
> (and no white man was more aptly named) sanitized George Gershwin's 
> jazz derivitives for white audiences, and in the '40s Benny Goodman 
> did the same. Goodman actually featured African-American musicians in 
> his band (I don't think Glenn Miller did).
> It's easy to blame the big labels and radio and television networks as 
> the villains of this sad American history, but it was the timidity and 
> conformity of white consumers which did most of the harm. (It was 
> rock's "scholars" like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the early 
> Beatles who re-discovered historical African-American jazz and blues 
> for white audiences.)
> Europeans weren't so timid. During the Nazi era, Germans (Berliners 
> mostly) braved the concentration camp to smuggle in black American 
> jazz records, and during the Soviet era Eastern Europeans would 
> risk the gulags to listen to their beloved jazz. This was, after all, 
> depraved and decadent Western music.
> I've often wondered if I'd have the guts to risk prison to listen to 
> my favorite music. But for decades thousands did -- and I suspect in 
> some "Great Firewall" places, people still do.
> Bob
> Massachusetts USA

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