Many of the questions were strange to me("If a student comes to you with a complaint regarding another faculty member, what do you do?"), but one in particular stood out to me. " Yes, Mr.
I'm betting if any of my students read this, they might be quietly chuckling. I almost didn't know how to answer; first of all, if they had bothered to look at my resume, they might have seen all of the vocalists I worked with, and all of the older jazz legends I was fortunate to work with, and maybe they would have deduced that perhaps I know at least a few standards. Indeed, I don't know anywhere near as many as Harold Mabern, who apparently knows around 5000 tunes( he's forgotten more tunes than many of us have ever learned.) Nevertheless, I
|Harold Mabern: has forgotten more tunes than you have ever learned!|
However, I also love to compose music. My original reason for trying to improve as a pianist was because I wanted to be a composer. I think developing as a composer is what turns musicians into artists. Improvisation and composition are so similar, and one can inform the other. I love to write new tunes or pieces or songs because it's really my own world and I have total power over everything in that world. I love to bring new songs to a band and see what they do with the material; maybe they'll play it like I hear it, or maybe they will bring a whole new perspective.
I don't think an artist has to be always breaking new ground to be relevant, but I do think there has to be some lean towards newness to be relevant. Be it new music, or a new take on a standard, or an arrangement, or a group of musicians who have never played together, or something, I think this is the beauty of jazz and the beauty of art; there are infinite combinations of notes, chords, rhythms, and musicians that can make us pay attention.
I guess the contradiction lies in this insistence on standard repertoire but also an insistence on
Now, just to gain a perspective, in the more contemporary world of rock, pop, hip hip, and country music, I would argue that in terms of material, there is a constant need for new material. There is no prerequisite for playing "standards." Dave Matthews Band isn't validated by their performance of "Johnny Be Good," or "Rock Around The Clock" or some Beatles tunes. Kayne West isn't expected to perform "Fight The Power" by Public Enemy. Toby Keith isn't validated by performing Conway Twitty songs. I'm not saying that those artists didn't learn or don't know any classic songs. I'm just saying that we don't ask or expect them to perform "classic" material, or "covers" as they say. We, or should I say, their fans, expect them to play their own music, and if they didn't, they would be considered "unoriginal." I'm not saying those artists are great; however, I think we could agree that, for better or for worse, those are relevant artists in the recent music marketplace.
All of this being said, where does jazz stand in this? Do we need to think the same way? I believe it's worth considering, only because jazz, since 1959, has been declared dead time after time. The prevailing wisdom is that jazz is dead because other forms became more popular and jazz fell by the wayside. I believe that one of the concepts Nicholas Payton was driving at during the whole "BAM" mishagos was that jazz might be dead because it's been put in a box. "What IS jazz? THIS is jazz! THAT isn't jazz!" So is jazz evolving, or is it not? If a young musician plays a standard, is this part of the evolution? If a musician of any age plays original music for an audience that wants to hear "standards that we know," then what does that mean for jazz?
Sometimes, we as musicians have little choice; when a record label tells you to record standards, or a
I suppose some folks who hear my latest CD, "The Endless Mysteries," might hear(or see) all originals and wonder "Yeah, but does this dude know any standards?" Well, you only have to go back a few CDs; I released "Living For The City" in 2011 and it's all tunes you might know. I haven't decided what my next project will be; I have it narrowed down to either a completely improvised recording or a Christmas Album. Or, perhaps a tribute to Conway Twitty......