Thursday, August 4, 2016

Chick Webb

I understand that when people think of Jazz they think of Charlie Parker or Miles Davis and the Kind of Blue album. Jazz has been linked to that album through flawed propaganda and easy mystique and even I am guilty of combining vastly different eras into one playlist of my music program called "Jazz", but honestly I skip every Miles Davis tune until I get to Chick Webb or Glenn Miller. When I think of Jazz I think of Chick Webb and Count Basie and Duke Ellington and also Bob Wills because these were band leaders and arrangers and sometimes even composers. Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were instrumentalists and sometimes composers of melodies that sound good when stoned on heroin. Big dance bands of the '40s required complete reconstruction of the prim and proper musical considerations of the '20s. Davis and Bird had nothing to do with that. The whole smooth and fusion jazz era was fueled by opiates and an acknowledgement that there was no way to top what Basie and Ellington had done. It's like what happened after the Romantic Era in classical music, composers gave up the sonata form because it had reached a peak with Beethoven and Mozart that no one could ever improve on. They could only pay homage, which is boring, so Stravinsky and Schoenberg experimented. If you've never listened to classical/orchestral music then why would you ever start with Schoenberg, and then conclude 'Classical' music is not for you? Schoenberg is the classical equivalent of Charlie Parker, without the heroin. 

Jazz has a shorter history, but it went through remarkable changes in a short period of time. I watched the Jazz series by Ken Burns and was sort of disappointed Bob Wills didn't get featured, since Wills is the whole reason I went to Texas, and also Wills swung as hard as anyone with a fiddle for dancers who never heard of Ellington. But many key figures are highlighted in the series, like the provincial Webb, who built the New York City swing movement. 

I think people get confused when they hear big band music and believe all the notes were written out like with a symphony, but band music only notates the melody and certain fills, while the music that makes up 3/4 of the recording is improvised at the moment the recording started. The arrangement, when certain instruments play certain notes, is so important and then the musicians had to learn it and in some cases black musicians were expected to be illiterate so they had to memorize the melody and play without written music to appease the ignorant white dancers.

I define Jazz as a type of music where the musicians were expected to improvise to demonstrate their musicianship in the course of playing a melody. If you are curious about Jazz then save Kind of Blue for your suicidal/divorce/junkie period and start with Chick Webb. That will get you in the right direction.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.