Have You Listened to the Recordings?

Don't paw over books and courses, or rather do, but first listen to the recordings. That's where his master's voice comes from.

Don’t paw over books and courses – or rather do, but first listen to the recordings. That’s where His Master’s Voice comes from.

Simple enough question. Have you? Or did you just learn Blue Bossa, All Blues, GDS, Canteloupe Island, Blues for Alice, ATUR and, um, all that jazz from courses? C’mon, be honest, I’m not going to set the dog on you…

Jazz is as much a tradition as it is a means of personal expression. Or rather, you learn to express yourself personally within a tradition. Standing around wearing a beret and waving a baguette is not going to convince anyone you speak French, is it? (Well, it might convince some, these days…)

And think about it – if you want to play jazz, why deny yourself the chance to hear and learn from what great players have done over the tunes you’re trying to learn? Too many people play these tunes as though they were classroom exercises.

There are arrangements implicit in many tunes too. For instance, it’s really annoying when people do In Walked Bud and play the bridge without one sustaining the end of the phrase and the other playing the answering riff underneath. It’s also rather dull when bands do Night in Tunisia without using the tag to launch each new solo. Or play Lazybird without the outro.

You’ll probably inevitably gravitate towards a couple of favourite renditions of a standard that will shape your concept most, and that’s okay. But how are you to know if there isn’t a version out there that you like better, if you’ve never looked? There might be something that can be done with a tune that hadn’t even occurred to you.

I’d go further, in fact, and say that you shouldn’t really regard your education on any given tune as even half complete until you’ve properly listened to at least half a dozen versions of it. You might not be able to hear or do exactly what they do, but you can absorb the feel, the attitude, the potential. If you think that’s a chore, three points:

  • You like jazz, don’t you? Why wouldn’t you want to listen?
  • You want to approach it completely clean, with no prior influences? Well okay, but you might wind up sounding like a TV newsreader spouting from an autocue and mispronouncing the names.
  • The YouTube/Spotify generation has it easy. We used to have to get out of the house and buy or borrow the albums

So hunt down those recordings. And as I said, treatments, tempos, intros, etc vary widely and some are very well-known. You don’t want to be the one sitting there with a vacant smile on your face and a rising sense of fear when someone casually calls “Autumn Leaves, Somethin Else intro”, do you?

Of course, you might not like a version and there’s latitude here. Inner Urge arranged in 13/4 for banjos and power tools is more my idea of arch wackiness than hip, but I’d like to think I might give it a little listen anyway. You never know, you just might hear something interesting.

See also My First Jazz Teachers.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings
2 comments on “Have You Listened to the Recordings?
  1. Adam Cole says:

    What? Had to BORROW the ALBUMS? Hardship!!! Ah, the privations of us veterans from the Good Old Days. May I remind you and your awesome readership that the real veterans didn’t have albums, but instead learned the tunes from each other at all-night vigils? Learning from albums was our generation’s shortcut! The idea of a “canon” of jazz recordings changed the way musicians thought about the music, and not entirely for the better, wouldn’t you agree? Now I love them old recordings, and we do benefit from standing on the shoulders of GiantsTeps. But you haven’t really mentioned the idea of learning from colleagues (not in jazz courses) and that’s fundamental to the art, isn’t it?

    Here’s a little secret I’m ashamed of…I learned a lot of these tunes from the Real Book because I could…gasp…read…Sometimes I’d been playing the tunes for years before I’d ever heard any recording of them. This had its advantages and disadvantages too. I interacted with (someone’s written version) of the music in a very personal way. But I didn’t really have a clue how to interface those tunes with other musicians until I’d tripped over my shoelaces on professional gigs about ninety times.

    • Jason says:

      Haha. Glad to know there’s someone out there who’s almost as sarcastic as I am! You’re not going to beat me in the cynic stakes, you know – I’ve too much of a headstart…
      I know what you mean, and I also spent time reading plenty that I hadn’t heard. Getting by, you know, doing things my own way. Pretty cool. Then I listened to what good players do over them, and the tunes just opened up like flowers for me.
      I’ve had pieces butchered by bands, orchestras and conductors who just didn’t get the intent, no matter the urging or rehearsal. Of course, there’s always an element of picking the guys and throwing it out there. Often they run with it and make it something beyond what you’d intended. That’s certainly what you hope for.

      The number of times I hear Blue Bossa done as student sludge, like the school orchestra from the Simpsons… It was tight, springy, dancing – it’s actually a bloody good tune.
      Dah dur, dur dur dur durrr, dur sludge snore durr… (squeak, bang, biff). Tell me you’ve not been there?

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