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.