Jazz is dead?

Spent a wonderful evening yesterday with Orphy Robinson – just called round to drop off a CD of the tracks for the gig with Rise on Oct 13th, but as is always the case with Orphy, ended up spending hours putting the world to rights, and listening to some great stories.

Orphy and I have some very similar thoughts on music, and while our own music sounds quite different (he can actually be bothered to write lovely complex through composed music as well as doing the more free improv/spontaneous composition stuff), the genesis of it is similar – both of us have spent a lot of time around people who play ‘proper’ jazz, who studied Bird, learned the omni-book and did what you’re supposed to do – transcribed thousands of licks by your favourite artists. But both of us were turned off by that in favour of looking to the narrative aspects of music, drawn to musicians like Coltrane and Monk who told stories within a jazz framework, rather than just looking to burn their ‘opponents’ in a jam.

Both of us had a fear of screwing up when playing ‘real’ jazz, but when it came to soloing wanting something of ourselves to come out, and so looked to freer improv as inspiration for self expression. I learn so much whenever I chat to Orphy about where his music comes from – he’s been pro for at least 10 years more than me, and having been signed to Blue Note and played with loadsa big names, has a heck of a lot more experience than I.

But we both see our role as story-tellers, and as such are willing to take from any musical tradition that works for us. Our origins are different – Orphy’s background is Caribbean and its musical heritage. Mine is prog-rock and 80s art-rock/pop. So both of us bring that to the table when we play, and both had a rude awakening into the world of free improv (the first free record I ever bought was ‘Montreaux Suisse’ by Air (not the french pop band), and Orphy had gigged alongside members of the band…!)

And it seems like our journeys are becoming to norm for ‘instrumental improvising’ musicians – that all the interesting stuff is ‘jazz plus’ – taking a jazz framework and dropping loads of other influences in. Whether it’s players like Theo Travis and Ben Castle who bring prog elements to their writing and improvising, or the current golden boys of the brit-jazz scene Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland who bring elements of classic rock, electronica and hardcore to their music, it’s the everything else that is keeping jazz vibrant, vital and renders moot the bollocks talked about Jazz being dead. Wynton has done his best to turn Jazz into a museum piece, and the rest of the world has ignored him, thank God.

And coincidentally, there’s an interesting interview with Brad Mehldau in the Guardian talking about this very thing.

Soundtrack – King Crimson, ‘Discipline’.

© 2008 Steve Lawson and developed by Pretentia. | login