Jazz V. Disco; the showdown

From: Steven Catanzaro (stevencatanzaro@sprintmail.com)
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 18:16:40 CEST

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    Personally, I see a major line that can be applied to most developments in music for the last 75 or 80 years or so.

    The demarcation point that I'll stress is *improvisation* vs. *composition.*

    In improvised music, the structure of the piece, if any, exists only to support what the performers are going to make up on the spot. This leads to alot of spontaneity, as well as many "mistakes" being made in the music, i.e., phrases, rhythms, and harmonies that a person might not have come up with if they sat down and thought better about it.

    In composed music, all such "mistakes" are ironed out in advance. An arrangement is thought up, it is rehearsed or perfected until it is fully realized, and then it is recorded and/or performed. (Alternately, an idea that is initially improvised is then refined and polished ad nauseum, until the finished product is released to the public.)

    So, on the one hand, you've got the albums made by Thelonious Monk for Prestige in the 50's, and they're all sloppy and fabulous.

    On the other, you've got the disco of the Brothers Johnson, or Donna Summer, in which, as one AJ contributer notes, each *drum* of the drum kit was tracked seperately. Now THAT takes planning. Meticulous and perfect (and fabulous too!)

    Acid Jazz, or Soul Jazz, is firmly in the first tradition. Much of disco, pop, album rock, as well as classical music etc. is in the second tradition, and I would say that a LOT of the music talked about on this list in the last 4 or 5 years falls firmly in the second tradition.

    After all, the vast majority of it is made by anal males sitting in front of computers or various other bits of late 20th century electro-technology created to micromanage audio files. Similarly, you're not going to hear alot of the first tradition in B. Spears, N.E.R.D., or the rap of Lil' Kim and etc. (And in fact, the demarcation line in em-ceeing is whether you can "freestyle" it or not.)

    But do we say the one tradition is "dead" because the other is a bit more prominent at the moment? No. The great thing about it is even though jazz has always been about improvisation, the 2 traditions co-exist, cross-polinate, and oft-times intermingle.

    I find myself attracted to artists who are able to blend both traditions, or at least if they're firmly in tradition 2, they are creative enough to convey the sense of spontanaeity found in tradition 1.


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