Thursday, December 22, 2016

Very occasional quote of the day: classical in jazz

“[T]hese days I think there can actually be too much 'classical' sounding stuff in jazz. In a master class I heard Paul Bley warn about this. Bley thought it was better for young jazz musicians to study Louis Armstrong than Alban Berg.

Indeed, it is important to remember that any Dexter Gordon record has so much more meaning and validity than most modern nerdy music-school jazz connected to formal composition.

Taking that a step further, in no way do I feel that the greatest jazz is lesser than the greatest 20th-century composition. Indeed, I’d argue the reverse. The best of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Ornette Coleman with their most sympathetic collaborators is clearly the greatest 20th-century music.”

— The Bad Plus's Ethan Iverson


David L said...

Interesting quote, but given the incredible diversity of 20th century "classical" music, I'd say Iverson (or anybody else) just hasn't listened to but a small fraction of what's out there. Also, we'd never ever have Coltrane's compositions (for example) without the ground-breaking music of Stravinsky, Ravel, Bartok, etc. Listen to Bartok's 4th string quartet (written in the 1920's), and then notice that jazz didn't even touch that kind of complexity until the late 1950's and you'll see what I'm talking about. This in no way minimizes jazz composers, but it's just silly to flat-out claim one genre is 'better' than the other. This is art, not a contest.

Todd Bishop said...

It's not really about better or worse, I think it's just about relevance to the current thing-- which is: small ensemble music created by players. However great whatever 20th c. classical-type music is, that mode of music making is carried over from the 19th century, and has been fading in relevance and vitality ever since. I don't think all the usual reasons "classical" music is elevated over jazz-- it's scale, statistical complexity, seriousness, high purpose, institutional cred, are actually legitimate reasons for preferring one art form over another-- I think that's again a 19th century European bias.