Thursday, January 3, 2019

Everybody Solos, As The World Burns

I came late in life to jazz, and slowly. Take Five, by Dave Brubeck, was an early wake up call. I was in my mid-teens. I bought an off-label LP out of a cut-out bin at Woolworth's for less than a dollar, and when I played it I remember thinking, “wow, you can do that?” But still, it did not exactly seize my imagination.

Later on, with a growing record collection and having listened occasionally to WBLS, I grew outwards from the old “guitars, three or four chords, the blues, and probably a saxophone,” to listen to things with a bit more variety. Still, however, it was the cliched choices of a white boy from Queens. Wes Montgomery (guitars), and Jimmy Smith (who doesn't love the B3?). The black touring bands like James Brown, Ike Turner, and B.B. King helped a lot to expand the pallet. Some of the English bands helped out too, and I did love Julie Driscoll, singing with Brian Auger and the Trinity (another B3 band). I don't know, slowly my ear became more flexible. I was becoming a better player myself (guitar), and learning more theory, and it all expands the consciousness. Learning about Salsa music brought brass into the picture.

Much later I learned the mantra of jazz combos, “everybody solos.” Very democratic, and I approve in general. I say, “in general,” because if you've got 'Trane in the band, let him blow to his heart's content. If he finishes up the set, or if he closes the place and they shut the lights off, just let the man play. No complaints. But it's a nice idea to give everybody their own couple of choruses to sing the song. That's what I call, “me, getting to the point.”

Everybody” includes the bass player and the drummer, and I endorse that idea completely, WITH THE FOLLOWING CAVEAT:

  1. The bass player and the drummer should stick to singing the song, like everybody else. If you are a bass player, don't just pick the key and do whatever the hell you feel like in that key. Stay on the chord changes; keep the time; find the themes and the melodies; sing the song! And the rest of the band, please note. The bass solo is not your cue to lay out and smoke a cigarette. Comp the bass player! He's been compin your lazy ass all night. And even the drummer. Stay with the song as much as possible! Sing it! You have a beautiful instrument there in front of you, don't just punish it! Follow the changes and the melodies. It has been done. Even I have heard it done. And band, don't just leave the drummer out there on his own either, same as the bass player. Accompany the drummer!

Oh, it's not only the bass players and the drummers. Piano players get lost in their solos too. Just lose the band and go searching for fascinating new chord inversions. The hell with that. You have a perfectly good song here. Play it! Sing it! Fuck around on your own time.

I mean sing it with your instrument, of course. 

Thank you all for allowing me that time to rant about what is no doubt an obscure peeve. Your attention has been a rare gift in this despicable holiday season. I see, for instance, that the last of the BRIC countries has fallen into Satan's grasp. That would be Brazil, where the forecast is for sudden extremes of racism (in Brazil, no less!), homophobia, and environmental destruction on a scale that is only possible in Brazil, because no one else has that much forest left. As the world continues to descend to the lower depths, please remember that music is one of our few reliable pleasures. So let's try to get it right, okay?

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