Classical musicians usually know practically nothing about jazz theory. When they do, they tend to throw a wet blanket over it and send it through some sort of blender: a violins and trap-set Osterizer. I might have done this inadvertantly myself, by ear.

I am very close to an excellent jazz pianist and theater organist, who plays no matter what. Unstoppable. Can't shut him up at the keyboard. He hears music, as he hears paranoid voices. That might lend a clue as to why I care. Music saves his sanity as it enlightens my sanity.

I've loved jazz all my life, but loved classical music just a little bit more, so I went classical. In truth though, jazz musicians enjoy life more on the whole, and are often a hell of a good time. Contrast that to being in a room full of professional organists - each hating one another's playing secretly or not for some very tiny reason. Solo out a fugue subject in Bach on the clarinet stop and end up in organist-hell.

There are marvelous attempts, most made before 1970 at bringing jazz and classical music together, in the serious concert hall. I'm not talking about Ives. There is no reason each type of music needs to sacrifice it's sense of being. That is, jazz unadulterated should be able to be in the same room with classical (ibidem), and things can still go smoothly.

For the composer, this is a serious matter. If I write chords that I actually asked for from my jazzer friend, or lifted from some pop chart sound I heard in my youth, it gets labelled "French" by the classical people.

This is not unrealistic: for I was an organist who played a lot of French music, and I have played with modes for many years. Modes are not French, however. No one owns the modes. No one owns french fries, either, for those who are hungry.

If I play a C major triad and add the sixth degree, and move up a step and follow it with a D minor triad and an added sixth degree, am I French or jazz? Or both, or neither? Or worse: a C major 7th chord becomes THE tonic, and the first and final chord to my piece. Why might this potentially cause trouble?

Funny: it's not really right for either style. It's easy to hear why in jazz. It's impossible to say why in classical. It could be, or it couldn't be. Or one might be indifferent. One could write dissertations on the 7th degree's use and misuse and keynote packed lecture-halls, in music schools across the globe. The hunger of a theorist knows no satiety.

This leads easily into the angry area of clichés - and we might as well face this fact: if you can write it down, it has probably been done before and you are a possible victim of the dismissive "pastiche" review. These sentences make sense, and are therefore hackneyed: there must be a way to improve language - but at what expense (sense?).

Many classical musicians honor a few "great" jazz musicians who perhaps "crossed-over" (cross-dressed) successfully. Gershwin will get top bill for that honor. I'm not sure he was the best, but he still sells tickets to classical enthusiasts.

His career went alongside Ravel's, and Schoenberg's and Messiaen's, Victor Herbert's, and most interestingly, Duke Ellington's.

Music has no real fences: people create fences.

I have always wondered why someone had not very cleverly taken Beethoven's piano sonatas, reworked a few of them with "larger," lush and at one time Moderne harmonies and reaped the dollars, Pounds, Euros with the sensational results. And possibly, classical music might find a new direction in its scary future. A few steps back, a bit to the left, and forward again.

To think in tertiary dominants, the circle of fourths, and substitutions, alterations is much closer to what music really sounds like than the impossibly complex Schenker charts that turned me sour to theory at Queens College, many years ago. Learning 16th-century counterpoint is a worthy math assignment. I think it would be better than algebra, but not better than how to play songs by ear that people will know. Musicians used to be the smartest women and men in town: the encyclopedia of notes. When did classical musicians (keyboard artists/conductors) stop playing by ear, and stop improvising in public? When was the last time you heard a cadenza that was fresh and maybe a little thrilling, because it was obviously not rehearsed?

I'm perhaps too old, weatherbeaten to play the role of real renegade. Classical music so desperately needs an endlessly inquiring composer, somebody on the order of an after-Bernstein (at least in the USA) to pull listeners in by clever inventions, and forays into forbidden areas (Broadway) and pop-charts. This used to happen.

Classical music has pulled so far away from what people out there really listen to, or want to listen to that we are heading towards a concert hall of one. I live my invisible-composer life through that dream, but I know that it is false. I am not interested in money, and fame is for prettier people. I acknowledge that my many years studying theory in university and conservatory were crap - and that is not my fault.

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  • I respect your opinion, but I disagree. I wonder how all those people feel about what they are playing? I know for myself, I am a very, very amateur jazz musician. Can I play Giant Steps in all 12 keys? No. I can barely get by on the blues in all twelve keys. Have I found moments of spirituality while playing? Yes.

    Most of the jazz musicians in the 60s were working musicians who loved what they did, had chances to play it all day and all night, and were generally in an environment that lead to great creativity and innovation. Most jazz musicians today, are not in that situation.

    I wouldn't necessarily call the jazz being created today horsepuckey. It is playing in a certain style, and you can't fault anyone for wanting to perfect a style, or being analytical. We need all types of musicians in this world. Feelers and thinkers. Maybe too, its the terminology. Maybe there is awesome jazz being created, but the people creating it don't call it jazz, and we haven't heard it yet.

    Terms are such a tricky thing.

  • Classical music is taught differently from Jazz because it is different.

    Jazz is all about improvisation. Classical is all about interpreting a text.

    There are points of contact between the two but they are essentially different. 

    In fact, now I think about it, the exact opposite of what you said is true. It is Jazz that encourages imitation. 

    The parallel with Jazz and Baroque music is quite interesting. 'Playing through changes' equalling figured bass, the Da Capo aria equalling embellishing the tune and of course the cadenza equalling taking a solo.

    The reason that is is possible is that both sets of performers have very narrow parameters in which to work and a shared musical language. Shared within each group of course. When a modern performer does their own cadenza in a baroque or classical concerto they first have to transport themselves back to the period and try to be inventive in a style that is not 'their' language. It seldom works I think.

     In essence, classical is a written art, jazz is an aural art.

    I've been preoccupied with combining the two worlds for sometime and have a piece on my page 'Midnight Rounds' which attempts to place some jazz based harmonic and rhythmic elements within a strictly 'classical' rondo form. It also contains a quote from Monk's 'Round Midnight (hence the title) rondo = rounds of course. Sorry to blow my own trumpet as it were, but it is at least pertinent to the discussion.



    James Burnon Ross said:

    Yeah, but can't that be applied to any music really?

    I mean, I seriously doubt that people like Bach, Beethoven, etc. thought of their compositions as "intellectual theorems".  They probably just notated the music that they heard in their minds.  So in a sense they were just putting on paper (or playing through their instruments) what they were feeling.  Not unlike jazz at all.

    To think that jazz is unique in that way is truly unrealistic, IMHO.

    Having said that, I do believe that the Jazz community encourages improvisation over rote imitation.   That's certainly the exact opposite of how classical music is taught.  In classical music the idea is to imitate as closely as possible. Stray too far from a rote imitation and you'll get your knuckles slapped by a teacher's ruler.  But was that truly the essence of "Classical Music" or just what educational formalism turned it into?



    Dan Pincus said:

    Bill said:

    "It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling."

     

    Poor, lonely Jazz category. And we owe so much to Jazz: every day of our lives.
    Classical musicians usually know practically nothing about jazz theory. When they do, they tend to throw a wet blanket over it and send it through so…
  • Lively, interesting discussion. I remember Nina Simone incorporating baroque style into her work.

    The importance of these, and other elements is hard to deny a regular audience: a perceived form; a perceived sense of tonic-dominant (even through extreme alteration/substitution); the satisfaction of feeling "not lost all the time;"  mastery of the instrument; appreciation of the audience, whoever that is (from 10 to 5,000). The audience is happy. [I entered music thinking Virgil Fox [organist whom many organists despised was a god.]

    From swing to discant, and "world music" (how does that fit in?) to a real "symphony" (what is that, exactly, in 2012?), we are at a point where the Anything Goes philosophy (however attractive) threatens to lower the actual quality of new music being written from today, onward. Quality is subjective: answer as you please. I see it as the composer knowing when she creates any kind of music with integrity intact, and some kind of structure. It's nice if a 2nd person can understand it.

    Remembering that Bruckner and Brahms both said, "I don't understand your music," we are allowed to have great variety.

    My concentration here was on the concert hall. Those who program concerts feel trapped: do the Top 50 all-time-greats or fold. This has been the situation for decades - perhaps even to WWII or before that.

    Music meant more in earlier times, and perhaps the recording has created great trouble and ossification. Film scores and TV music did what they did: sometimes good, sometimes harm.

    I still wish that every music student had at least a one-year course in jazz harmony. For composers - it would seem indispensable. Once the book is written, the whatever style ossifies a bit. But it doesn't end there - Fux's counterpoint did not stop Brahms from writing superb lines.

    I think that today's classical musicians are aching for music to be written that they can present in public hundreds of times, convincingly and enthusiastically. And I wonder what that music is going to sound like.

  • I have to agree with many of your sentiments. Unfortunately we have passed the point of no return. I have often thought that the invention of recording was the beginning of the end of 'Concert/ 'Classical'/ 'Art'/ 'Serious'/ 'whatever you call it'  music. 

    The 'anything goes' philosophy is related to the 'if I like it, it's good' philosophy.There is nothing wrong with these attitudes per se, but they must be tempered with the ability to discern, to qualify one's taste based on an understanding, a depth of knowledge - not academic learning- but knowledge that comes from experience as an attentive listener.

    A jazz 'buff' can probably (should) be able to tell when a soloist is going off on a flight of inventive fancy and not just trotting out their hackneyed old licks. A classical audience should ( but often don't ) know the difference between a charlatan or dilettante and the real thing.

    Music certainly meant more in earlier times. Once upon a time it was a extraordinary and unforgettable experience to hear many instruments all playing together. Now there is just so much wall-paper. Mind you, I've written many hours of the stuff myself but at least I know it for what it is (a living) and don't pretend it's ART.


    Sylvester Wager said:

    Lively, interesting discussion. I remember Nina Simone incorporating baroque style into her work.

    The importance of these, and other elements is hard to deny a regular audience: a perceived form; a perceived sense of tonic-dominant (even through extreme alteration/substitution); the satisfaction of feeling "not lost all the time;"  mastery of the instrument; appreciation of the audience, whoever that is (from 10 to 5,000). The audience is happy. [I entered music thinking Virgil Fox [organist whom many organists despised was a god.]

    From swing to discant, and "world music" (how does that fit in?) to a real "symphony" (what is that, exactly, in 2012?), we are at a point where the Anything Goes philosophy (however attractive) threatens to lower the actual quality of new music being written from today, onward. Quality is subjective: answer as you please. I see it as the composer knowing when she creates any kind of music with integrity intact, and some kind of structure. It's nice if a 2nd person can understand it.

    Remembering that Bruckner and Brahms both said, "I don't understand your music," we are allowed to have great variety.

    My concentration here was on the concert hall. Those who program concerts feel trapped: do the Top 50 all-time-greats or fold. This has been the situation for decades - perhaps even to WWII or before that.

    Music meant more in earlier times, and perhaps the recording has created great trouble and ossification. Film scores and TV music did what they did: sometimes good, sometimes harm.

    I still wish that every music student had at least a one-year course in jazz harmony. For composers - it would seem indispensable. Once the book is written, the whatever style ossifies a bit. But it doesn't end there - Fux's counterpoint did not stop Brahms from writing superb lines.

    I think that today's classical musicians are aching for music to be written that they can present in public hundreds of times, convincingly and enthusiastically. And I wonder what that music is going to sound like.

    Poor, lonely Jazz category. And we owe so much to Jazz: every day of our lives.
    Classical musicians usually know practically nothing about jazz theory. When they do, they tend to throw a wet blanket over it and send it through so…
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