[Dixielandjazz] Improvisation isn't = to jazz (Bach, first jazzman?)

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Tue Jan 25 09:04:12 PST 2005

Great analysis from Ric, below. Some further ramblings...

Improvisation in the classical tradition, I think, can capture the free 
spirit of jazz, and like jazz improv, it can be done skillfully or 
poorly. But the particular form of improv in jazz, from early jazz up 
to but not including free form/avant garde jazz, is a 
song-structure-based, rule-governed form that gives musicians and 
listeners benchmarks whereby they can relate the improv to a base 
(e.g., aaba or 12-bar blues, underlying chords) that's used to generate 
the jazz line.

Also, jazz of just about every style uses African influences that 
Western music didn't make use of and thought bizarre, at first. You 
know the catalogue---blue tonality, bent notes, smears, growls, rips, 
radical syncopation/accentuation, a voice-based conception of 
instrumental tone, etc.
These were anathema to the European tradition. Early jazz introduced 
new dimensions of expressiveness that were only later understood by 
musical Establishments. BTW, those elements came to be incorporated in 
jazz arrangements. An Ellington arrangement, then, can be " jazzier" 
than a an improvisation that makes no use of at least part of the array 
of African elements.

Back to Bach--okay, he wasn't a jazzman, but again, the long and 
leaping lines and imaginative counterpoint of his written music were 
certainly influenced by his genius as an improviser, and I think that 
an analogy to jazz, though not an equation, is invited. Also, I 
understand that Bach didn't write dynamic markings or tempos to many or 
most of his writings, giving the performer and/or conductor the 
privilege and responsibility of imagining the piece anew. Hence, the 
differences in Glenn Gould's different renderings in the Goldberg 
variations that Steve writes of fondly, and the marvelous adaptability 
of Bach's music ton various settings and instrumentations.

Charlie Suhor

On Jan 25, 2005, at 8:25 AM, Ric Giorgi wrote:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ric Giorgi [mailto:ricgiorgi at sympatico.ca]
> Sent: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 9:23 AM
> To: 'Steve barbone'
> Subject: RE: [Dixielandjazz] Bach, The First Jazzman?
> Thanks for posting this Steve.
> I think there are two basic problems with this argument [Bach, The 1st
> Jazzman and that "because Bach improvised so much, most of his pieces 
> were
> not contained on paper. Some people consider that most of Bach's works 
> that
> are on paper are not worth saving anyway, since music written for one
> occasion (in Bach's case, church...)]
> As a young man he walked 40 miles to be able to hear a very famous 
> organist
> (Buxtehude) play because he was known both as a great composer and a 
> great
> improviser. Improvisation was an absolutely necessary skill for any old
> world musician well before Bach's time. It was probably the great 
> profusion
> of bad improvisation that forced composers to insist that musicians 
> play
> what they wrote and as performing technique became more demanding it 
> was
> probably easier for musicians to do just that and not improvise.
> The net result was that improvisation was lost to western music for 
> then
> next 150 years until OKOM came along.
> Bach never had some of his greatest work performed, namely, "The 
> Brandenburg
> Concertos" and probably others but he did write them and what has 
> survived
> very much the way he would have wanted them performed with some leeway 
> for
> improvisation based on his knowledge of the probable players involved 
> (the
> BC's were an "on spec" audition he created to try to get a gig with the
> Margrave of Brandenburg). Most people agree that the 2nd movement of 
> No. 3
> was devised to be entirely improvised by JSB or the likely keyboardist 
> at
> the Brandenburg court. But like any composer of almost any time, he 
> could
> only get writing gigs if musicians played his music the way he 
> intended it
> (or better) and he couldn't be at every performance so it had to be 
> notated
> with his intentions intact.
> Ric Giorgi
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: dixielandjazz-bounces at ml.islandnet.com [mailto:dixielandjazz-
>> bounces at ml.islandnet.com] On Behalf Of Steve barbone
>> Sent: Saturday, January 22, 2005 9:59 PM
>> To: DJML
>> Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Bach, The First Jazzman?
>> Bill Haesler commented that one could tap one's feet to J.S. Bach. 
>> I've
>> been
>> googling since the weather here cancelled tonight's and tomorrow's 
>> gigs
>> and
>> found this interesting snippet on Bach from a graduate music student
>> thesis,
>> University of California, circa mid 1990s
>> --- begin snip
>> "Bach, and many other composers of his time, were experts at
>> improvisation,
>> composing musical pieces at will, instantly, on the spot - similar to 
>> jazz
>> players today. It was not considered rude to add whatever the player
>> desired
>> into the written context of the composer himself. Thus, early music 
>> was
>> very
>> free and flexible to play. Unfortunately, because Bach improvised so 
>> much,
>> most of his pieces were not contained on paper. Some people consider 
>> that
>> most of Bach's works that are on paper are not worth saving anyway, 
>> since
>> music written for one occasion (in Bach's case, church) should be
>> discarded
>> anyhow. But all people have a certain level of curiosity, to hear what
>> Bach
>> had to say with the language of music. More than a thousand of Bach's
>> works
>> have been saved, but it is mind-boggling to think of how many more - 
>> and
>> how
>> much greater - his other thousand or so compositions could be."
>> --- end snip
>> Cheers,
>> Steve Barbone
>> _______________________________________________
>> Dixielandjazz mailing list
>> Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
>> http://ml.islandnet.com/mailman/listinfo/dixielandjazz
> _______________________________________________
> Dixielandjazz mailing list
> Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> http://ml.islandnet.com/mailman/listinfo/dixielandjazz

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list