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

Ric Giorgi ricgiorgi at sympatico.ca
Tue Jan 25 10:08:35 PST 2005


I've think you're nailed it better than I did but I have some nits (very
small) to pick with you. The point I was trying to make (and didn't very
well) was that Bach was not the FIRST jazzman but one in a line of many and
much of what is brilliant in his work and in that tradition must come from
his genius at improvisation. But, see below ...

> 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.

[Me:] Completely agree and in Bach's time it was well understood that a
gavotte, a minuet, a North German overture, an Italian overture or whatever
many movements in a work were titled, they were done a certain way with
certain forms implied and expected by the performers and listeners - which
to my mind reinforces the idea of Bach as, at least in spirit, very close to
a real jazzer.

> 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.

[Me:] YES!

> Back to Bach--okay, he wasn't a jazzman, 

[Me:] I'm not so sure, I'd argue this one 

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. 

[Me:] Agree completely although if you look at a score from the period, its
clear that the dynamics are there but they're not like 'p' 'mf' or 'ff'
markings we'd expect but rather the number of lines playing and the number
of instruments playing each line for instance. Tempos were often implied by
the name and function of the movement being performed but the performers
certainly had as much leeway then as they do today.

More than that, it's quite clear that groups were using dynamics before the
dynamics were marked in scores from contemporary accounts and their usually
noted first appearance in the Manheim Orchestra was not the first use of

> 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.

[Me:] Yes! And of course it allowed JS to ship off music with fewer
restrictions on which group could play it, which instruments were involved
etc, unlike later practice where if you couldn't get a soprano saurosaphone
(or whatever)for your group, you did play X composer's particular work. 

> Charlie Suhor

[Me:] To me one of the sad things about all this is that Bach's music is so
wonderful that to hear how he is ripped off by little-talents because he's
(Bach's) so good, is a real pain.

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