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

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Tue Jan 25 10:26:42 PST 2005

Thanks for your great educational and heartfelt comment, Ric.--Charlie

On Jan 25, 2005, at 12:08 PM, Ric Giorgi wrote:

> Charles,
> 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
> dynamics.
>> 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.
> [Me:]
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