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

LARRY'S Signs and Large Format Printing sign.guy at charter.net
Thu Jan 27 10:19:22 PST 2005

I had a further thought on Bach's compositions - the lost ones.  Is it possible that Bach may have been like a professional photographer who ruthlessly edits his work and weeds out the shots that don't meet his standards.  He may have said of some of them "this really sucks" or "what was I thinking" or the equivalent in German and round filed the ones that were bad.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Charles Suhor 
  To: LARRY'S Signs and Large Format Printing 
  Cc: 'DJML' ; Ric Giorgi 
  Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 5:44 PM
  Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Improvisation isn't = to jazz (Bach,first jazzman?)

  On Jan 25, 2005, at 4:47 PM, LARRY'S Signs and Large Format Printing wrote:

    When I started college I took theory classes where the instructor would give
    us, usually, a Bach Choral with figured bass . In the beginning there were
    two lines of music the top being the melody line and the bottom the bass
    line. We had to fill in the rest using proper voice leading etc. Later we
    got the melody line with only the figured bass and we would write in the
    rest. Later still we would write melodies and use figured bass with all the
    inversions etc. This is very similar to the chord symbols used today.
    Therefore Bach and others used this as a written aid for improv. This was a
    system used at that time and I assume players of the time could read and
    fill it in just as Jazz musicians use chord symbols today. What Bach
    actually played is something of a mystery.

  Larry clearly laid out some similarities between jazz improvisation and the composing methods in his class, but the wonder of jazz (and other non-written improvisation), which makes the difference, was once described by the songwriting great Alec Wilder.

  "I wish to God that some neurologists would sit down and figure
  out how the improviser's brain works, how he selects, out of
  hundreds of thousands of possibilities, the notes he does at the speed
  he does--how in God's name, his mind works so damned fast! And why, when the notes come out right, they are right . . .Composing is a slow, arduous, obvious, inch-by-inch process, whereas improvisation is a lighting mystery. In fact, it is the creative mystery of our age."

  Wilder's comments about lightning-fast invention from innumerable possibilites also apply to the way we improvise everyday conversation. I've done several session on the musical and linguistic parallels, which would be academic stuff except for the musical explanations and examples provided Ellis Marsalis and other collaborators. We'll do the program again at the Phi Delta Kappa convention in New Orleans in November.

  Charlie Suhor

      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
        not contained on paper. Some people consider that most of Bach's works
        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
        (Buxtehude) play because he was known both as a great composer and a
        improviser. Improvisation was an absolutely necessary skill for any old
        world musician well before Bach's time. It was probably the great
        of bad improvisation that forced composers to insist that musicians
        what they wrote and as performing technique became more demanding it
        probably easier for musicians to do just that and not improvise.

        The net result was that improvisation was lost to western music for
        next 150 years until OKOM came along.

        Bach never had some of his greatest work performed, namely, "The
        Concertos" and probably others but he did write them and what has
        very much the way he would have wanted them performed with some leeway
        improvisation based on his knowledge of the probable players involved
        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
        the Brandenburg court. But like any composer of almost any time, he
        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
        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.
          googling since the weather here cancelled tonight's and tomorrow's
          found this interesting snippet on Bach from a graduate music student
          University of California, circa mid 1990s

          --- begin snip

          "Bach, and many other composers of his time, were experts at
          composing musical pieces at will, instantly, on the spot - similar to
          players today. It was not considered rude to add whatever the player
          into the written context of the composer himself. Thus, early music
          free and flexible to play. Unfortunately, because Bach improvised so
          most of his pieces were not contained on paper. Some people consider
          most of Bach's works that are on paper are not worth saving anyway,
          music written for one occasion (in Bach's case, church) should be
          anyhow. But all people have a certain level of curiosity, to hear what
          had to say with the language of music. More than a thousand of Bach's
          have been saved, but it is mind-boggling to think of how many more -
          much greater - his other thousand or so compositions could be."

          --- end snip

          Steve Barbone

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