Disintegrating Music Staff (treble clef!)

piano keys

drummer's hands playing
  1. AB:I wanted to ask you about jazz pedagogy and learning jazz. But first, and I guess this is somewhat related, consider the commercial viability [of jazz] and the people you mentioned building these tunes off these very complicated harmonies or rhythms or forms. That is a very “artsy” gesture and it’s very demanding on the listeners. Commercial viability means, to a certain extent—or does it?—tempering it to make it more accessible? What is the relationship you perceive with your listeners?

  2. AG: I would say that there is not a direct relationship between the complexity of a given piece of music—be it rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, or whatever—and its ability to reach an audience. I think jazz audiences are more sophisticated than you give them credit for. First of all, there will always be a huge segment of the population that will just have no interest in what we do. And I think that’s a given, whether it’s due to a lack of education, or because people get addicted to whatever’s popular in the day—Britney Spears, the latest hip-hop, or whatever. They’re just not interested in anything else and that’s cool. Jazz is an acquired taste anyway. Some of them could potentially fall in love with jazz. But will they be exposed? Most of them, probably not.

  3. Now, that being said, it leaves the other 10 or 20 percent of the people, or 40 percent in a different country, who may potentially be interested in jazz. Say only 2 or 3 percent of those already have a certain amount of jazz knowledge and exposure. Those are the people who may indeed clue more directly into the specific harmonic information in a tune.

  1. They might actually enjoy some of the complexity. Then the other 8 percent of those 10 percent, those people probably have the ability to respond to complex music. Now it might not be jazz: it might be classical music, or the hippest hip-hop that they listen to now. But they have the ability to process complexity. So there is your target audience: that 10 percent of the people who have specific jazz knowledge or don't but do have the capacity to enjoy, process, and become fascinated with it.

  2. Maybe, some are like me when I was a Milton Academy sophomore and I heard jazz for the first time. As soon as I heard it I was totally into it—I was one of those sleeping 8 percent. If your music has the good fortune, for whatever reason, to become appreciated by an additional 10 percent, or an additional 20 or 30 percent—great, you’re psyched. But that’s going to be chance. Somebody like Joshua Redman was in the right place at the right time. He has a good story, he’s good looking, he’s well spoken, and he came along at a time when the media was paying attention to jazz. Who knows? He had, for a brief time at least, a wider exposure than other people. But most performers are not going to ever appeal to more than 10 percent of the people.

  3. I don’t think you really have to worry so much about being commercially viable as a jazz artist on a grand scale, only on a small scale. Each person has the individual responsibility to be true to their own artistic vision—this is the way I look at it. Finding your musical self is the number one rule for every jazz musician, and this means compositionally, conceptually, artistically in all senses, especially improvisationally. Some of us are going to naturally gravitate towards a style that’s accessible to a larger percentage of the people. Others are going to naturally develop in such a way that they become fascinated with maybe slightly more challenging or less accessible forms or structures or styles. That’s the way it should be, ultimately.
    Tenor Saxophonist Joshua Redman

  4. Somebody like Joshua Redman is always going to be more accessible to a wider percentage (of that already admittedly small percentage) of the people versus somebody like Mark Turner, who is in every way Redman’s musical equal. They admire each other, and respect each other, and they’re friends. But, Josh will always have a so-called bigger and more successful career because his musical personality is simply just more accessible than Mark’s. That is in part because of the music they write, it’s in part because of their stage presence, and it’s in part because of their life priorities. Josh is just going to be more of a money-making proposition than Mark. That being said, it would be wrong for Mark to change his personality to be more like Josh, and it would be wrong for Josh to change his personality to be more like Mark. They are both great musicians precisely because they’ve tried to be themselves, and so long as they continue to be themselves, they will do just fine. And they will leave something for the next generation to follow.

  5. When I try to think about my own music and whether it will reach an audience, I have to only trust that what I think of as great is going to be great for some other people. It may be that’s great for a thousand other people, maybe
    Tenor Saxophonist Mark Turner
    that it's great for ten other people, or maybe that it’s great for 100,000 other people, or for a million other people. A lot of that will probably depend on how it’s marketed, on luck, chance, business...but some of it will depend on my artistic personality and how accessible it is. Another part will depend on how magnetic of a show I give. Sometimes I play with great bands and great guys and the people are kind of lukewarm, and other times I play with equally great guys and the people are going crazy for no other reason that some people just have these magnetic stage personalities—Josh was a prime example of that. Wynton, he’s a great musician and he has stage magnetism; the second he gets on stage, picks up the trumpet, people are riveted. That’s just something that he’s always had and he’s going to continue to have. He exudes charisma and charm, and it’s a major source for his success. But that stuff is out of your hands and ultimately your responsibility is to your musical agenda.

  6. AB: Even if you might never reach the other 90 percent of the people?

  7. AG: Yes, I think your goal should be to reach all of that 10 percent. If you can reach all of that 10 percent you are going to have a great career…

  8. AB: …and presumably be content and happy and fulfilled?

  9. AG: Totally, totally. Unless you went in it for the wrong reasons, unless you went in it to become famous. But the only people who become famous or huge, they are not jazz musicians. And even the most "famous" and "huge" jazz musicians are not famous and huge in grand scheme of things. Wynton Marsalis is not famous and huge, neither is Branford [Marsalis], neither is Joshua, neither is Sonny Rollins, neither is Herbie Hancock in the grand scheme of things. The vast majority of people have never heard of Herbie Hancock. But, he’s been able to reach, say, 20 percent of the people. That’s quite an accomplishment and he deserves credit for that.

  10. AB: But it was a high toll…he got a lot a crap.

  11. AG: But he doesn’t give a fuck about it. If you interviewed him, he wouldn’t say it took a high toll, absolutely not. He would say he was having fun and he was always trying to move with the times and do something new and different. And I think that on the contrary, that movement is what’s kept him vital as opposed to him having paid a price for experimentation.

  12. AB: I want to return to pedagogy and learning jazz. We both went through this very unusual high school program with small combos and a heavy emphasis on improvisation. I haven’t been playing a lot of drums lately, but I have been studying guitar and there is so much you can learn from private teachers and records and that is important, but there is definitely bandstand experience. But, learning to play jazz is so institutionalized. This is a relatively recent phenomenon and I have heard various opinions about the kinds of musicians it produces. Do you think something happens when it gets institutionalized? Suddenly you have degree requirements and juries and school stuff as opposed to learning on the bandstand, or learning with private teachers, or small groups, like the John Payne Center in Brookline, Massachussetts. You have seen a lot, was it all as valuable? Were there certain things frustrating about particular aspects [of your educational experiences]?

  13. AG: The things that are wrong with institutional learning in a jazz context are the things that are wrong with institutional learning in every context. And the things that are right about it are the things that are generally right. I don’t think there is a particularly poor fit between jazz and academia, so to speak. I think that you can potentially learn a lot from any class you take in university. When you do learn, it's because either a) you are extremely interested in the material at hand, or b) you have a great professor—or both, if you were lucky. Ultimately the same is going to be true of every jazz class as well. Basically, any kind of exposure you get to jazz is good because ultimately it is the kind of thing you have to learn on your own. As it is true of every field of higher learning, in every challenging field, it’s going to come down to…

  14. AB: …you in the practice room?

  15. AG: You in the practice room, you in front of your stereo, you reading a book, if we're talking about another field. Art cannot be taught in a classroom setting in any kind of definitive way—it can only be introduced. In so far as institutions succeed in introducing people to concepts, new music they haven’t heard before, a method of learning, they are doing their job and it’s going to be up to the student to make it happen beyond that. I think that it’s wrong to demean all institutions, to say there is no place for the institution in jazz. I think if you talked to a lot of old guys, they feel that all these kids are lucky to get their exposure to this music in that kind of setting. What they don’t tell you is well, “that’s not enough.” Students sometimes think they are going to be handed everything, and that suddenly they are going to become a great jazz musician. The truth is no jazz musician learned to play that way, even if they were handed valuable information by their friend or by their mentor. It doesn’t matter whether someone acquires information in a classroom setting or in a private setting, in a John Payne Center, somebody’s loft space, or from their grandfather who handed down the music directly to them. Just acquiring information is not enough; you have to learn to apply it, you have to practice it, you have to develop it into something your own. I think you and I had a teacher who taught us that principle: that basically it came down to you and how hard you want to work.

  16. If there is any downside to the institutional teaching of jazz it’s only that perhaps there’s a danger students could become lazy and think it will all just be handed to them, that they will emerge from their institution fully formed as a swinging killing cat. That obviously doesn’t happen. On the other hand, certain people do emerge from music schools sounding great, but if you ask them why, they’ll tell you in a second it’s because they practiced and not just because they went to class and got As.
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Berish: Dissections and Intersections

Review Essays

Carson: El Niño

Courtier: Long Road to Freedom


Grigg and Murphy: Opera’s Second Death

Niebur: The Film Reader

Jorritsma: Amandla!

Conference Report

Garrett: Criss Cross