Thursday, December 12, 2013

It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

Madhav Chari continues his series on understanding jazz by recollecting an incident to help define swing.

There is a common misconception that Jazz music is not easily accessible to a general audience. I mean an English speaking audience from urban India with at least some tiny exposure to elements of western music. Even Bollywood music has elements of western music: this level of exposure is enough to enjoy Jazz music.
The misconception is rooted in two obvious causes: recorded music and live performances. Much of the music labeled as Jazz either by the press in India, recording industry, or by many musicians, is actually NOT Jazz music, but music incorrectly labeled as Jazz music. Live performances either of the so called Jazz legends of India in Mumbai, considered the premier Jazz center of India, or even by some foreign musicians sent by consulate organizations, can be extremely insipid, and almost always not connected to the actual energies of Jazz music.

Count Basie and Frank Sinatra

My own belief is that Jazz music played well, can communicate to this very same English speaking urban Indian audience. But the issue is quality, and the energy of the music has to connect with the Jazz of the past masters of the music. In particular the music has to “swing”.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jazz and The Beatles

The Beatles by themselves have little reason to figure in any jazz purists’ collection, yet most of us find more than a handful of Beatles songs tucked away in albums by artists as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Wes Montgomery and Brad Mehldau. One of the reasons for this is, of course, their rising popularity at the same time that bop and free jazz were at their innovative best. The other has to be the appeal of the songs themselves. The Beatles songwriting engine was taking everything they came across and melting them into a totally new, simple, universally appealing sound.

There have been a few scholarly attempts to find jazz in The Beatles. This is not one of them, since it was not like they were not listening to jazz or were not aware of the developments in the world of jazz, but that they chose to play rock & roll, and some about of rhythm & blues. This post is a celebration of The Beatles and of Jazz, independently, and of how they speak to each other. Opinions are mine, and you are free to disagree. Do use the comments to initiate of participate in a dialog.

What The Beatles Heard

Finding The Beatles in jazz is not only easier, but as mentioned earlier, almost inevitable. In this post, we look at what The Beatles were listening to, what they played, and what jazz made of them. Though their formative years coincided with the boom period of modern jazz, there is little to suggest that they were listening to anything other than the new sound of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. But these forms themselves were born out of jazz, out of the blues, and out of the beat driven three-chord structures of American popular music.

The Beatles grew up in a musical world dominated by the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and of course, Elvis Presley. Chuck Berry was among the first to turn his stage presence into a part of the performance. Little Richards, the R&B superstar, never strayed too far from his gospel roots, and even switched entirely over to gospel at the peak of his career, only to return to R&B again.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Good Medicine

My post on the history of the blues led to a stimulating and insightful dialog with my friend, Madhav Chari. Chari is not only one of the finest jazz pianists of our times, but also carries with him a deep commitment to jazz education. When I asked him if I could reproduce our dialog in the form of a post on this blog, he gifted me a set of articles instead. So it is my greatest pleasure to introduce this series of posts by guest blogger Madhav Chari. Enjoy!

“Ev’ry day, ev’ry day I have the blues.
Ev’ry day, ev’ry day I have the blues.
When you see me worry baby, ’cause it’s you I hate to lose”.

The great Jazz singer Joe Williams sang these lyrics with the Count Basie orchestra in the classic recording “Count Basie Swings Joe Williams Sings”.

There is a misconception that blues music is sad, melancholy, and perpetually prone to depression. In the western world, primarily America, the “blues” refers to a range of emotions that include sadness, melancholy, depression, the general feeling of being down and out, and weighed down with the world. Blues lyrics even carry these messages.

But blues music is not “blues” as in emotionally feeling low: singers use a wide range of emotions to tell a story, and if the only story they communicated musically was one of sadness, the music would get tiring very soon.

Blues music is music that “gets rid of the blues”, in other words it is that type of music that keeps the blues away, music that is good medicine to cure you when you get the blues.

When Jazz musicians “swing the blues”, they are addressing a type of attitude here that is tongue and cheek, even when the lyrics might be sad they may sing it with a certain flair that connotes anything but sadness, and by swinging the blues we mean performing blues music with the un-definable yet strongly perceived rhythmic push that undergirds much of Jazz music. It also reflects an attitude that if something is terrible, the way to deal with it is a state of certain nonchalance and a positive attitude, certainly a state of elegance while confronted with adversity.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jazz: The Language of the Heart

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Jazz is that it is an all American artform. The second is that it is joyous, swingy, funky, recreational music, the kind that you can play in the background while you tend to your accounts, whatever they may be. While the roots of jazz extend across the globe, from the darkness of Africa to the cool chic of the European renaissance, from the folk forms of the Mexicans & native American Indians to the microtonalities of India & middle east, it was the American circumstance that threw all these into ingredients into one cauldron & brought it to a boil. And it is joyous celebrant music, since it really is the expression of the strength needed to overcome the struggle of daily life & turn even the harshest of social persecutions into a reason to rejoice.

Today’s listening post is about looking at jazz differently. Jazz is largely a comment on social inequity, hypocrisy & discrimination. However, instead of being a messenger of gloom, jazz turns it into a uniquely participative art form, one that engages you & demands your attention, you accounts be damned. This playlist is meant to nudge you into thinking about where we come from & where we are headed as a civilization. Playing time: 60 minutes.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Life and Times of Pandit Ravi Shankar

My secret Santa gifted me The Living Room Sessions Part One after I read about it in some of the articles that began doing the rounds after Pandit Ravi Shankar’s death on December 11, 2012. It was fascinating to hear the informal recording of the 91-year-old with his old friend Tanmoy Bose on tabla. The four pieces, which includes one in Raga Satyajit, a spontaneous creation in honor of his friend, the filmmaker Satyajit Ray, are delicately nuanced with some very intricate embellishments, and seem set for a permanent place near the top of the pile for all Indian classical music lovers. His phrasing is subtle and lyrical, and these pieces lack the flashy question marks that several of his later recordings made a habit of. At 91, he sounds like he has finally found what he sought all his life, peace and certainty.

I wrote in detail about my understanding of the life and times of Ravi Shankar over at Parth's blog. Do take a look. Click below to read it.

Read the whole post>>

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