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.
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