The best jazz musicians can improvise all over a "standard" or well-known written tune because they
know the written tune inside-out. Isn't that really just an expansion of the idea of a cadenza
original to a soloist but tacked onto a well-formed/well-established piece of music?
Where jazz gets more unique and dissimilar to written/arranged music is when a group of jazz
musicians work off a sketchy "head arrangement" in the studio and end up with a song. There are many
cases when these songs are written down after the fact, usually after the recording gains some
traction and the musician wants royalties, but also if a song gets traction with the musicians and
they want more than the "head arrangement" for their "book" so they can play it live or record it
with different improvisations in the future. Then there's "free jazz" and other areas where it would
seem little or nothing is pre-planned or written down after the fact, music just "happens" for
better or worse.
From what I've read, heard from first-hand participants and seen first-hand, rock and pop music is
much more pre-written than modern-era jazz. Rock guitar solos may well be improvised (and the best
rock guitarists can throw in different hooks, riffs and references at any moment), but all or most
of the other parts are following a pre-ordained path, all the more so if the rhythms and/or chord
changes are fast and/or complex.
One area of debate in some circles is if tightly and precisely arranged Swing music is jazz music or
more akin to dance-hall pop music with some jazz elements written into the arrangements. I lump it
with jazz, but I can see both sides of the argument. I think strict classification of music genres
is kind of like sorting baseball cards -- probably quite helpful to keep one person's shoebox of
cards in an order that he can understand and appreciate, but probably of little use to anyone else.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "John Haley" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, April 05, 2013 1:55 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] revisiting an old thread -- jazz anthologies
> While hesitating to weigh on on this very interesting debate, here I go.
> First, it is wrong to deny that at least some jazz elements come from
> Africa, as jazz did not develop "naturally" as a European concept. That
> seems pretty obvious and beyond reasonable debate.
> One reason that jazz, at least today, resists analysis and classification
> is that at least in its more modern forms, it celebrates individuality,
> even embracing a strong element of improvisation. Improvisation is by
> definition personal to the improviser. Jazz today, as often practiced, is
> the opposite of structured art. The result is that classification sort of
> stops with the individual performer. And there is certainly nothing wrong
> with that. I think performers who are good at it are drawn to it precisely
> because of the freedom it offers them to "do their own thing" as opposed to
> taking a disciplined approach to someone else's written music. Trying to
> classify jazz musicians in an academic way is definitely an exercise in
> herding cats (cool cats, anyway). I haven't seen Ken Burns' effort, but I
> don't think I will bother after seeing how much it is reviled, and I assume
> rightly so. It would seem to be an assemblage of sound bites and factoids
> that as music lovers we already knew.
> The fact that jazz musicians will take a composed song as their jumping off
> place has always puzzled me, but I am no jazzer (maybe because I had to
> accompany them on piano in college, on their saxophones, playing Handel
> violin sonatas). A great popular song is often a carefully composed work
> of art, sometimes created by a certifiable genius, and I always appreciate
> someone like Fred Astaire or Judy Garland who do what they can to give us
> that song, as well as they can perform it, and not some new composition
> bearing the same title. But that's just me.
> A lot of jazz people reject efforts of artists to incorporate jazz idioms
> into popular music, but that has been going on for at least a century, and
> I for one am happy about that. For me, mixing in pop idiom kind of keeps
> tabs on the jazz elements, keeping them "honest" and in touch (with me,
> anyway), and restraining them from getting too far out there for me to
> enjoy them. Obviously, others will differ, and I can respect that. E.g.,
> people hate Kenny G now, but when his first big album came out, I really
> loved it, jazz mavens be damned. He was in fact a superb instrumentalist
> (who else has since got such exquisite sounds out an array of saxophones,
> which in most hands are fairly unwieldy instruments when it comes to making
> beautiful sounds), and his sensitivity to pop music of that moment was
> right on target. One reason why people presumably like saxophones is that
> they can imitate the rawness of raw singing. OK, so Kenny G very
> successfully took it in the opposite direction. And the songs were really
> wonderful, as pop songs. Admittedly they died a brutal death from massive
> overexposure, but don't blame Kenny G for that. I suspect that his
> reputation was hurt more from the fact that his subsequent efforts all
> seemed like pale imitations of that one great album. But why dump on him
> now because he was not a famous jazz musician? In his own pop sphere, that
> he created (and those were mostly new songs, whoever wrote them), he was a
> really great talent, a superb instrumentalist and a genuine artist who
> brought something new to the table. I cannot disrespect that.
> I recently had to look up St. Louis Blues, and it is no blues song at all,
> but rather a composed pop song of its day (1914), by W.C. Handy. a pure
> pop song imitation of blues songs. See Wiki entry at
> Yet what great blues singer has hesitated to sing it? Does Bessie Smith
> sing the published notes? Not at all, not even the tune, nor on much else
> that she sang (and words are whatever came out of her mouth at the moment,
> it seems). Was that a jazz influence?--you bet. Is her recording a fair
> representation of that song? No way. It's all her, and it's undeniably
> great, but it sure isn't St. Louis Blues.
> An interesting topic for me is the intersection of jazz with popular music.
> Frankie Carle clearly had a lot of jazziness in "his style," as did Carmen
> Cavallaro, yet they were excellent pop artists, despised by many jazz folk
> today. While it is now popular to dump on both of them, I really love
> their records. Carle's economy is amazing--it's like everything he plays
> is distilled to its essence yet completely effective. There is some real
> musical intelligence at work there. Cavallaro is so individualistic that
> he almost defies definition. What he did with pop songs, including dance
> tunes that he generally played in strict dance tempo, was absolutely jazz
> I fully understand that my own taste is not universal, and that's a good
> thing too. ARSC is a big tent.
> John Haley
> On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 11:54 AM, Aaron Levinson
> <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> I don't think Dave is by any means suggesting this is a "good" idea just
>> that it has certainly been a persistent theme for the past 40 years or so.
>> I know the guy that wrote that latest piece here in Philly and it is wrong
>> headed and myopic on so many levels I won't even dignify it with a
>> response. I think that Tom gets right to the heart of the matter below and
>> I have had this same engagement with others for decades.
>> The ENTIRE chordal system and temperament and harmonic language of jazz is
>> from Europe. Even the drum vocabulary that we often assume is the most
>> "African" element has much of its roots in Swiss drum rudiments, flam,
>> press rolls, paradiddles, etc. Almost without exception the instruments
>> that we identify with jazz (except for drums) are of European origin and in
>> many cases quite late, like the saxophone invented in the 19th century by
>> Adolphe Sax. No sane person will suggest that the great soloists and
>> architects of jazz have not been overwhelmingly African-American but the
>> idea that it was anything other than a uniquely American amalgam that drew
>> from all kinds of different sources is patently absurd. Likewise, if you
>> want to get into its many roots and tangents, an enormous number of the
>> iconic Jazz standards were penned by Jewish songwriters from Tin Pan Alley!
>> Take "I Got Rhythm" out of Jazz and the countless tunes that were based on
>> its chord changes (aka IGR changes) also don't exist! All roads lead to
>> Rome from what I can tell.
>> Jazz in my mind has always had many parents of all shapes, colors and
>> sizes let's accept and celebrate how these extraordinarly disparate
>> elements all contributed to the Jazz mutt instead of trying to establish
>> some self-congratulatory Apartheid system that is both odious and patently
>> On 4/5/13 6:41 AM, Tom Fine wrote:
>>> Hi Dave:
>>> Wow, this new discussion is the ULTIMATE of historical revisionism and
>>> political correctness.
>>> JAZZ or Jass, as has been known as a distinct music for over a century
>>> now, is definitely NOT just a "black" musical form. It's an amalgam of
>>> long-standing European scales and chords, march tempo and other elements,
>>> plus European instrumentation, combined with African rhythms and the same
>>> African elements that formed field chants and then the blues. Jazz and
>>> blues, especially in the early years, borrow liberally from each other, and
>>> continue to influence each other to this day.
>>> Yes, the first practicianers of early jazz were mostly black and creole
>>> (which is in itself a "mutt" just like jazz is "mutt" music, which is what
>>> makes it so distinctly American, from a country of "mutts"). But almost
>>> immediately the music was embraced and mastered by white musicians. The
>>> first recordings were by white musicians if you count ODJB as the first
>>> band to record. Most of what Cary and I were complaining about, ignoring
>>> the Hot-Jazz Revival musicians and ignoring Latin-jazz stems from racial
>>> politics. Injecting new racial politics into the study of jazz would be a
>>> big mistake.
>>> I can't understand why people just can't embrace the whole spectrum of
>>> jazz and celebrate it as AMERICAN music, the "mutt" that is in, the product
>>> of a "mutt" country. We should all strut the mutt, as our local dog shelter
>>> says on its banners. More importantly, appreciation of those who were great
>>> jazz musicians and those who moved the music in new directions shouldn't
>>> depend on their skin color. Jazz is one of those areas that, from early in
>>> its history, it was a meritocracy. It broke down silly and arbitrary
>>> skin-color barriers (aside from the fact that mixed-race bands existed from
>>> the early times forward, anyone can study the lives of folks like Duke
>>> Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, John Hammond, Norman Granz or
>>> Fletcher Henderson and form the same conclusions). Leave it to the PC crowd
>>> today to re-erect barriers!
>>> As for slicing and dicing jazz into "micro-categories" -- why??? The
>>> beauty of the music is that it ebbs and flows in so many directions, it's
>>> massive and varied like the country of its birth. I think there may be
>>> academic bones to be made (ie publishing rather than perishing) from
>>> slicing off tiny sub-genres and writing too many words rather than letting
>>> the music speak for itself, but I see no other purpose to over-classify any
>>> type of music. That's the main beef about many of the
>>> well-known/well-regarded anthologies and the Burns documentary -- the
>>> definition was too narrow from the get-go. So why narrow things further?
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "David Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Friday, April 05, 2013 2:29 AM
>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] revisiting an old thread -- jazz anthologies
>>> I note that in 2009 someone noted that "discussion of jazz is finally
>>>> coming out from under the shadow of Ken Burns' 'Jazz.'" One direction the
>>>> discussion is now taking is the idea that the word
>>>> 'jazz' itself is inappropriate to identify the central core of the music,
>>>> as it is shackled to a milieu of colonialism and slavery. The term "Black
>>>> American Music," or BAM, or #BAM has been suggested
>>>> as an alternative by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who cites that musicians
>>>> such as Duke Ellington disliked the term "jazz" and Louis Armstrong
>>>> that in New Orleans in the early days the term
>>>> was not used.
>>>> I've met Nicholas Payton, a long time ago, and I liked him very much
>>>> personally. But even he has said that he is not the same person that he
>>>> 15 years ago when we met, and in all fairness, neither am I.
>>>> I will not link directly to his manifesto of thinking on this topic
>>>> I think the foul language and content of the piece would tend only to
>>>> enrage many of the people here. Below my sig I have a link to a
>>>> (mostly negative) article about it, which does contain a further link
>>>> to Payton's statement, for those who dare. You've been warned.
>>>> I do understand how such a designation, or one like it, might help to
>>>> separate out the desirable core from music that was either already
>>>> or also evolving, circa 1916-22 that is either distantly,
>>>> or not, related to it, all of which is called "jazz" in historical
>>>> advertising and other sources. But if you look at its history, what we
>>>> commonly call jazz covers a lot of territory that develops swiftly and
>>>> In just the years 1945-50 alone, we have bebop, progressive, the decline
>>>> swing, sweet things like Marjorie Hughes vocal on Frankie Carle's "Oh!
>>>> it Seemed to Be," Buddy Clark's last recordings,
>>>> Frank Sinatra's first solo outings, the rise of Latin Jazz. All different
>>>> things -- some may say Marjorie Hughes doesn't fit, but what she did is
>>>> far off what we regard as jazz singing from other singers
>>>> who have reputations for that sort of thing. So you take BAM out of that,
>>>> and all of the other stuff goes flying off into other directions
>>>> category-wise. And there's a bit of a problem in separating the
>>>> Latin Jazz and the bebop, as they are clearly related in this period. And
>>>> most listeners at the time couldn't tell the difference between bebop and
>>>> progressive; it was all modern jazz, and many people then hated it.
>>>> Which brings up the question as to how important historically derived
>>>> categories are; it appears that we adopt some and reject others with no
>>>> traceable lineage as to why we determine that some are not
>>>> So my main question is; are we all ready to redesignate such individual,
>>>> past styles into microcategories, much as has been done with popular
>>>> of the last two decades? I do not know the difference
>>>> between Darkwave, Screamo or Slowcore, but they are all out there and are
>>>> recent. If we have to develop new authorities, who's going to make the
>>>> call? Are there folks on this list who already have devised such
>>>> smaller categories in their own systems? I can see at the
>>>> level where the idea might be desirable. But I do not see how we would
>>>> ourselves of the word 'jazz" in regard to the past,
>>>> and I can't say that getting rid of it altogether because "it is holding
>>>> to an oppressive idea" is reason enough. If you want to be rid of it in
>>>> regard to what you are playing now, then I guess I don't
>>>> have a problem with that.
>>>> Uncle Dave Lewis
>>>> Lebanon, OH