I can understand why one would think that jazz mastery is not necessarily about change.
We have had at least 2 kinds of jazz masters: 1) those who find a sound, a concept that appeals to and challenges them, one that most accurately expresses their ideas; and 2) those who are always searching for if not a perfect, at least another mode of expression- restless genius, I call it.
Ellington, Monk, Pres, Silver, Paul Desmond – just off the top of my head – seem to fall in the first category; Coltrane, Hancock, Shorter, Rollins and Jarrett would be in the second.
Miles Davis did play pretty much the same throughout his career, but there should be a category for those who successfully altered the framework around their playing, thereby keeping their sound fresh and contemporary.
As for the student who felt his teacher (over)emphasized the ‘masters’, and didn’t appreciate the student’s attempts to play a bit more daringly, I’m reminded of how many kids I see on the basketball courts who are trying 3-pointers, spin moves and between-the-legs passes, who haven’t learned to make a layup with either hand, or a decent bounce pass, nor 7-out-of-10 free throws.
Fundamentals can seem dull and unexciting, without them true spontaneity is impossible:
improvisation and faking it are not the same. Jazz isn’t about stringing licks together, it’s about creating a melody- an idea is stated, developed, moving in a logical sequence to the next one.
It is this sense of design, of narrative structure, that made the masters great; it’s why their music is still relevant. We don’t just hear what licks were popular then; we hear their thoughts and feelings, their stories and ideas, their very lives.
©2005 by Scotty Writes Music