(2012-10-25) Jazz And Popular Music

In reviewing Ted Gioia's The Jazz Standard-s, Benjamin Schwarz notes how much jazz leveraged the "GreatAmericanSongbook". Items from the Songbook form by far the largest portion of Gioia’s selections, and indeed of any conceivable version of the jazz repertoire. The great overlap between the Songbook and the jazz catalogue largely explains a fact that troubles Gioia—that his book can enshrine “few recent compositions”—and raises doubts about his assertion, supported by passion rather than by argument, that “the jazz idiom [is] a vibrant, present-day endeavor.” (Syncopated Music)

Schwarz quotes JohnLewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet: "Jazz developed while the great popular music was being turned out. It was a golden age for songs. They had a classic quality in length and shape and form and flexibility of harmony. The jazz musicians were drawn to this music as a source of material." But Schwarz implies that the particular qualities of the Songbook material were what attracted jazz musicians.

He pulled this quote from GeneLees' essay "Jazz and the American Song" in The Oxford Companion to Jazz. The essay places less emphasis on the quality of the songs than their market function. The hits of the day were familiar to a wide audience and thus gave the performer comparitively easy access to the listener... From the standpoint of the audience, the use of this repertoire had two evident advantages: it was material with which the listener was already comfortable; and it provided a basis on which to assess and appreciate the performer's improvisations.

Jazz musicians took this dependency on the American song a step further: they began basing "originals" - their own compositions - on the chord structures of popular songs... You cannot Copy Right a set of chord changes.

But Lees also thinks that the quality of the Songbook was important: As material for improvisation, "modern" popular music, including that derived from Broadway and the movies, not to mention Nashville, is pretty thin gruel... Can you imagine anyone recording an album titled "The Jazz Soul of Andrew Lloyd Webber"?

I think there's real potential here for greater jazz visibility.

  • there's plenty of current Pop Music that isn't treacly like Andrew Lloyd Webber. (In fact, Broad Way isn't Pop Music, it's music that's attractive to aging upper-middle-class Suburb-anoid.) And it isn't really getting any worse.
  • even if a popular song's ultimate quality isn't strong, you could create a better song from a recognizable snippet/component.
  • if you want to grab the chord progression from a pop song, this Hook Theory database might help. Of course, you'll eventually end up with a Four Chord Song.
  • some genres (e.g. DrumAndBass) seem like a natural background for Improv. Though I don't know if any small number of pieces are sufficiently recognizable by a large number of people. But maybe these genres just create niches for specific jazz players.
  • I wonder whether Copy Right enforcement practices have changed. MashUp-s like Girl Talk still happen, but “What the BeastieBoys and Public Enemy were doing, no one could do anymore,” he (Illegal Art's pseudonymous Philo T Farnsworth) said, referring to groups that made music from densely layered samples when record companies were paying less attention to these legal issues.
  • A friend noted that The People like vocals. Sounds like a job for a lyrics generator or [a](http://thinkzone.wlonk.com/Poem Gen/Poem Gen.htm) poem generator. (cf Markov Chain)
    • May not need a singer.

Oct30 update: just discovered Acid Brass.


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