Higher and faster? No thanks!
I was mulling over my favourite jazz, soul and blues performers the other day. The one thing they all had in common was how expressive they were. There was enormous emotional content in their playing. You heard laughter, sadness, regret, anger, frustration, swagger..I could go on. Very few were technically astonishing. That said, they had all the technique they needed to communicate what they wanted to on their instrument of choice, but the communication of the what they wanted to express came before technique.
We all know the expression “The tail wagging the dog” rather than the other way round. It seems more and more musicians are slaves to technique, using it and flaunting it over all else. On my own instrument (the trombone) there are astonishing craftsmen with spellbinding pyrotechnical skills but who actually express very little in the way of emotion. These are people who, in my opinion, are best utilised in a musical world which requires technical ability…Film sessions, Classical Orchestras, tv sessions, pit orchestras etc. There is a real need for their talents in these fields. I have the greatest respect for such players, in the right context.
In my last blog, Selling Jazz, I discussed how jazz musicians let down their audience by not “reaching out to them. This is a perfect example of how audiences are not being communicated to/with. In this case, musically. An audience needs to hear the personal expression and the emotion in a persons playing. If they don’t they get put off the music.
Here are a few great musicians, masters in fact, who were astonishing technicians too. JJ Johnson (interestingly enough he played less and less notes the older he got….there’s a subject for my next blog!!) Clark Terry, a man with a Gobsmacking technique but who’s playing was full of mischief, humour and drama. John Coltrane with his flurry of notes full of anguish, despair, hope, and love. Late Art Pepper, lots of notes but with the sound of someone tearing open his soul for all to hear and see. Frank Rosolino. Sly humour, sexy and capable of true romance (check out Here’s That Rainy Day with the Great American Trombone Corporation) And of course Oscar Peterson, the grooviest, hard swinging, buesy pianist who just made everything happen around him with the amazing energy of his playing.
For me though, I mainly love the intensity of trumpeters like Ray Nance and Cootie Williams, The Hip Swagger of Sweets Edison, The romantic simplicity of Ben Webster or the arrogant bluster of Al Grey on trombone. The exotic trombone (slightly deviant to my ears) of Lawrence Brown or the desolation of Chet Bakers sound and painful tentative approach.
So…..technoplayers….use your super powers for good!!