Sunday, February 28, 2010

Looking Back - finding inspiration in the past

I recently came across a recording by Charlie Parker that blew me away. The phrasing, fluidity, and pure lyricism on this track “Embraceable You”, make it as fresh sounding today as it was when it was recorded in 1947. In fact, since stumbling upon this, I recalled the great saxophone master Dave Liebman saying how much this solo influenced his approach to melody and phrasing.

A few years ago, I remember asking a well known modern day guitarist what he was working on. I was expecting him to talk of advanced harmonic devices or complex time signatures, but instead he told me he was working out of the Charlie Parker Omnibook.
When Dave Holland was first putting his band together he saturated his listening with Dixieland music from the 1920’s. His goal was to was to recreate that vibe in a modern small group context.

I find all great artists from time to time feel a need to “go back” and draw inspiration from the past masters. One of my favourite art museums is the Vincent Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. A beautiful and extensive collection of his works laid out chronologically. In the middle of the exhibit while Van Gogh is at the height of his artistic output one stumbles upon these large Renaissance-like paintings. While clearly having found his voice as an artist, Van Gogh felt the need to go back and copy (transcribe) such artists as Rembrandt.
I found a similar example at a Picasso exhibit recently. Again at the peak of his cubist period, his sketchbooks at the time reveal he was still sketching nudes and fruit baskets.
That’s what is known as ’keeping up the chops’!!

1 comment:

  1. I think that there is a great need to 'get into' the structure of a composition. It cleans up my harmonic and rhythmic options and will trigger an emotional connection with the piece. I read something about tin pan alley music being less desireable to musicians than the popular songs of gershwin and Cole Porter and of that ilk. Because publishers had deals with sheet music companies, artists were contracted to play these tunes. In resistance, Louis Armstrong would insist on playing only the good tunes (after having done years of tin pan). Getting familiar with a tune involves making friends with it. I think that often times (especially at jam sessions) we throw the baby out with the bathwater and forget about the courtship phase of a tune. And in that sense, the audience gets thrown out too.

    ....have you heard the 14 min version of "Embraceable You" on jazz at the philharmonic? Bird plays a great solo, but man... Lester Young does too!