17 may. 2007

I was listening to the Verve Benny Carter small group sessions on my latest long car trip (highly recommended btw). These are the notes I took in my head as I was driving.

Timbre: Warm, but not too sweet. A rough edge. Breathy in the lower register, bright at the higher range. Timbre, intonation, articulation, are not constant but expressive, variable.

Vibrato is noticeable on longer notes, and is highly controlled. One of his trademarks is to crescendo through a long notes while increasing the vibrato. His normal style at fast tempo has virtually no vibrato at all.

Phrasing and rhythm: Phrases tend to be long, with logical connections between phrases. At slower tempi there is a rubato feel, even when he is playing over strict time. There is no nervous edginess; the rhythmic conception is pre-bop. At medium tempo plays on the beat, rather than lagging behind or pushing it. At slower tempi he plays more behind, but not as much as the later Lester Young. Articulation is fluid, legato, with sensitive dynamics, especially at slower tempo. Attack is sharper at fast tempo. (Always sharper than Johnny Hodges.)

Improvisational style: There is a lot of direct statement of the melody, with variation in rhythmic phrasing but not a lot of excess ornament. There is more melodic paraphrase than simple "blowing over the chord changes." (You can always tell what song he is playing!) Ideas are inventive, memorable, melodic, exploitating the full range of the alto sax. A strong sense of logic in the development of solos. Limited use of too obvious formulas. However, if he comes upon a phrase he likes he will repeat it a few times before moving on. Very "tasty" aesthetic, similar to Teddy Wilson (who plays on some of these tracks.) In the same general feel as Lester Young.

Emotional range: he excells both at melancholy and exuberance. (He has different approaches to slow and fast tempi.) He is not afraid to be lushly romantic, but doesn't lapse into bad taste, because there is a wry tone of resignation in his melancholy.

Overall qualities: Intelligence, warmth, flexibility, amiability, confident ease, equanimity. Emotional responsiveness. Good taste ("tastiness"). A pleasant up and down "lilt" to his playing, resulting from overall rhythmic and melodic approach. Along with Hodges, Young, Hawkins, the best representatives of the classic "swing" style on the saxophone.

7 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

And he kept playing until he was in his nineties. Amazing.

Although I wonder how much of his continued playing might have had to do with lack of a pension and lack of medical insurance ... remember Sun Ra, on tour after his stroke (I think it was a stroke), hardly able to play any more, because he had no money otherwise.

Jonathan dijo...

I somehow think that's not the reason. Why wouldn't you play as long as you could? I heard Rollins interviewed and he said he felt physically sick if he couldn't play. Music is part of what keeps people like that alive. Look at how well Roy Haynes has been playing recently.

Andrew Shields dijo...

Oh, I don't want to suggest that they are playing even though they don't want to. But cases like Sun Ra and Oscar Peterson make me wonder what financial pressures a musician past retirement age faces.

Which also makes me understand someone like Richard Davis taking on a full-time professorship (Wisconsin, I think it was) and only touring part time.

And by extension, it makes me see the attraction of a Creative Writing professorship even for those who do not believe in teaching CW.

All this from someone who lives in a country with universal health insurance, of course.

Andrew Shields dijo...

I should also add that when I saw Hank Jones at 85 (two years ago, with Joe Lovano), he was clearly fully present and playing. He was the most energetic of the whole quartet! Absolutely brilliant!

But does he have health insurance?

Jonathan dijo...

Oscar is probably covered by the Canadian universal health care plan. Plus you could say of him that he never knew when to shut up even when he was young. Never was there a player more motivated by horror vacui.

Some of these guys were good businessmen who knew how to take care of themselves. Ray Brown had become a millionaire. I don't deny that this *could* be a reason for some people to continue to play past when they really should, but I see it as a kind of karmic balance for those who died before the age of 40.

Andrew Shields dijo...

I did some math a few years ago, guessing how much someone like Larry Grenadier or Bill Stewart probably earns every year, playing for Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau, or John Scofield, people who are getting big gigs all over the world on a steady basis.

I would not be surprised to hear that a good sideman could, with careful investing and saving, end up like Ray Brown. After all, the sidemen don't pay for the travel, as far as I know!

Herb Levy dijo...

While there certainly are depressing tales of artists with financial or medical disasters, many artists in all fields don't retire because they don't want to.

Playing music, writing, painting, etc, is part of what they do and who they are. This isn't true for many other people who work for someone else's company, but it's not uncommon for any self-employed small business owner.

Artists are like everyone else; some save and invest, others don't. Sure, few artists work in a situation (as artists anyway) where there's someone paying into a retirement fund for them, but that's true for anyone who runs their own business.

Artists don't have a boss telling them to clean out their desk when they turn a specific age. Some of them want to continue working because it's who they are, like other business owners. Some of them have to continue working, just like other business owners.