Musical Musing #1

I wonder, if Miles Davis had been born in 1600, how different would our music be today? Or maybe if he had been born in 1600 he would have played the same music as everyone else? I personally think it was necessary for these styles to develop independently so each could be fully explored and taken to its extremes.

Essentially, that’s what I’ve done in my own musical development. First, I studied classical music for my entire life, then I focused on jazz.  In college I’ve pursued both styles separately while constantly pursuing the desire to combine them somehow. That’s what all my jazz heroes did, such as Bill Evans who was heavily influenced by the French impressionist composers like Debussy and Ravel.  The jazz greats all studied what came before them.  But what about the music that came after them? Popular music is often frowned upon by both jazz and classical musicians alike.  However, there is clearly a reason why popular music is so… popular.  I think the key to popular music is the combination of storytelling and simplicity, both lyrically and instrumentally. The greatest songs have lyrics that either tell a brilliant story, or are extremely catchy, or a combination of the two.  Instrumentally, the greatest songs tell a story through harmony and rhythm, and they also maintain a certain level of simplicity/catchiness.

While great jazz music most definitely hinges on telling a story in a memorable way, I think the reason that it is not nearly as popular today is because the language of music has evolved.  Think of it this way.  When reading a Shakespeare play, often times you can’t even understand what they are saying because the language/dialect is so different from what we are used to today.  However, many people are still drawn to Shakespeare because they can get past the old language and get to the heart of the story.  Now there are people that appreciate it, and there’s people that take the time to study and truly understand it.  In the same way, when listening to jazz music, many people simply can’t understand the language.  Even if Keith Jarrett told an incredible story through his piano solo, many people who listen to it today simply wouldn’t understand it because essentially they don’t speak that language.

A lot of that has to do with birth.  If you grow up in a household that speaks Spanish, you are going to speak Spanish.  You might like the way a Russian accent sounds, but you would probably never go see a movie in Russian.  Even if you did, you wouldn’t understand the storyline.  You could appreciate it but not understand it at a deep level.  In the same way, when someone who was never exposed to classical as a child hears it for the first time, they might be interested in it, but they won’t be conditioned to fully understand it.

So how do you create music that will be understandable and accessible to a vast range of people from different backgrounds while maintaining a clear identity? Is it necessary to completely unite everything? I don’t think so.  In fact, I think its dangerous.  Jazz, classical, and popular music each have their own distinct identity.  My mission is to find a way to connect these styles, but also to continue to explore and discover each individual history


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