The function of the Jazz musician, more esoterics..

An idea that has intrigued me over the years has been," what is the functional role of a musician in this society?". As musicians we tend to be more aware of the music we create or the environments we find ourselves in than what our essential function is.

By function I mean-

* What is my role in this social situation that I find myself ?
* What does the audience expect my music to do for them?
* How narrow are the limits on my actions in my role as a musician?
* How much can I affect the audience without them playing an active role?
* Should I being doing more than just trying to entertain?
* How much of my inner self should I reveal through my music, if any?
* Will they be aware if I change my function from minstrel to high priest?

I believe that a listener can only judge the functional role a musician is playing by the effect that the music has on them directly. The attitude of the musician determines the functional role he/she plays. How the musician see his own function as a musician can determine how much or how little the ego enters into the music. Function can change in the mind of a musician in an instant, and with it the profundity of the musical expression. A musician who believes their function is to create beauty will create music that is very different from a musician who's function is to pick up chicks.

If we look into the musical philosophies of ancient cultures we learn that their musicians were expected to play very different functional roles as modern musicians do. For them the role a musician was closely tied to the roles of the priest, healer, magician and seer. Music was never separated from it's related disciplines- astrology, medicine, mathematical cosmology,
geometry and ceremonial magic. To the ancient mind you could not understand one of these sciences without understanding all of them. In fact Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once stated that a doctor who didn't thoroughly understand astrology could do so much as even diagnose a patient. Music was always the thing that tied all the other sciences together and made them relevant to each other. It was the study of the manifested qualities of the whole numbers, in other words it was the foundation of qualitative mathematics. These qualities of the whole numbers, or integers, were the laws of musical harmony, but they were also the very laws of nature operating in the cosmos, on earth and in the psychological realms of the mind.
These laws of number/music became expressed in the construction of early alphabets, which were numbering systems as well as symbolic language capable of expressing abstract musical concepts. For example in the Hebrew alphabet each letting is a whole number and a whole number ratio, the first expresses it's relationship to the quality of an overtone, the second relates the letter to a musical interval. This is jumping ahead quite a bit, the point I'm trying to make is the general disparity in the way ancient civilizations defined the function of the musician compared to the way our society sees our role.

Consider the ideas that you were taught about the functional role that musicians play. Did you accept these ideas without first questioning them? Have your ideas about your function as a musician changed over time? How narrow or flexible are your ideas about function? How do you think these ideas influence the way you play music?

These ideas that we have about our functional roles can and do affect the music we end up creating, how we feel when we create music, and how people feel when they hear our music.

By making positive changes in our belief structures relating to music we can grow more musically than we could by wood-shedding for years, and the changes take affect in an instant. These changes affect the very nature of our musical expression by changing who it is making the music. Is that a ladies man playing Stella or a the high-priest of the sun?

Ok, Ok I'll go back to talking about how to play over two-fives............


Cosmic Music- Acoustic symbolism

Exerpts from ethno-musicologist Marius Scheider's essay 'Acoustic Symbolism',
from Cosmic Music-Musical keys to the interpretation of Reality', edited by Joscelyn Godwin.

"Of all the means for identifying oneself with the flowing of the cosmic rhythms, ancient ritual recommends music making as the best and most suited to man. Musical rhythm is unencumbered by any intellectual activity; it reaches down into our deepest unconscious because in it's empty form it constitutes the basis of that existence. It is the reality always operating in man, yet remaining inexpressible. Through music making one sets out on the path that leads to participation (or as they say,"drinking") at the river of cosmic rhythms. And even if one does not reach the ultimate goal, i.e., the completely empty form, by this kind of musical meditation, one nevertheless senses the nature of this ideal, most subtle and fluid filling of the empty rhythmic form by sound. There is in fact no kind of form filling of a material or static kind that can match for truthfulness the acoustic individuation of the empty rhythmic form. The flowing primordial energy can never become as transparent in solid form as it does in the fluid, or in particular the acoustic form. Not only does music making reveal the first and most palpable filling of the empty form, it also provides direct experiences of the contact between matter and spiritually significant sound, because this sound also sets the body of the singer in perceptible vibration. In wordless song, and in playing musical instruments, primal energies become transparent through matter in the purest conceivable form. Music making is a borderline occurrence between the tangible and the intangible, whereby the intangible is actually produced out the tangible. If one considers that the ancient cosmologies had the intangible and the invisible precede the material and tangible, then one begins to understand the pre-eminent significance of music in cultic activity. Whereas the sonorous word of creation gradually becomes enshrouded by the mute matter it is producing, the ritual strives toward making mute matter resonant. Music making is a borderline occurrence between intangible sounds and tangible matter. Its cosmological position in the reddening dawn between light and darkness springs from this borderline nature.........."

"The role of music in the concrete world is that of a mediator. It is no longer a primordial sound, nor a natural one, because since the dawn of creation it has become a conscious, man made art. But the the material that it uses remains the sound that reaches deep into our dark subconscious. According to the sayings of ancient cosmologies, music's place of origin lies in the breath, in the soughing of the wind and the roaring of the water. The home of music is the reddening dawn. There it has its castle with that high tower which, as it says in the fairy tales, sometimes even reaches beyond the borders of dawn into the bright daylight. As a purely sonorous phenomenon, music music is the archetype of movement insofar as rhythmic sound forms the basic structure of the world. Since man is also rooted in this early cosmos, he preserves this substructure in his subconscious, where the archaic and the truthful are ever present. The rhythmic substructure is the anthropocosmic primordial memory. As an art music- particularly in its connection with language- is a mixture of truth and falsity, and if the falsity of daylight is not overcome, music will become a bearer of illusion."

Slonimsky saves the world

Q: "Is there a good way to practice out of the Slonimsky book? Do you
transpose that shit or just run over it in the key of C to get more ideas. It's very interesting but dense harmonically, I never considered all the different permutations that are there." Markos

I've never gotten round to transposing the Slonimsky material. The 1:6 are whole to
ne, 1:4 diminished and the 1:3 can be used over whole-tone or three tonic progressions, each one of those already cover several keys. The diminished and whole-tone patterns are cool because they are based on the scale but not all the notes are diatonic to the scale. That makes them close enough to use in place of a whole-tone or diminished scale. Remember also that as long as you move a pattern in minor thirds or whole-steps it sounds like diminished or whole-tone respectively.

The 12-tone patterns don't need to be transposed either. You just need to land on a good note when they resolve. This is because they have no key center, just a powerful gravity to the final tone. In fact you can really think of all symmetrical scales as having a strong dominant function, so you can get pretty wild and loose with them. Just make sure you resolve them strongly, you'd be amazed what you can actually get away with and still sound good.

Another way I like to practice from the book is to read through in a loose manner. I might just follow the shapes of the lines but use different notes. TSMP is great for opening your ears up to new directional motion in lines. There are shapes in TSMP that you just don't run across in Jazz. It also can introduce you ways of covering larger intervallic space, the first scale in the book (the 1:2 tri-tone) is a good example of this. Watch out for the trap though that many players who practice out of TSMP too much fall into. This is the strong tendency to start your lines at the bottom of the horn and head to the top of the range before going back down. I call this the 'Slonimsky Roller Coaster Syndrome'. There is one of my peers in particular who does this all the time (who lives in NYC and is on the Verve label). This cat is a great guy and a truly fantastic player, but up-down-up-down thing really gets on my nerves. Take that book away from him!!!

I think what Trane and generations of players found in TSMP were lines that had so much forward motion that they could be used over ANYTHING. These lines are strong enough to make outside playing sound logical. Tonal harmony is after all mainly about forward motion, so the lines found in TSMP offer away to still retain forward motion while playing outside. It just becomes a matter of being able to resolve these lines in a logical way.

Later in the book there are some very exotic sounding pentatonic scales like the Javanese pelog scale, the Japanese Hira-Joshi scale and Scriabin's pentatonic scale from Sonata number 7. These all could be used over various types of C7 chords. They could also fit over other chords with a little ingenuity. All these exotic scales still sound uniquely exotic no matter what chords they are played over.

The Bi-tonal Arpeggios section of TSMP is a topic that has already been thoroughly fleshed out in Gary Campbell's Triad Pairs book. These pairs of triads offer a goldmine for the Jazz musician. For more on this topic see my Triad Pairs articles.

For me TSMP offers an entire new world of 'directional ideas'. The lines in TSMP snake, interweave, spiral, converge & diverge, jump, lurch, and infra-interpolate. Practicing this book will break you free of overly simplistic vertical/horizontal concepts of linear thinking. TSMP has been without a doubt one of the main modes of transmission of contemporary classical ideas to the Jazz world. There is still much in TSMP that has been untapped. Can you imagine what would Jazz sound like in thirty years if young players worked out of TSMP instead of David Baker's Bebop books???


3 more Sonny videos

Don't miss the three new streaming videos posted at Sonny Rollins.com .

The first one is Tenor Madness on the main page, this is the squirley yet still interesting late Sonny.

The second video is a 1981 version of Moriat (a.k.a. Mack the Knife), this one is a little less raw.

The last one is a Ralph Gleason interview with Sonny from 1963.

Mover called me tonight and was telling about his two hour phone conversation with Sonny on Christmas. Sonny's still on the road quite a lot, but Mover said Sonny has been in one of his reclusive periods since his wife (and manager) passed away.


The never ending quest, or the obsession......

I realize that I've really been lagging on my posting lately. Sorry to all my regular readers.

Well, I finished mastering my CD project and it sounds better. Mastering bought out each individual instrument, generally just giving everything more of a ring. Now the search is on for a record company to put it out. There is always the option of releasing it ourselves, and that would only be about $1500 more for manufacturing.
  • The important most things that you want a record company to do for you are-
  1. Get you press/reviews- you could also hire a PR company to do this for you if you want to independent. A good record company already has a network of press contacts that will at least take the time to consider writing up new releases.
  2. Radio airplay- you need a solid network of broadcasting contacts in place in order to get wide airplay. I've seen driven independent artists do a good job at this themselves too. There are a few companies that charge you a couple of hundred dollars, plus a few hundred CDs and postage to get your music directly to DJs and programmers. I've had other friends who have had good results this way.
  3. Distribution- It's sometimes nice to actually sell some disks at some point and you can't really do this without good distribution. CD Baby can only go so far. You can find distributors without being on a label, for the DYI types.
  4. Tour support/booking- In the Jazz realm this can be totally nonexistant, but many labels will work with booking agents to send bands around the festival circuit. Personally, I'm only interested in touring Europe, so this is what I'm looking for. It is said that only about five booking agents book almost all of the European Jazz festivals.
  5. Legitimacy- Look at the artist rosters of the labels you are considering. Are these artists going to make you look better or worse. These will be your label-mates and these folks will be what people think of first when they think of the label.
Right now I'm just sick of hearing the CD that I just finished. When people ask me if I'm happy with it, I can't help wanting to say that I'm sick of it and never want to hear it again. I've totally lost my perspective. All I hear is my poor articulation, out of tune notes, repeated phrases, and sloppy lines. Hopefully I will get over this phase, maybe not though. I've been giving mastered copies out to musicians I respect in hopes of getting a better perspective on the recording.
Enough of that.....

The real quest I want to talk about is the elusive quest for the perfect setup. For years all I played was alto. I've played the same slant Otto Link hard rubber 6 for 17 years and the same Vandoren Java 3 1/2 reeds for 23 years. My buddy Tom Pereira was the one who finally corrupted me. Tommy is a late stage gear addict. He looks at gold-plated five digit Mark VIs on eBay as compulsively as porn addict with a T1 internet connection. I'm sure everyone knows at least one saxophonist with this compulsion. They are never happy with their setup. Of course there are many variables to a saxophone setup; the horn, resonators, mouthpiece, neck, ligature, reed. Any of these factors can drastically affect the sound of the horn. I've heard that Don Mensa does a clinic where he dumps a pile of mouthpieces out on the table and then proceeds to play every one, sounding exactly like Don Mensa on each one. I know that for me there are very few pieces that I can sound good on, let alone be comfortable playing on. Getting back to Tommy, for years he suggested that I try other Mark VIs to solve the problems that I was having on my Starsky and Hutch era Mark VI. I finally gave in and found a horn that destroyed the horn that I was so very happy with for 15 years. I had found my holy grail and that was the begining of the end for me.

I figured that the next step was to try the tenor once again. I'd had intermediate tenors before and never played them because I just couldn't get the right sound. All I needed was the right horn ,right? My first try was a Keilworth stencil from eBay. It had a richer sound than most intermediate horns but not good enough to take out of the house. Next I bought a Mark VII from eBay. It was much better than the first horn, actually sounding closer to what I was hearing, but it was just too dead and spread. The Mark VII sold on Craig's list and I impulsively bought a 121xxx sn Mark VI on eBay for $3350. The horn was a relacquer and had had some body work done on it. It had a very rich and warm sound, even though it needed some more work. After putting about $600 worth of work into it the horn played and sounded great.
Still, I felt it could be a little better. I just wanted the tenor to feel as comfortable as my alto and the response just wasn't quite there yet.

About a month ago Tom located a beautiful 141xxx sn Mark VI for $3900 on the Sax on the Web forum (SOTW). I sprung for it and it WAS better. This horn had muy grande huevos! After a bit of work it was screaming (in a dark, fat, rich sort of way).

Am I done searching for tenors?? Shit, I hope so. If I do keep looking for one should I admit my powerlessness over my gear addiction?! I can clearly see what this addiction has done to my friends. Oneof my buddy's girlfriend dumped him because all he talked about was Otto Link mouthpieces. She even knew his favorite facing by heart,"a seven star", she said. This guy still hasn't found a really great Otto Link yet and he's been searching for a good 25 years. Well, maybe he did, but he probably messed it up by dicking around with the facing with a file.

Here's a poem from a MySpace page, one of my friends pages named Otto Link-

I'm an Otto Link.

I'm the Otto Link.

I'm the Otto Link you dreamed about in the Berklee dorm, all those years ago.

I'm the Otto Link that old man, in the dumpy, rat-hole apartment, filed down for you & ruined.

I'm Trane's Otto Link.
I'm Dexter's.
I'm Sonny's & Stitt's; Stan & Wayne's too.

Grossman & Liebman's,
Bergonzi's & Garzone's
and all those other white guys' Otto Link.

I'm George Coleman's Otto Link on "My Funny Valentine" and also the new one, the one that you made your 14 yr old student buy, even though he sounds terrible on it.

I'm the Link with a baffle,
the Slant Sig,
the early Babbit, late ToneMaster & Pompano.

I'm the Otto Link.

So as for my mouthpiece addiction right now, I'm still searching for the perfect Otto Link!
I'm looking for a slightly more open alto slant Link than the one I'm now using. I have an early Babbit 7 that's a little too open. I'm also waiting for Tommy to send me an early Babbit hard-rubber 7 tenor piece, in hopes that it will project better than my rare Zimberoff hard-rubber. If that doesn't work then I might buy a blank and have Brian Powell make me a tenor version of my alto piece.

I looked at my reed orders for last year and I actually had a few $400-600 months!! This was just for reeds. I hope my wife still isn't bothering to read this blog. I still haven't even mentioned the baritone yet.......

This is meant to be a cautionary tale for all of you saxophonists that are happy with your setups. It starts out at first by trying different reeds, then maybe a new ligature, then you might start just typing Selmer into an eBay search once and a while. This disease progresses fast and is incurable, it can only be arrested. It just might be cheaper for me to switch back to using drugs again, at least there are no PayPal fees.

Seriously though, it's hard to know when you've crossed the line from upgrading your equipment in order to improve your sound, to a compulsion that eats away your heart if you don't put a higher bid in on a Slant Link. Usually it's far too late when you've realized that there could be a problem. Hopefully by this point you at will least have a killer sound.

Just repeat these words over and over to yourself," My setup sounds fine, why change anything?".

Otto Link Millennium Edition Tenor Sax Mouthpiece