30 August 2006

Essay and Ornithology

Happy Birthdays to John Locke and Charlie Parker, born August 29, 1632 and 1920. John Locke wasn't the most systematic of philosophers, neither was he the most insightful, the clearest, nor most influential. To my mind, however, he was the most reasonable. He rarely exaggerated a point, often qualified to the point of muddying the water, and regarded himself merely as a station on our collective philosophical way. Although this combination of traits makes him seem at times needlessly complex and at times unnecessarily simplistic, it was his strength. He was a levelheaded man, philosophizing.

In his own way, within the post-WWII world of jazz improvisers Charlie Parker was the same -- the most reasonable.


GF-A said...

You've got to justify that claim about Charlie Parker -- if I had to pick a jazz musician closest to Locke, I'd pick... well, I don't know, but I don't think it would be Parker, who played "without pity" (I forget who said that, but I think it fits perfectly). Locke never struck me as pitiless.

The person you should ask about this is your new colleague Jonah Schupbach, since his blog is (was?) titled Bacon, Berkeley and Bird.

ZB said...

OK, here's my justification: as pitiless as Parker was, his insanely complex playing was firmly rooted in a piece's chord structure. Although full of 9ths and 13th and such revolutionary tonal combinations, his playing was never "free" in the same way that later "free-jazz" artists (Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane of "Meditations") were free. Ferocious, yes; complex, yes, but always tied to the musical ground.

Its a stretch, I know, but I find something similar in Locke, always tied to the ground.

Jonah N. said...

This is shaky business, likening philosophers to jazz musicians; however, I'll give it a go. I think you're hitting on a point of similarity between locke and bird. But there were plenty of musicians before bird that stayed grounded in the chord structure (pick anyone in the big band era). So what was distinctive about Parker? I would argue that most of what was distinctive about Parker was not so 'grounded.' As co-father of bebop, Bird's style ultimately spawned freer styles. Also, lest we forget, bebop itself was really revolutionary and free at the time that Gillespie and Bird started meeting after hours in small combo settings with no audience just to be able to get away from the popular jazz and be able to express themselves. Bird himself invented his arpeggiating improvisational style, which at the time was significantly more free than other soloing styles (other styles being based more on mimicking the melody of a song rather than breaking free from the melody and playing the changes). all in all, taken in his historical context, this guy was doing everything but staying grounded, even if he was staying within the chord structure. On the contrary, he was taken to be a radical or a revolutionary - he was changing jazz from a popular, danceable music form (back) to an artistic medium. What do you think?

Jonah N. said...

by the way, Joey DeFrancesco is playing for free in Schenley Park today if you didn't know. This guy is amazing and puts on a fantastic live show! Here is a link for the show / festival: http://www.mcgjazz.org/ . Sorry for the advertisement on your blog, but I thought this might be deemed worthy.

ZB said...

Jonah, thanks for writing... I wanted to focus Bird's contrast class on post-WWII playing precisely because staying close to chord structure was par for the course in the big-band era. One could certainly be "more reasonable" than bird within a different style of play, but within his own.... I think that's the real problem.

Of course, point taken, historically speaking, Bird was primarily known for being "free". I didn't do justive to this fact. But I listen to him from today's perpective, and from that perspective what is impressive to me about him is not his freedom, but his constraint. Perhaps this is not a standard way of listening to him, jugding for your's and Greg's responses.

Anyway, thanks for the show tip. Sadly, on your way there you'll see me at my little corner, banging out the dissertation.

GF-A said...

Why has the Hedgehog Review died again???