Which Time Is It?

My favorite part about Jazz is rhythm. Specifically time and feel, the control over extremely small amounts of time(hence the Erroll Garner on day one).

The concept of feel was most recently brought to my attention by Nick Fraser(http://nickfraserthedrummer.com/ for the uninitiated) in a masterclass which eventually got around to discussing different musicians’ feels. We tossed the ball around, trying to pinpoint different people’s feels, from Monk to Duke Ellington to Herbie Hancock. A few got me particularly caught up, like Duke Ellington and Herbie Nichols, who aren’t usually caught playing Rhythm Changes at 180.

After the exchange, Nick said in passing that I was also accessing the player’s harmonic vocabulary as well as their rhythmic language. He also said it would be interesting to appropriate one person’s rhythm with another person’s harmony.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while in regards to what makes specific players so idiosyncratic. After I couldn’t effectively recreate Ellington’s feel, I made a reference to Muhal Richard Abrams as being an exponent of that feel, with which a friend disagreed, saying that he hears more Stravinsky. While this is undoubtedly true, I’ve been listening to the CD “Young at Heart”(I’m not deep into Muhal yet, although I’m desperately trying to be) which revealed to me(specifically when he’s referencing older styles), that Muhal is coming from Ellington in a big way in terms of time and feel.  Listening to Cecil Taylor in the mid 50s reveals multiple(and very advanced) harmonic influences along with the eighth note feel of Bud Powell(in my estimation).

Although I’m sure that you could break down everyone’s style and split their influences up for analysis, a part of me doesn’t want to ruin the magic of Erroll or Monk to figure out where they came from in such a rigid way.  Each artist of course has something that is uniquely theirs, the variable that makes them sound unlike anyone else.  However, studying different feels and putting them over other people’s harmony(or just your own), or using a similar melodic shape as one artist while playing in a rhythmic frame in mind of another is definitely worth checking out.  I find that if there is one thing that is ignored (at the very least by my generation and locale’s youth) today is feel, swinging and the like.  Using this sort of analysis is guaranteed to at least get people’s mind on it, and could also produce some extremely interesting music as well.  My perfect Jazz world is where everyone is as concerned with great feel as they are with putting right notes in a chord.

Think happy thoughts!


PS: Re-reading this has made me realize that I talk like I am an authority.  I would like to swiftly point out that I’m not.  My suggestion that this kind of thing is worth checking out is not objective, just something that I think is cool and worth my time.  While reading this blog, please preface each sentence with “This skinny twenty-year-old jazz student thinks that____”.  Hope that helps you not see me as a bratty know it all trying to bend the world to his will.  Thanks.


~ by Martin Porter on November 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “Which Time Is It?”

  1. Hey Martin I heard you play in Florida and really enjoyed it. Although your drummer was a bit catatonic I really felt your playing. Anyway, I love what you say about controlling small amounts of time and it made me think about another aspect of rhythm…the ability to create a line, or forward motion. I tire quickly of music that lacks a feeling of anticiaption for what is to come and to me the line is what builds that. Although I’m far from a pop music fan it was what I appreciated about bands like Cake and Ben Folds Five. It’s what drew me to Jazz in the first place because the creation of line is what the greats all do. Love to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. Hey Tom, thanks for reading.
    I haven’t checked out Ben Folds Five or Cake at all(although I did get a recommendation for Folds). I’ll check them out and get back. Eventually I will definitely be posting some information on the creation of melodic lines, as it is another of my favourite subjects. Say hi to the sun for me.

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