Coming on the Hudson(Part 2: My Little Suede Schubert)

Analysis is forthcoming.  Relax, all of you.

Second show in New York was fantastic as well, a live recording by my teacher, Tim Ries.  If you are not familiar with Tim’s tenor and soprano playing, become so.  His current claim to fame is having played with the Rolling Stones for years, and recording with a who’s who of rock and pop stars, including Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, and many others.

In the Jazz world he is even more qualified.  He was playing with Maynard Ferguson in his teens, was on a Grammy winning big band album by Joe Henderson, was until very recently a principle soloist in Maria Schneider’s orchestra, studied and played with Michael Brecker up until his death, and the list goes on and on.  There are few people in the modern Jazz scene who Tim is not in some way connected.  Not to mention, he can play his ass off.  Although his parallel structures-type playing is rather incredible(as one would expect from one of Brecker’s best friends), his real strength is his subtle melodic playing.  At his best, he creates beautiful, soaring melodies out of thin air, not matter the tune, what the rhythm section is doing, what have you.  He never repeats himself, and is never floaty.  He always cuts right into the time, stopping momentarily only too think or play some ridiculous sweeping arpeggio(his wife’s a professional harpist, and I’m fairly certain he practices out of her books).  I could go on and on, but I won’t(maybe later).

This gig was big even for Tim.  He records all the time, but the musicians he was playing with this night were especially great.  Everyone in the rhythm section is good friends with him, John Pattitucci, Billy Drummond, and Kalman Olah(from Hungary, if you aren’t aware of him, get into it as well).  However, the main event was Chris Potter, probably the leading saxophonist of his generation(Now if someone can tell me who else has the stones to invited Chris Potter to play two tenors on their live album, I’d like to meet them).

Due to the importance of the event, Tim hired me to put all of his written music into printed form.  This was great for me, of course, as I got many free lessons in composition by having to proofread them(I’ll ask Tim if he’s cool with me posting them later.  Check back).  It also led to me being able to hang out with the band for many hours after the gig.  I can understand why Tim wanted this done, even though his handwriting is quite good; his tunes are some of the hardest I’ve ever seen.  Changing meter, strange chord symbols, harmonies that aren’t usually seen in Jazz, and all of the figures completely written out.  Not to mention, the band is liable to go out at any time while keeping the form(I’ve learned that Billy Drummond refuses to abandon the form, which is terrifying).  As Pattitucci said, “it’s a damn good thing this is a reading band”.  Even though the tunes were extremely rough, the band sounded like a million bucks after only one rehearsal and no previous knowledge of the charts.

The only tunes that weren’t originals on the gig were two classical pieces that Tim arranged for the band(and one or two of Kalman’s Originals).  One, by Schubert, is a straight ahead adaptation a string quartet, the blowing is off of a modal-ish form, which is taken from the harmony found in the melody and expanded.  The band went a bit out when they played it, but stayed within the form.  The second is a piece by Handel, written in the style of a French dance, the Bouree.  The melody is extremely simple, and the harmony of the piece slowly becomes more and more dark as the time goes on, before reverting back to the triadic harmony found in the original piece.  The feel is what Tim describes as “Late 70s ECM Rock”.

What these two pieces bring up for me are thoughts on the history of “Jazzing/Ragging the Classics”(has a less appealing term ever been coined?).  This practice has been going on for quite some time.  in 1930, Peter de Rose “wrote” the lamp is low, which was basically an adaptation of Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte, which has since become something of a standard.  Beethoven’s Blue 3rd is in many real books(although I’ve never heard it played anywhere).  Tatum was famous for his reinterpretation of many classical standbys, including probably his most technical work, “Elegy”, an arrangement of Massenet’s piece.  The list continues.

I’m not sure how I feel about all of it.  In the classical tradition(speaking as the village idiot) “Variations on a theme by _______” seems to be commonplace.  However, critics and traditionalists, then and now seem to think that you shouldn’t ruin perfection.

The first time I heard Art Tatum’s rendition of the theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, I teared up.  The mastery of Tatum’s playing mixed with the austere beauty of the theme was too much for me.  Of course the first time I heard Elegy was shocking as well.  Apparently that recording was a grenade thrown at another pianist who thought that he had the most chops around. Of course, until Tatum decided to punish him(and everyone else).

However, I have also felt that people shouldn’t screw with some things.  I have many tunes that I feel people shouldn’t play until they’re ready to do so, Lush Life, Django, most things by Monk.  Every time I hear a Monk song that doesn’t swing I get a little bit upset(even with the Marsalis Clan…).  I’m in good company.  Freddie Hubbard famously started cursing during a blindfold test, yelling at the sound man to turn off a Monk tune that someone had rearranged, screaming “this has nothing to do with Thelonious Monk!”.

I feel that extreme caution is necessary to deal with improvising or playing great compositions.  I’m not sure if cross-genre pieces make focus and caution more or less important.  All I know is that when Tatum Rearranged Dvorak, I completely loved it, when Jaki Byard made Lush Life into a medium swing tune, I loved it, and when Chris Potter and Tim swung their asses off to Schubert, it was great.  However, every time I hear Epistrophy turned into a fantasie in funk, I want to kindly tell the people involved to stop destroying one of my life’s pure pleasures.

I’m not sure, but I think something has to be earned to do this.  Tatum is the greatest pianist who ever lived.  Jaki Byard had studied and mastered the vast majority of the Jazz tradition before he recorded Lush Life the way he did.  Tim studied with Michael Brecker and Donald Sinta, two of the most influential Saxophonists of the century.  I think they can go into such a project and make meaningful, sincere music out of it.  I also think that because of their experience and dedication, the deference to the tradition and the importance of not destroying something so beautiful is already ingrained.

Regardless, the show didn’t offend me, and I don’t think it would have offended any forward thinking classical musician either(it certainly didn’t offend Tim’s wife).  I’ll think about this more and get back to you all.  Maybe in a few years.  comments are welcome.

“True virtuosity has no Jealousy” -Frederik Chopin



~ by Martin Porter on December 21, 2010.

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