Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Part 4 - "1959: The Beginning of Beyond: "The Way The Music Had to Go, Lenox & Music Theories" - Darius Brubeck

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The confusion and disunity of the 1960s was not the result of running into blind alleys and losing audiences to rock so much as an inconvenient profusion of overlapping epiphanies. There was no single way in which the 'music had to go' or just one 'genius' that had the 'style'”. -Darius Brubeck

Part 4 is from Darius Brubeck’s essay - 1959: The Beginning of Beyond - which in its final form, serves as Chapter 10 in Merwyn Cooke and David Horn, The Cambridge Companion to Jazz [2002].

As noted in the first posting, it’s a long piece, so we have used the subject headings within the essay as a means of presenting it on these pages in smaller samplings.

Keeping in mind Darius’ observation of 1959 as a pivotal year in the evolution of Jazz, the factors building up to why this was so from this portion of his essay emphasizes the inevitability of bebop,  how “the modern movement of the 1950s demanded … greater knowledge on the part of musicians; the role of the Lenox School of Jazz [1957-1960] on the immediate and long term future of Jazz; the development of a self-contained, systematic theory of tonality and harmony.” [paraphrase]

© Copyright ® Darius Brubeck, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“The way the music had to go”

“'Whatever we were using had been around since Bach's time, or maybe Brahms's. Parker had the style,’ Dizzy Gillespie told me in an unpublished interview in 1987. In context it was clear that Gillespie was talking about harmony, possibly the seamless modulating sequences in Bach and Brahms's reassertion of functional harmonic relationships (analogous to Parker's use of ii-V?). He was not more specific. From a present-day perspective, harmony is the least difficult aspect of bebop. (Correctly reproducing the rhythms and phrasing of a Bud Powell or Charlie Parker solo in transcription takes considerable practice at a high technical level, but any jazz pianist can play the left-hand chords by ear.) I think the point about harmony that older musicians keep coming back to is simply that jazz harmony seemed to be the one aspect of music that was systematic and learnable. I suspect that the mystique of harmony has to do with not having an overview of tonality as a coherent, closed structural system. When I asked Gillespie if his colleagues in the 1940s saw themselves as part of a movement, he said he didn't think so. Were they consciously developing a new style? No, 'it was just the way the music had to go', insisting on inevitability almost as if 'music' were determined to 'go' somewhere of itself. But not quite, because, without 'the style' of Parker, without his specific and essential integration of all elements, it would not have been bebop. Along with the individual beauty and brilliance of Parker's music, a virtuosic and studied approach to playing 'the changes' was in tune with post-war modernism.

This is perhaps a good moment to reflect a little further on the question of the ‘evolution’ of jazz. This was not a problem in the 1950s because it was true for everyone coming into their own at the time. They had experienced a modern movement that demanded (but also began providing) ever greater knowledge and skill on the part of musicians and repaid their efforts with ever greater creative freedom and sometimes even a good living doing interesting, experimental music. In the 1960s it became difficult to see where 'the music' was trying to go, but 'evolution' was still tenable because developments that were taking place side-by-side claimed a shared past. The confusion and disunity of the 1960s was not the result of running into blind alleys and losing audiences to rock so much as an inconvenient profusion of overlapping epiphanies. There was no single way in which the 'music had to go' or just one 'genius' that had the 'style'.

The Lenox School and jazz education

The Lenox School of Jazz lasted only four summers (1957-60) but it had a great influence on the immediate and long-term future of jazz. Organised by John Lewis and Gunther Schuller, it was surely one of the main launch-sites of Hodeir's 'invisible missiles'. Simply intoning some other names of teachers and students who were there (Bill Evans, George Russell, Bill Russo, Kenny Dorham, Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre among the former, and Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Israels, Don Ellis and Steve Kuhn among the latter) risks making this School sound even more momentous than it was. Realistically, three weeks a year of intense study and interaction with great musicians is probably not enough to change the everyday world of jazz completely, unless that world is taking off in new directions anyway. But, strangely, the opposite of exaggeration has occurred and relatively few people know about Lenox. Even though literature about jazz is a high proportion of what I read, the only reason I know about this amazing School is because I was there as a 12-year-old in 1959, the year my father Dave was 'in residence', accompanied by his family.

Situated at The Music Inn, a summer resort in the Berkshires and within walking distance of Tanglewood (the famous summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), the School had, in effect, its own country hotel, concert tent, two bars and other venues for making music 'inside' and/or 'outside' - in every sense that those terms came to imply. When I recently interviewed Schuller about 'Lenox' (as it is referred to), he modestly played down the unique role of the School, because 'it was everywhere at that time'. Common sense nevertheless suggests that, as a result of the concentration of professionally active, highly skilled, creative and analytical musicians at a specific time and place, new 'discoveries' in jazz were mutually recognised and at least made known within the nuclear community. This in turn would inevitably accelerate the diffusion and acceptance of new ways of playing and thinking about music. How long would it have taken for Ornette Coleman to be recognised (and even popular in Hodeir's sense) had he not been there? And, in the theoretical realm, who would have spontaneously gone out and bought a book by a little-known composer named George Russell, especially one called The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation for Improvisation? News gets out when musicians are gathered.

Furthermore, the formal practical study of jazz was, to a great extent, later developed by two Lenox students, David Baker and Jamey Aebersold. They were recruited, along with Freddie Hubbard and bassist Larry Ridley, by Schuller from Indiana, and it was here that they were all first exposed to jazz as a formal academic discipline. After Lenox, Aebersold created and published practical methods for learning jazz, eventually building his publishing and training courses into a multi-million-dollar international business. Baker is the long-serving Distinguished Professor and Head of Jazz Studies at the Conservatory at Indiana University [d. March 26, 2016] and author of numerous analytical and pedagogical works years ahead of the wave of jazz studies now cresting in American universities.

The Lenox School of Jazz prospectus offered 'a conception of the history of jazz, the development of its styles and idioms, and its relationship to music as a whole... a point of view toward jazz as a significant and vital art form of our time' Schuller told me that Coleman was extremely moved by hearing Jelly Roll Morton's music for the first time. The largest impact from an education 'missile' was, however, both directly and indirectly, the kind of music theory being taught at Lenox. It remains a major influence on what jazz students learn today.

Theories of music

The ability of African performance arts to transform the European tradition of composition while assimilating some of its elements is perhaps the most striking and powerful evolutionary force in the history of modern music. [Gioia, The History of Jazz, 1997, 8]

The historical transformation of jaw, from an entertainment music to an art music, initiated by the bebop revolution in the mid-1940s, represents arguably one of the most significant cultural shifts of the century ... no form of mass culture seems to have crossed the boundary between 'entertainment' and 'art' as decisively or irreversibly as Jazz. [Gendron, Jazz Among The Discourses  1995, 31]

A perennial difficulty with teaching music theory is forcing minds and ears more attuned to the jazz tradition to accept as provisionally true fairly essential 'facts' of the European harmonic tradition. To jazz ears, the final tonic major chord of a piece or section could easily have a flat seventh. A dominant-seventh chord a tritone away from another chord is its freely interchangeable 'substitute'. Parallel octaves strengthen a line (but are seldom noticed given the common octave doubling of trumpet and tenor saxophone). In general, controlled 'dissonance' is more desirable than 'consonance', chord voicings without roots are 'hip' and simple triads with voices doubled are only used to convey an atmosphere of funky reverence.

What was still lacking in the 1950s was a self-contained, systematic theory of tonality and harmony that took for granted jazz chords and other devices that musicians actually had developed and put into practice over time. Such a theory was needed for 'irreversible development' as the 1950s drew to a close.

A body of information (generalities about music) and drill (exercises to demonstrate their application) is what academic music curricula refer to as 'theory.’ Corresponding information came into jazz usage through invention, discovery and piecemeal appropriation by individual artists like John Coltrane, who was 'looking for something to play' (Porter, John Coltrane: His Life and Music, 1998,88) and for practical solutions to specific musical problems:

A new influence [on Coltrane in c. 1951-2] was the legendary pianist Hasaan Ibn All. Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Hasaan, as he was called... became known as an original composer and theorist. He was interested in the properties of fourths, in chord progressions that moved by thirds or seconds instead of fifths, in playing a variety of scales and arpeggios against each chord - all of which figured prominently in Coltrane's music later on.                                                                         [Ibid.]

Hasaan is reported to have used the chord-voicing of flat seventh, major third and thirteenth (without sounding the root) before it became common in the 1960s. This isolated piece of information (coupled with the fact that not many people today know about Hasaan) reads like erudite trivia, but actually provides a typical example of jazz musicians as 'a learning community.’ (see Berliner, Thinking in Jazz, 1994, 36-62). Even better, this precise piece of ‘trivia,’ the chord made up of an augmented fourth and a perfect fourth, is a distinctive feature of jazz harmony. It also represents the overvalued, fragmentary bits of information jazz musicians invented or collected to fill the vast space between 'legit' theory and jazz practice.”

To be continued ….

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