Jazz Dispute

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Just in case you haven't seen this:

[h/t Taylor Jones]


  1. Bill Benzon said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 6:38 am

    This is really quite wonderful, Mark. Thanks for posting it. It raises some interesting questions. For example, are the neural systems that regulated intonation contours in speech active in music as well? This is from p. 105 of my book on music, Beethoven's Anvil:

    There is a tradition on music commentary dating back to the 19th century, in which writers and critics in this tradition talk about about music using social and emotional metaphors. Within this tradition, for example, it became a commonplace to think of the first subject (or theme) in a sonata form as being masculine in character and the second subject as feminine. The development of those subjects, then, becomes an interaction between male and female principles, or forces, or virtual individuals. My friend Jon Barlow has told me how, in his student days, he was having difficulty getting a handle on Mozart’s piano sonatas. He brought the matter up with his teacher, the late John Kirkpatrick of Cornell, who told him to think of the sontas’ subjects as characters in a drama. In playing the sonata, Barlow would, in effect, be enacting various roles in a play.

    This is not the language of music theory, which talks of themes, chords, rhythm, cadences, repetition, development, variation, pitch classes, and so on. And yet, if music makes crucial use of neural circuitry that evolved for the communication of inner feeling states, what could be more natural than to talk about music in terms of such states?

  2. Stan said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 7:03 am

    I hadn't seen this! It's great. There's a live version too, which was recorded from further back and so shows more body movement.

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 8:07 am

    Peter Sokolowski points out that Jerry Lewis did a famous routine in his movie The Errand Boy where he pantomimed to Count Basie's "Blues in Hoss' Flat."

    More from The Atlantic here. And here he is talking about the scene with Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" recently (they do their own pantomime).

  4. cM said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    There's also this fabulous classic by Sid Caesar and Nannette Fabray
    (I hope the youtube embedding works):

  5. JB said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    There's also Family Guy's version of the Jerry Lewis routine.

  6. Neal Goldfarb said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 10:07 am

    Let's not forget about imitation in the other direction — instruments imitating voices. I'm thinking in particular of the "argument" between Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy on "What Love" (starting at 8:35 on the video).

  7. Ben Hemmens said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 10:11 am

    Indeed, conversations between the musicians are at the heart of jazz. But does fast playing in jazz necessarily translate into the kind of hectic speech that the guy in the video is acting out?

  8. chh said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

    Here's another example going in the opposite direction: playing along with the intonation of Ryutaro Nonomura's famous energetic apology on guitar:

    I'm not sure if readers can embed on LL, but I see Ben Zimmer made it happen.

  9. Piyush said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:20 am

    Here is a slightly different example of the same genre.

    The difference is that Konnakol is not really "music", but "meta-music": it is simply a vocalization of the musical notation used for percussion instruments in South Indian (Carnatic) classical music. A similar vocal notation also exists in North Indian (Hindustani) classical music, and examples of it can be heard, for example, in Zakir Hussain's concerts.

  10. Piyush said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:27 am

    In fact, Zakir Hussain points out in some of his concerts that using Tabla syllables and Kathak moves to relate stories from epics and folktales (without using any words) has always been part of traditional music performances in North India. Unfortunately, I cannot find a quick written reference to this right now.

  11. Suburbanbanshee said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 11:29 am

    Okay, so that Konnakol is pretty much the same kind of thing as the Sol-Fa (Do-Re-Mi) system for sightreading Western music?

    Btw, I think they ought to make it clear in school that Do-Re-Mi is a notation reading system, not just random syllables. I always thought it was just song lyrics for scales, and The Sound of Music says they are learning to sing, not learning to sightread. (I figured they had trouble hitting the notes of the scale or warming up, as these were the only reasons we ever did scales in our music classes.)

    I still don't know how one can possibly associate syllables with notes (or rather, with positions in a scale that aren't always the same notes), but obviously people do manage it. It would have helped if people had actually said that was what it was about. Music notation is arcane enough without hiding the system.

  12. Piyush said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

    I am not a music expert, but I think Konnakol is quite different from the Do-Re-Mi-Fa reading system in the sense that it is a notation meant only for percussion instruments and rhythm.

    The notation system for notes (corresponding to Do-Re-Mi-Fa) in Indian classical music is called Sargam.

  13. Piyush said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

    Also, the notion of a "musical dialog" is a staple of North Indian Classical music, especially in the genre called jugalbandhi (literally, duet). Here is an example of a concert featuring a "dialog" between Tabla and flute.

  14. Neal Goldfarb said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

    Here's some more vocal imitation of a musical instrument, from the singer Roberta Gambarini. The part I'm referring to starts around 2:27, but start from the beginning because she's really good.

  15. David B Solnit said,

    November 17, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

    @Ben Hemmons: Seems to me that part of the point of the video is to express the reaction that some people have to that style of jazz: it's hectic, hyperactive, argumentative… Where others might find it energetic, inventive, free, etc.

  16. Rick said,

    November 18, 2014 @ 2:47 am

    “When i hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings or about his ideas, of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic here on sixth avenue for instance, I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking, I have the feeling that a sound is acting, and I love the activity of sound. What it does, is it gets louder and quieter, and it gets higher and lower. And it gets longer and shorter. I’m completely satisfied with that, I don’t need sound to talk to me." -John Cage

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