Interaction, Improvisation, and Interplay in Jazz

By Komara, Edward | Notes, March 2008 | Go to article overview
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Interaction, Improvisation, and Interplay in Jazz


Komara, Edward, Notes


Interaction, Improvisation, and Interplay in Jazz. By Robert Hodson. New York: Routledge, 2007. [ix, 197 p. ISBN-10: 041597680-4; ISBN-13: 9780415976800. $95.] Music examples, bibliographical references, index.

The present volume began as a Ph.D. dissertation, Interaction and Improvisation: Group Interplay in Jazz Performance (University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2000). Far from being an armchair academic, Hodson began his study with his observations and experiences as a jazz pianist in small groups. What he offers here is a rationale for including rhythm section musicians in analyses of jazz solos, a multilayered tool of analysis that may be applied to several classic small-group jazz recordings, and a definition (with a method inherent) in positive terms of what is "free jazz."

In the opening chapter, "Jazz Improvisation," Hodson asks "what is the process of player interaction in jazz, and the role this interaction plays in generating improvised music" (p. 1). He observes that most analytic writing on jazz presents transcriptions of a soloist's improvisation with the accompaniment given in chord symbols. However, he rightfully points out that the soloist was playing with a rhythm section consisting of several musicians, usually a pianist, bassist, and drummer, sometimes a guitarist. The author demonstrates the necessity of taking a rhythm section member into account when analyzing a featured musician's solo with the example of Cannonball Adderley's alto saxophone solo from "Groovin' High" (from Adderley and Milt Jackson, Things Are Getting Better, Riverside RLP 12-286 [1958], LP). Near the end of his first solo chorus, the saxophonist appears to switch from a bebop style to a blues style. While acknowledging that Adderley may have had various reasons for doing so, Hodson argues that his abrupt switch in style was a response to pianist Wynton Kelly's flattening the third and thirteenth scale intervals of the prevailing chord, which suggest "blue notes" (pp. 8-9). To elaborate this point, the author shows in a transcribed music example how the two musicians continue to respond to each other during the beginning of the soloist's second chorus. The rest of the chapter is devoted to a careful explanation of the "musical roles and behaviors" of soloists and rhythm section members prevalent since 1944, much of which will be very familiar to veteran jazz readers, yet helpful to those new to the music. Later in the book, Hodson will refer to roles and behavior as "performance practice."

The second chapter, "Harmony and Inter action," begins by noting that the harmonic chord progression as presented by a jazz ensemble during a performance may differ from the "lead sheet" rendering of melody and chord symbols that the musicians may be using (and on which many jazz analysts often rely). As Hodson poses the problem (p. 52): "What exactly are you analyzing when you analyze jazz harmony?" Sometimes what is analyzed is the chord progression provided by the lead sheet (which may differ from another lead sheet for the same jazz piece), or performances from recordings (which may be affected by changes in personnel and/or performing conditions). The author leads the reader to recognize that jazz harmony is not rigid, but ever subject to changes and little adjustments by the performing musicians to suit themselves and their immediate situation. Such recognition serves not as an ultimate answer, but instead as a momentary befuddlement as to what to do with such an open, flexible treatment of harmony by rhythm section members. Borrowing Noam Chomsky's linguistics concepts of deep, shallow, and surface structures from Cartesian Linguistics ([New York: Harper and Row, 1966], 32-33), Hodson fashions equivalent structures for jazz towards a three-level analytical tool. As he writes (p. 61): "I would therefore like to redefine the deep structure of jazz harmony as a simplified abstraction, a mental map or network that lies beneath the chord changes.

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