Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Crossing over with Brad Mehldau's Cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android": The Role of Jazz Improvisation in the Transformation of an Intertext

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Crossing over with Brad Mehldau's Cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android": The Role of Jazz Improvisation in the Transformation of an Intertext

Article excerpt

[1.1] Within the last fifteen years, cover songs have provided fertile ground for exploring intertextuality in popular music, and how meaning can differ amongst repetitions of the same musical "text."(1) Lori Burns (1997), for instance, has shown how k.d. lang's live performance (1985) of Joanie Sommer's "Johnny Get Angry" (1962) transforms the teen-heartache love song into one about abuse through physical gestures, rhythmic distortion, and changes in the musical structure, inviting listeners to rethink the power dynamics between men and women. In a similar vein, Mark Butler (2003) has suggested that The Pet Shop Boys' disco cover (1991) of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" (1987) critiques the ways in which rock musicians had constructed authenticity in the 1980s. As Butler proposes, The Pet Shop Boys' effortless vocal delivery, use of synthetic sounds, and subversion of pitch and formal structures function as a foil to musical attributes that served as markers of authenticity, such as laboured vocals, the avoidance of musical loops created through technology, and a clear formal development.

[1.2] One question that has received less attention in studies on intertextuality is how a jazz adaptation of a popular song can affect the song's poetic content. When jazz musicians "cover" a popular song, how might a solo improvisation alter or enhance the pop song's potential meanings, particularly in cases where the poetic text no longer serves as the focus of the performance?(2) As Henry Martin and Keith Waters (2010) confirm, it is not unusual for jazz musicians to crossover to popular music genres:

Numerous jazz artists are experimenting with the song repertory of the early 1960s and later as a means of expanding the traditional jazz focus on the great popular standards of 1920-1950. Artists are experimenting with tunes by numerous rock groups, including the Beatles; the Grateful Dead; Bjork; Nirvana; Radiohead; Sly and the Family Stone; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and the Doors. (367)

Elements that distinguish popular music covers from jazz adaptations are not only differences in musical style, but also the addition of one or more improvised solos that take place after the initial presentation of the pop song. Analogous to a "head" in jazz practice, the initial presentation introduces the melody, musical form, and harmonic progressions or "changes" that serve as the basis for the improvised solo section.(3) During the solo section, jazz musicians may embellish the pop song's pitch and rhythmic content, compose their own melodic material over the harmonic progressions, or modify the progressions through a number of chord substitutions.(4) Following an improvised solo section is a recapitulation of the entire pop song or a portion thereof that rounds off the performance. In a jazz adaptation of a popular music song, then, the improvisatory section--wedged between two more or less complete statements of the pop song--forms the crux of the jazz performance: it affords musicians an opportunity to create something new out of an existing musical work and, as I suggest in this paper, has the potential to alter the expression perceived in the popular song's lyrics and musical structure.

[1.3] Before moving ahead in my discussion, I would like to clarify what I mean by intertext. Whereas Michael Riffaterre defined the term as a "corpus of texts, textual fragments, or textlike segments of the socialect that shares a lexicon and . . .a syntax with the text we are reading (directly or indirectly)" (1984, 142), in an effort to differentiate it from what he deemed it not to be-one or more specific sources that may have influenced a text, or sources that a text imitates-my use of the term throughout this article includes direct quotation and adaptation.(5) In this way, I understand intertext to mean a text within a text, the latter of which seeks to actively reshape the former into something new. …

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