Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Structure vs. Freedom

Funny. With all of the free improvisation I’ve done one over the past six or seven years (to the exclusion of about all other forms of music making), I’ve recently had the hankering for some structure. I don’t know where this is coming from - maybe I’m experiencing a sort of “burn out” on the totally free thing. I’m not thinking totally composed music (though I will be playing an entirely composed – and conventional – guitar part in a local symphony performance next Sunday), but working with structures that have clearly defined melodic and harmonic parameters and still allow for improvisation. I guess the definition of this is “jazz” but man, I’m no jazz musician. I like the idea of jazz (and my record and CD collection is 90% “jazz” of one sort or another) but I just haven’t paid the jazz dues like all the other cats. I haven’t spent fifteen or twenty years working on my bebop chops. I don’t own the Charlie Parker Omnibook. I like the concept of jazz and some of the jazz vocabulary (harmonic and melodic), but I haven’t what it takes to be a straight-ahead “jazz” musician. I guess I see myself moving toward a music that allows for improvisation on composed melodic and harmonic structures and I don’t know why. Maybe there’s a sort of security in structure (am I insecure?) or possibly I’m feeling underwhelmed by my own abstract noodling. Maybe my own free improvisations were getting formulaic; that is, moving toward structures and repeated motifs (licks).

Let’s see what happens.

8 Comments:

Blogger myshkin2 said...

Great post! I don't see anything wrong with coming up for air once in a while--take a big gulp and relax. And, and, and, I think I might, if forced to categorize, think of you as a jazz musician. Dues/schmues--what else would this present gig be? Heavy duty dues w/o the benefit of sounding literary--it's still a fight to suffocate the soul, or should I say the resistance and faculties alive to keep it breathing (lotsa mixed metaphors here.) More concretely, I've seen you hunched over your bass--and not trying to force it into your Tercel or Corolla but slapping it. If that's not jazz in action, I don't know what is. Further, so the WGS piece is on for this weekend? Details?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

Ok, point well-taken but "jazz" in the truest sense is a music with a history and a specific vocabulary - two things I am not capable of living within. I'm profoundly dubious of many (not all of course) whites who call themselves jazz musicians and partake of that music and culture without having actually lived it. If, as you suggest, jazz is "a way of doing things" (like slapping a bass in the heat of the moment) then okay - I'm comfortable with that. I define "jazz" as that which originated in New Orleans (when the "professors" had to "jazz it up" at the whorehouse piano so the tricks would move along more quickly) moved to the East (bebop) and West (cool) coasts before exploding to oblivion during the 60's "New Thing". Any jazz (to me) after that is a museum piece or is a different form of music altogether.

I'm playing the William Grant Still piece with the symphony on Sunday, April 30 at 2:00 pm.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
Blogger myshkin2 said...

I'm not sure how/whether this fits into anything, but I just came across this from a poem by Wislawa Szymborska:

"Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

Thanks, that's fantastic - I love it!! Beautiful!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006  
Blogger myshkin2 said...

More (perhaps relevant, perhaps not) from a yet-untranslated collection of "literary" advice letters (the kind that might accompany a rejection slip) from Wislawa Szymborska:

"she scolds another would-be poet, Mr. K.K. from Bytom.” “But poetry (whatever we may say) is, was, and will always be a game. And as every child knows, all games have rules. So why do the grown-ups forget?”"

The great thing about this quote is that it could be used to support either formal structure or improvisation. And brings to focus back to PLAY, which is all t hat matters. (Homo Ludens and all that.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

Play indeed - yes, I like this!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006  
Anonymous Matt Wallack said...

improvisation, whether it be "free" or "structured" is just what it is- improvisation. The freedom is there regardless of format and even though you may get a malevolent eye from Dickey Betts 28 minutes into your extemporization of Elizabeth Reed, you still have your space. (& now that Dickey's gone, Warren is much more charitable- you can go for 33 minutes easily)

Thursday, April 20, 2006  
Blogger Eric Wallack said...

Heh, yeah I agree with you on the freedom being there regardless. Hmm, I don't think I could stay interesting for 33 minutes - Derek Trucks maybe!

Thursday, April 20, 2006  

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