Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

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Tactful Cactus
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Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Tactful Cactus » 07 Jan 2018, 12:36

I watched the new John Coltrane documentary last night. It was well made, good visuals, 3D photos etc...but halfway through I just started to lose patience because most (if not all) of the contributors just gave broad abstract reasons about why Coltranes music was so unique. To me you're just preaching to the converted or bullshitting because its hard to talk about music on camera. If you really wanted to turn people onto jazz or Coltrane in particular you have to give them an "in", specific examples in his music of what it means and why its so important. But that was really lacking (maybe it came later? I switched off). For me its the best way to turn people onto music is specifics rather than vagueness. But its less glamorous language, and maybe too cold and analytical for some. Do you get turned onto music by practical examples or something abstract that captures the imagination?

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Bumblecorn Cats Nightmare » 07 Jan 2018, 15:25

Well, it might be harder to talk about jazz in specific terms...

To answer your question - it depends on who's talking and what kind of music they're talking about, but I like to hear both practical examples AND abstract stuff. Anecdotes always help, little stories about the recording process, or the artist-in-question's life/addictions/whatever. That's often a 'way in' (I'm pretty sure I read about the Velvet Underground before I actually heard anything).

But talking about music of whatever stripe is very difficult. This is why journos and music bores like ourselves often look to lyrics - easier to talk about words using words. This isn't something you can do with most jazz, tho'.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 07 Jan 2018, 16:27

Could you be more specific about the kinds of statements you are talking about?

I’m only being half facetious here. Are you essentially saying that you’d rather have someone talk about the mode changes in Ascension rather than talking about it’s impact on the jazz world? Or are you saying something else?
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Matt Wilson » 07 Jan 2018, 16:32

He's talking about the land speed of a swallow. I know this one, actually. By inverting this midpoint Strouhal ratio of 0.3 (fA/U ≈ 0.3), Graham K. Taylor et al. show that as a rule of thumb, the speed of a flying animal is roughly 3 times frequency times amplitude (U ≈ 3fA). ... to estimate that the airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is 10 meters per second.

Hope that clears things up.

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Tom Waits For No One » 07 Jan 2018, 18:52

Matt Wilson wrote:He's talking about the land speed of a swallow. I know this one, actually. By inverting this midpoint Strouhal ratio of 0.3 (fA/U ≈ 0.3), Graham K. Taylor et al. show that as a rule of thumb, the speed of a flying animal is roughly 3 times frequency times amplitude (U ≈ 3fA). ... to estimate that the airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is 10 meters per second.

Hope that clears things up.


In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby bobzilla77 » 07 Jan 2018, 19:23

Well how many times can you listen to people say "Oh Coltrane's music was so spiritual"? It starts to lose all meaning.

I'd rather hear somebody talk articulately about the intro to Ascension - what is it about those sounds that makes us respond to it, what's going on in that particular piece of music that elicits the reaction that it does?

I love Coltrane but I'm not that interested in the new doc, mainly because it is said to have very little music in it. It does sound like a bunch of people making generalizations, which, I kind of already know. That's the impression I get from it anyway, I'm sure I'll see it eventually.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Matt Wilson » 08 Jan 2018, 00:33

Tom Waits For No One wrote:
Matt Wilson wrote:He's talking about the land speed of a swallow. I know this one, actually. By inverting this midpoint Strouhal ratio of 0.3 (fA/U ≈ 0.3), Graham K. Taylor et al. show that as a rule of thumb, the speed of a flying animal is roughly 3 times frequency times amplitude (U ≈ 3fA). ... to estimate that the airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is 10 meters per second.

Hope that clears things up.


In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?


What do you mean, an African or European swallow?

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby trans-chigley express » 08 Jan 2018, 04:28

With jazz I like to read the often extensive sleevenotes before listening as I find the often very specific descriptions help with the appreciation of the music, but if the sleevenotes are a little too technical then it's likely to have the opposite affect so there is certainly a balance to be had.

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 08 Jan 2018, 04:59

bobzilla77 wrote:I love Coltrane but I'm not that interested in the new doc, mainly because it is said to have very little music in it. It does sound like a bunch of people making generalizations, which, I kind of already know. That's the impression I get from it anyway, I'm sure I'll see it eventually.


I liked it. It went over his biography and attempted to tie changes in his music with changes in his life.

I don’t really need people in a movie to explain his music to me. But getting a better sense of who he was as a man was worthwhile.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Quaco » 08 Jan 2018, 08:34

I would imagine that there's a greater temptation to be more general when discussing more complex musics like jazz or classical. It may be that a lot of the people who were interviewed weren't capable of saying anything specific or technical about Coltrane's music. It would be fascinating to hear someone come at Coltrane attempting to explain his music to musical laypeople. I'm sure it can be done.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Tactful Cactus » 08 Jan 2018, 13:36

Quaco wrote: explain his music to musical laypeople.


Yea that's it

In keeping with the spirit of my first post, here's two good examples of music being explained in practical terms. Although be warned, its one of those "Hey guys!" Youtube videos.



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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Insouciant Western People » 08 Jan 2018, 14:54

Quaco wrote:I would imagine that there's a greater temptation to be more general when discussing more complex musics like jazz or classical. It may be that a lot of the people who were interviewed weren't capable of saying anything specific or technical about Coltrane's music. It would be fascinating to hear someone come at Coltrane attempting to explain his music to musical laypeople.


There must be engaging, informed presenters capable of doing the same for the music of people like Beefheart, Coltrane, latter day Scott Walker etc, as the likes of Andrew Graham-Dixon and Waldemar Januszczak have done for visual art in numerous BBC TV documentaries.

Ken Burns' Jazz series of 2001 went some way towards it, but seeing something like that on other kinds of (for want of a better word) 'difficult' music would be great.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 08 Jan 2018, 16:44

I like Chasing Trane a lot more than a Youtube explainer video.

It’s not that it isn’t possible to talk about music in the way some are suggesting here. That’s just not the film the makers of “Trane” set out to make. They made a biography.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Tactful Cactus » 08 Jan 2018, 16:52

Ok maybe it was a formal biography but the majority of the interviewees were asked to articulate what made his music so good -- hence "spiritual", "celestial", "other-wordly" etc...It was no Ken Burns Jazz in terms of length and scope but there was certainly time to dissect the music a bit better and I think they passed on that.

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 08 Jan 2018, 17:44

Tactful Cactus wrote: its hard to talk about music on camera.


I don't think it's that hard to talk about music either on camera or off, and it's certainly not hard for musicians to talk about Coltrane.

The problem is that the people who make these documentaries communicate either explicitly or indirectly to the participants that they are not supposed to get into the details of what makes Coltrane different.

People are willing to put up with a lot more details that documentary filmmakers give them credit for.

As an example, Coltrane's known for overblowing, which produces a different sound on the tenor. I don't play sax, but I can stand to listen to someone explain what's going on as well as a historical overview of why this trend started and who's responsible.

By the way, there's a documentary to be made in the interplay between Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, which Gordon's entry in wikipedia hints at. Gordon is the predecessor, but he's also an inheritor after Coltrane's sounds.

On the subject of overblowing, there's a lot to be said of whether this is a good or a bad thing, especially now that people have been doing this for 50 years.

And I haven't even started talking about the rapid modulation in "Giant Steps" and where that fits into his later work, or how "Giant Steps" fits into the way jazz education has become an industry or why Coltrane didn't play "Giant Steps" that much live or whether there are fundamental things wrong with "Giant Steps" as a composition or the origins of "Giant Steps". Most people think it's "Have You Met Miss Jones" or a Slonimsky exercise.

Fred Wiseman's approach to filmmaking--set up the camera and get out of the way--may be what's really needed here.

Here's Barry Harris talking about "Giant Steps" not to the camera but to students:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTTNL-RHEMs

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby LeBaron » 08 Jan 2018, 18:46

I understand completely, but I think it has more to do with the people making the documentary than with the interview subjects.

I thought Howard Goodall did a capable job of synthesizing actual music content with history and perspective on the recent Sgt. Pepper show that aired on the BBC and PBS. He comes across as a complete goober, but he did a decent job of demonstrating musical detail and concepts.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby Bumblecorn Cats Nightmare » 08 Jan 2018, 18:50

g'goober joob!
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby K » 10 Jan 2018, 08:48

Ken, those Barry Harris videos are wonderful.
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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 10 Jan 2018, 13:22

Aren't they?

The point that Barry is making is that Cm7 occurs in 3 different major keys--Ab, Bb, and Eb--so you have to be careful about what you do with the chord.

If you play a D natural on top and make it a Cm7 with a 9th, then it doesn't fit any longer in Ab major because the D natural is out of key.

A lot of jazz players are real sloppy with this and put minor 7th chords all over everything, and the reason they do it is that they are lazy.

Minor 7th chords are harmonically mushy, and you can get them to fit in with a lot of stuff, but they can sound generic.

I remove at least half of the minor 7th chords I find in fake books and replace them with either minor 6th chords or plain minor chords.

You have to be willing to plant your flag on a tune and say that we are here in Ab when we're in Ab.

By the way, the original sheet music in "All the Things You Are" starts off with F minor to Bb minor. These are NOT minor 7th chords. Unfortunately, the person who wrote the chord symbols in the sheet music messed up, but the actual notes are Bb minor.

Most jazz players play Bb minor 7th, and that's because they don't know and they don't care. It's not a conscious decision. They have no idea what Jerome Kern wrote, and they don't really understand the difference between a minor chord and a minor 7th chord.

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Re: Specific examples vs Abstract generalities

Postby K » 10 Jan 2018, 13:40

So Cm7 is C, Eb, G, Bb and therefore only exists in the keys that contain all those notes?

eg Ab: Ab, Bb,C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab? Yes I can see that (I have to picture the scale on the guitar before I know which notes are in the scale)

What interested me was how he said that each minor 7th exists in three scales but major 7th exist in only two.
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