Sunday, December 10, 2006

art of the imitators

The thought-provoking and unrelentingly honest blog, not mean if true continues to challenge my overly facile views regarding influence, imitation and originality, related to improvised music. One thing is for certain, and that is that I have long held an unexamined opinion that *originality* is the hallmark of worthiness (if not always "greatness") in improvised music. As a listener I'm constantly "measuring" originality by a very simple test-- can I tell who is playing and is it distinct? Simple on the surface of things. Listening to the radio Friday I heard some big band music, a really terrible arrangement of Old Man River, and I knew it was either Louis Bellson or Mel Lewis on the drums. Turned out to be Mel Lewis with the Bill Holman big band. Just terrible music. But I have a lot of respect for Mel Lewis. Is this merely because I can pick him out, and so I have the opportunity to reconfirm my "special knowledge" when I hear him?

One of the mysteries lately for me is finding that I can hear influences within the playing of the musicians I admire, but their playing is not flatly *imitative*. The generosity of spirit in great musicians is such that the influences are welcomed without resistance, it seems. Perhaps because there is the basic faith/knowledge that the kernel of individuality will not be tainted or sullied somehow by the embrace.

Also instructive was hearing Sonny Rollins with Donald Bailey and Pete LaRoca Sims instead of Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones, from the Night at the Village Vanguard sessions. I wanted to hear Ware and Jones throughout the version of Night in Tunisia. Typically we say something like "Jones/Ware was a "better" rhythm section on those dates..." and leave it at that. Lately I have been working at digging more. I was surprised also to find myself thinking "what a terrible choice of material for Rollins to try out in that trio format...Night in Tunisia is a total set up. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and other tunes work much better." Still don't know where that came from, really.

Which also reminds me of unquestioningly embracing Money Jungle, the trio with Duke, Mingus and Roach, and later reading the Miles Davis Blindfold Test where Feather puts that recording on and Davis goes ballistic about what a ridiculous idea the whole thing was, and how record producers should be shot.

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