I’ve always thought of music as a kind of communication, but jazz is the form that is, to my mind, the most like a human conversation. This week I dropped in on jazz jam night at the local Clarion hotel and heard some good musicians, but was especially struck by one interaction in particular. An experienced percussionist in his sixties was playing the tambourine with a band including a very young drummer who couldn’t have been more than seventeen. At one point in the middle of the song they were playing – I can no longer remember what it was, but that’s beside the point – all the other musicians dropped out and these two went at it. What I heard was a statement from the first, and a response from the other, and I heard the older guiding the younger, and the response back and forth. It’s hard to describe in words, but the effect was magical. I turned to my muse for this blog, who was with me at the time, and told her, “THAT is what jazz is about.”
So what does this sound like? Examples range from the obvious to the near undetectable, especially to an untrained ear. The easiest to pick out are the pieces centered around a drama, and the music is just a vehicle for the words.
More abstract, since there are no voices, but the instruments still “talk” to each other, is the following, “Conversation Piece” by Rex Stewart. Personally, I find the combination of the film and music a little annoying, but you might be inspired to see the music in a new way.
This is a very literal way of interpreting a piece as conversation, but it helps to show how to think of music as a language.