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What Makes a Great Jazz Piece?

Posted in The Weekly on August 13, 2019

With all the different genres of music in the world, you might think the way to approach creating music for a specific genre would be unique. Not necessarily so, especially when it comes to production. Read on for good advice for readying your music for decision-makers, no matter what the genre.

Pat Cook, Creative – NY:

Previously in this space I was asked, “What makes a great theatre piece?” This time the question is, “What makes a great jazz piece?” It’s a great question.

Is it the songs themselves?  In many college jazz courses, they teach students that the three basic qualities of jazz are syncopation, swing, and improvisation. Among the songs that have none of these are “My Funny Valentine,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “All the Things You Are,” and a sizable percentage of the entire Great American Songbook. Of course, jazz artists will add these things to the songs, but many of them were written for movies and Broadway shows, and using them as jazz pieces was usually an afterthought.

So if it’s not the actual songs, what is it? Melody? Harmony?

In the Miles Davis classic “So What?” the melody is basically two notes repeating themselves. The harmony is two chords repeated in two keys.

Rhythm? Jazz classics run the gamut from no rhythm at all to the metric complexities of a Brad Mehldau.

So what makes a jazz piece great? To me it’s the conversation of the players in performance. It’s each player listening to the other players to communicate a shared vision of how the piece should sound. If a soloist states a musical idea in his improvisation, it’s picked up by the others and built upon. In any great jazz piece, listen to the drummer during the solos. The great drummers are listening and reacting to everything the soloist is doing.

When I was asked what makes a great theatre piece, I answered that everyone involved has to be on the same page. And that’s also my answer to great jazz pieces; everyone on the same page creating a spontaneous work of art.

SOURCEThe Weekly TAGS Jazz Career Advice