Music of our Time

Stumbled across the following in an article about teaching jazz within an historical context:

A musician, even a great one, has far less control over the general course of his art than we might think. The broad outlines of a style, it seems clear, are shaped by ideas in society. Thus, a player like (Marion) Brown (who claims to have no outside influences) cannot escape tapping into the social currents of his time, and if enough listeners hear those currents in his playing they ate just as ‘right’ about his music as he is.

Food for thought as I continue to refine what I mean to do and be as a composer.

Now, a self-conscious composer could ask, “What are the ideas of our times?” But what Harker implies in this passage is that you don’t have to go looking for those influences. You don’t have to play journalist or historian or pundit for the times to speak through your music. They’re already in you. They don’t take any special reflection to reveal themselves.


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3 thoughts on “Music of our Time

  1. John Morton - 12 December 2012

    This is right. We’re all inextricably entwined with our surroundings. We also have far less control over what we do than we like to think and we regard these limitations as an indication that the human ‘soul’ is at work. Try playing a piece of music exactly the same on successive occasions. It can’t be done. I’ve thought about these issues all my career and still don’t know the answers. The trick is not to allow yourself to fall into this or that closed-system ideology, or ‘ism’. They’re all branches off the main stem of acquired wisdom and common sense. The history of music is full of cases where composers revert back closer to their roots after long excursions into the unknown (so-called revisionism). Mostly, composers and artists are too busy to think about these matters every day of their lives. One thing I do know is that relying on our store of acquired complexes (working intuitively) will reduce the vitality of our music.

    1. Joseph Sowa - 12 December 2012

      So what balance then do you think musicians should strive for between intuition and reflection (if I’m characterizing your comments correctly)? What do you find useful to achieve that balance?

      1. John Morton - 13 December 2012

        Thanks for your interest.

        This, as we all know, is a tough one. Firstly, I think that it will depend of an individual’s ‘talent’. Many people have a profound instinct for the scheme of things. For example, the chord jazz musicians would call an Fm9 natural 7th is symmetrical around the note c (maj 3rd, min 3rd going up and maj 3rd, min 3rd going down) and it isn’t difficult to associate the sound with reflections in a pool. Similarly, the flurries of strings approaching a climax often resemble cyclic, centrifugal forms. Using the Fibonacci and other summation series as a source of melody (and harmony) leads to an unmistakable organic style. In other words, some people can rely more on their intuition than others can.

        The other point is that musical requirements differ. From the improvised solo at one end of the spectrum through to the carefully timed background music in an educational or training film the requirements are quite different.

        I used to practice transcribed trombone solos by JJ Johnson and I noticed they had form and structure. In fact, if I had sat down and written them I couldn’t have done better, and he busked it…or did he?

        My main purpose, originally, was to point out the folly of relying solely on intuition, in the blind belief in our own infallibility. John Morton

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