By Claudio Botelho
On the Facebook, the other day, Mr. Jason Marsalis said:
“For those jazz musicians that debate innovation, the average listener doesn't care about it nor do they have an historical context to know what it is.”
Our editor, in reply, sent to him:
“ Jason I do agree that most listeners are what I call "casual", but Jazz Listeners are in another level, we do know what we are hearing, so don't be afraid to bring to us something new, I do celebrate our past masters, but every day I checkout if there's a new CD from your father Ellis Marsalis, because I do like every new CD out in the market. This is a good debate ! Keep Jazz Alive !!!! “
After this, Mr. Jason explained himself:
“Hi Leonardo. My point was less about new music being released by musicians. It was more about musicians (or critics) who dismiss music because it isn't "innovative". They forget whether or not the music was enjoyable or not.”
I can’t help but agree entirely with this last statement: the primary reason of music (or art as taken in a whole) is to please the senses; to enchant the soul; to put tears of emotion in one’s eyes; to enlighten life…
It comes to my mind Bill Evan’s rendering of “The Dolphin”, by Brazilian pianist Luiz Eça. Released in his “From Left to Right” album, in 1970, it became the quintessential performance of that song. As far as I know, there isn’t any other comparable interpretation of it. Both “before” and “after” versions are the epitomes of what can be called “inspiration”!
Another case is João Gilberto’s “Estate”, with Claus Ogerman, from his album “Amoroso” of 1977, or, if you know Elis Regina, her “O Bêbado e o Equilibrista”, by João Bosco, from her album “Essa Mulher”, of 1979: arranged by her then husband César Camargo Mariano, this rendering of Bosco’s song, from that day on, became paradigmatic and has been unsurpassed to these days. Its original form, as conceived by João Bosco, was abandoned altogether and, from then on, anyone who has ever tried this song obliged himself to start from Mariano’s arrangements and, to be honest, working without taking much distance from it, otherwise…
These are three examples of pure INSPIRATION; something that arrived in the mind of those TALENTED arrangers and grabbed ours senses with the iron fist of pure gorgeousness! Not any revolutionary technique were used; only plain competence…
Just to give an example: In 1921, Arnold Schoenberg devised a twelve-tone technique which was named “dodecaphony” and was adopted by some of his countryman composers for the next 20 years. (By the way, his creation inspired the same Bill Evans, many years later, to compose a song named “TTT”, or “Twelve Tone Tune”).
Before Schoenberg discovery, there was something named “nondodecaphonic serial composition” which was used, among others, by Alexander Scriabin, etc.
Then, Ask I: Do these creations (or discoveries) guarantee any sort of superiority when used in a musical composition if the intent is to please the listeners; to display beauty; to inflict emotions?
Should music be, first and foremost, a kind of competitive stuff in which composers strive to achieve the highest step in some gender of competitive ladder or should it be intended to communicate as wide as possible with all sort of listeners?
Of course some composers are naturally sophisticated and their pride and taste will prevent them from producing anything easily assimilated by the people in general. But it is a choice of them and they know their work will not be understood by many. But they want it to be like this.
Anyway, their work is not necessarily better than others more easily assimilated. Everyone knows some two or three songs, many of them of public domain, which are exemplary in their beauty and unsurpassed in simplicity and emotion. Some based on the plainest of compositional theories. Likewise, there are most sophisticated tunes, also assented in the simplest chord changes which have crossed the centuries and will go on forever…
So, Mr. Jason Marsalis is right on the target: music is primarily a task of inspiration and good taste; irrespective of which path its composer decided to follow.
I wish we had more musical critics akin with musical beauty…