excerpts from an interview with Branford Marsalis "the problem with Jazz"

anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
in Welcome Posts: 561
I think people should read this and take heed.

"You put on old records and they always sound better. Why are they better? I started listening to a lot of classical music, and that really solidified the idea that the most important and the strongest element of music is the melodic content.

In jazz we spend a lot of time talking about harmony. Harmonic music tends to be very insular. It tends to be [like] you're in the private club with a secret handshake.

I have a lot of normal friends. 'Cause it's important. [When] you have a bunch of musicians talking about music and they talk about what's good and what's not good, they don't consider the larger context of it.

You read a review of something and some guy in New York says "This is the most important music since such and such." And then when you look at it in a larger context, you say, "Well, can we really use the word 'important' for something that the majority of the people have never heard?"

As I've started to extend and get back into the outside world—which really started when I was on the Tonight Show—you realize, "Man, nobody knows who the fuck were are." And the idea was not to do things to make them know, but the question is within the context of the music I've chosen to play . . . what are the things that normal people like about music and can we incorporate those things?

When laypeople listen to records, there're certain things they're going to get to. First of all, how it sounds to them. If the value of the song is based on intense analysis of music, you're doomed. Because people that buy records don't know shit about music. When they put on Kind of Blue and say they like it, I always ask people: What did you like about it? They describe it in physical terms, in visceral terms, but never in musical terms.

In a lot of ways classical music is in a similar situation to where jazz is, except at least the level of excellence in classical music is more based on the music than it is based on the illusion of reinventing a movement. Everything you read about jazz is: "Is it new? Is it innovative?" I mean, man, there's 12 fucking notes. What's going to be new? You honestly think you're going to play something that hasn't been played already?

So, you know, my whole thing is, is it good? I don't care if it's new. There's so little of it that's actually good, that when it's good, it shocks me.

So much of jazz, it doesn't even have an audience other than the music students or the jazz musicians themselves, and they're completely in love with virtuosic aspects of the music, so everything is about how fast a guy plays. It's not about the musical content and whether the music is emotionally moving or has passion.

At some point, you get into the music and it's only about, well, this is what I want to convey. I'm into me. I'm into my shit. And after a while you look up and say, "Well, that was nice and self-indulgent and fun." Music clearly has to have more meaning than that.

My job is to write songs that have emotional meaning to me. Because I believe that if the songs have emotional meaning, that will translate to a larger audience that has the capacity to appreciate instrumental music, 'cause a lot of people don't. And I can't do anything to get them to like my music, and I'm not really trying."
mwaddell000Michael Bauer


  • lostjohnlostjohn Charleston, WV✭✭ Altamira M01
    Posts: 81
    Man! Thanks for posting this! Very timely.
    As I type this, I'm sitting here watching a concert by Robert Plant and his Band of Joy, with Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott an Patty Griffith in this band. It is absolutely fantastic, as I am a huge admirer of all of these artists. I doubt that many people watching this same concert knows, or gives a rat's ass about what it is that makes this music move them - don't care what it is - don't care to know - not important to them. It just works. Pretty basic, musically, but kick- ass!
    On the other hand, I really don't care that most non-musicians don't get a lot of stuff that I'm into, which is probably true of most of the people on this forum. It just works for me. But, I think it great to get a reminder, occasionally, that your average audience is not nearly as moved by your ability to play a ton of musically advanced pieces as you might be.
    As the old joke goes, "What is the difference between a rock/country guitarist and a jazz guitarist? - the rock/country guitarist plays 3 chords for 10,000 people and the jazz guitarist plays 10,000 chords for 3 people".
  • Having just survived jazz school and earned a diploma in jazz performance...I will add....fragile indeed is the talent that can't withstand a little schooling. I have spent the summer focussing on one note solo's and very basic improv on sax, and playing rhythm guitar. I hope by mid fall, I will have thrown of the stuff I didn't want to learn, and have a much richer and deeper understanding of what Bradford is referring to.

    Some lessons in that for GJ too methinks. @anthon_74 thanks very much for your post. I found it very helpful.
    Ryan Rhea
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • MacKeaganMacKeagan
    Posts: 51
    Speaks my mind, though I would phrase it differently. As a musician, I appreciate the interesting chords and far-out solos. But I also listen for melody and harmony, which I think affects the average listener in a different way than the groove riff in the high position. The word, "accessibility" comes to mind, which here doesn't mean a wheelchair ramp, but that the average person can hear it and say, "Ah, nice". Sort of like, Mozart's Sleigh Ride versus Szgeti's work from "2001-Space Odyssey" (sorry I've forgotten the title), if that makes sense.
    Was it Grappelli, or someone else (Ellington?) who said, "Play the melody"?
    And the HC played tunes that were current then, played the melody or fragment thereof, and then improvised from there. They had the knack of getting the chord tones right in relation to the original tune (which, btw, I'm still struggling with). Django's original tunes such as Daphne, Djangology, Manoir de mes Reves, are beautiful in their simplicity, and thus as starting places to improvise from. As someone else on these forums put it, you could hum them while you were working. But, you can also improvise a more complex solo off one of them...
  • Al WatskyAl Watsky New JerseyVirtuoso
    Posts: 440
    Branford is a hoot.
    The most honest guy in the music business.
    People have been knowing this about Jazz for a while now. Branford's analysis is one of the most pithy though.
    The people that are the most involved with the music to this date and into the future are the people most connected to the culture that it came from.
    Thats not going to change anytime soon.
    You can be from the culture or attach yourself to it by choice.
    Either way your going to deal with the music the culture and the fact that most folks have turned their backs on the idiom.
    The people who will continue to play Jazz are the ones who love it.
    For most people its not exactly a gravy train. :-h
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 640
    A very astute point of view. I also have a circle of friends outside of music, in the vintage motorcycle world, plus I actively play one other totally different kind of music in more of a social way - I play contra dances with a fiddler, something I have done for over 35 years. And I work with many middle-aged musicians who play either rock or country or in church. I have handed out many CDs of various forms of "gypsy jazz" to see what people who are not part of the host community like and don't like. It's always the same - most people like the more melodic, more comfortable styles of this music, Django, Fapy, Alma Sinti, Paul Mehling, etc, with a rounder general tone. What they don't like is the Ferre Brothers (wah, my favorites!) and the many other players who just play relentlessly fast with that sharp snippy tone. I'd like to have a dollar for every time someone said to me "Man, that guy can really play, but WTF?" Leading to a fellow gypsy jazz player's observation: "Most guys pick up the guitar as a way to meet girls, but this kind of music is a great way to meet men..." This certainly matches my own experience, especially compared to fiddle music where there are at least as many women as men playing that music.

    You can use your skills to bring out what's good in a piece of music, or you can use a piece of music to demonstrate your great chops. Which of these do you suppose the casual audience reacts most positively to? And yes, most people can easily and quickly tell the difference.
    Matt Mitchellwim
  • edited August 2014 Posts: 3,707
    We just added a bass and a great vocalist, Lauren Marshall. I met her in jazz school but she loves the swing era of jazz most. Funny, that is the era when jazz was the pop music of the day, and the giants of the genre were the stars of the day.

    What do our audiences like the most.....the dance tempo SONGS.......fine to have a bit of improv, just so long as it doesn't go on too long......then I see it in their eyes.....right get that lot off....let's have some more singing....

    Oh well.....where did I go wrong.....oh yeah...right....I forgot....I wasn't born with good pipes.....ROFL
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited August 2014 Posts: 1,834
    One of the great CDs of all time for those romantic evenings with your partner is Branford Marsalis' "Romances for Saxophone"

    This is light classical music by composers like Debussy and Ravel, tastefully performed by Branford on his "classical" soprano sax....I've read somewhere that Django was also a fan of this genre of music... as am I.

    Like Branford, much as I sometimes despair of the current state of jazz and classical music, alas, I must say that current state of pop music is even worse... The formula seems to be some idiotic musical fragment and doggerel lyrics repeated to the very threshold of justifiable homicide...!

    Yech! I'd actually rather listen to country music than that!

    And then there's rap music.

    Though it may not be cool to say this, I don't really understand how rap even qualifies as being music, given that it lacks many of the traditional elements of music, such as melody and harmony...

    Ah, well, I console myself with the thought that somewhere out there some unknown musical genius is right now creating something wonderful...

    Who would have ever dreamed that pop music would be revolutionized by a bunch of obscure cats from Liverpool, England, or that jazz would be revolutionized by some obscure cat from the slums of Paris, France?

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • swingnationswingnation ✭✭
    edited August 2014 Posts: 62
    As a side note related to this topic- check out "Jazz is the Worst" twitter feed:

    Some of the funniest stuff I've read in a while. And he comments on Bradford's interview.

    A Gent
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    That's a funny twitter account. I wonder if it's real, or if it's a form of reverse psychology meant to offend jazz fans into standing up and making a difference.

    Rock, jazz and rap have all been assaulted by mass marketing for decades now. All three began as powerful manifestations of social defiance that grew into a voice for people previously unheard. Rock was not meant to be soft, nor jazz smooth. As for rap... my God... it's unrecognisable at this point.

    The fact that we support artists who play gypsy, swing, hot, trad, & other forms of actual "Jazz", means that we face the Simon Cowells of the world and their never-ending stream of mediocre karaoke singers and salute them with two middle fingers and a gob of spit. Which is as it should be. John Lennon imagined a world without war. I imagine a world without auto-tune.

    Long live the resistance ;-)
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,834
    That twitter account reminds me of a recent satirical New Yorker article, supposedly written by sax man Sonny Rollins.

    It's pretty funny, check it out...
    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
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