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FRAME OF MIND: Jazz on the mandolin

jmcgannjmcgann Boston MA USANew
edited December 2006 in Mandolin Posts: 134
Quick thought for discussion:

I think there is a big difference between playing jazz on the mandolin, and playing mandolin on a jazz tune.

Whaddya say? As an extension of the welcome message discussion, I have been hearing some mandolinists playing mandolin music in a jazz context, which is to say, lots of "white keys" without a lot of "black keys" i.e. a diatonic vocabulary that sounds more country/bluegrass than jazz.

I like to think that a jazz solo is a jazz solo: a good jazz mandolin solo should be the kind of rhythmic/melodic/harmonic vocabulary that would be used by a horn player or good jazz guitarist.

Now, we'd have to allow that jazz vocabulary in 2006 can be an extension of 1925 or 1947 if we choose it to be-or we can play within the established lexicon of ideas used in earlier times.

Django and Steph were knocked out by Louis and Art Tatum- so should we be!

I've never heard Django play a note without commitment.


  • Ted EschlimanTed Eschliman Midwestern USANew
    Posts: 5
    John, there may well be nobody on the planet that enjoys this subject more than me. I'm not technically an authority on the subject, but I do play one on the internet. (Living proof that any fool with a modem and a thought can become a self-professed "expert.")

    Three things come to mind when I think of what falls into the goals of good, convincing jazz on a mandolin. These characteristics certainly aren't exclusive to the genre, but they are what I consider essential elements and emphases to nurturing the soul of jazz (pun intended): Line, Harmony, and Timbre.

    Line is difficult on plectrum instruments. Unlike our wind brethren, we pluck a note and it's all downhill from there, nothing but decay ahead. We have to work overtime to milk "line" out of our playing (Grisman says eloquently "squeezing golf balls."), but this is critical. In other folk genres, it's about projection and attack, the percussive acoustic quality that is king. I believe one must focus on developing the connection between notes on a mandolin. Tremolo is not the answer (good subject for another thread, though)

    Harmony is a mixed blessing on the mandolin. Sure we are "limited" by 4 pitches vertically, but when you consider the root is usually carried by another (lower) instrument, that leaves us with the 3rd and 7th, a fifth ONLY if it's flatted, and a generous assortment of color notes in the extended harmonic vocabulary of jazz. Yum; we get to play all the good notes!

    Timbre in my opinion is arguably different than Bluegrass on a mandolin. I believe it's the emphasis on the lower partials of the harmonic series, warmth and richness in tone that is crucial to convincing jazz, especially at slower speeds. This means and instrument packed with warmth, a string composite that packs tone over projection, and a pick that pulls meat more than attack.

    Those are the biggies. One could also consider the melodic vocabulary that requires a more sophisticated arsenal of modes, altered scales, and a glorious liberation from the vomitorium of pentatonic self-indulgence. We need our 4ths, 7ths, and b9ths to communicate melodic direction, but there again, this is a whole topic unto itself.

    My first post here and thanks Michael & John for hosting this!
    For the curious Jazz Mandolinist...
  • jmcgannjmcgann Boston MA USANew
    Posts: 134
    I'm with ya Ted. I like to think that good jazz mandolin lines can be imagined on any instrument- that our goal is great phrasing; great tone; strong rhythmic (time) sense; a storytelling compositional quality to a chorus where there is a sense of enevitability to the solo; and a scale of dynamics that allow thoughtful shading (i.e. 'whaddya mean dynamics? I'm playin' as loud as I can!!!) 8)

    I've never heard Django play a note without commitment.
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