Sunday, May 18, 2008
The Art of the Quote
The use of incisive wit to supply commentary, either damaging or exalted, within jazz improvisation, often takes the form of a "quote." The use of this aesthetic device, often drawing from a popular tune or another artists recorded solo, was well established before the Bebop era but found its most flamboyant use perhaps there. Free jazz artists as well often adorned their improvisations with quotes of one kind or another, often further recasting the role of the soloist as a kind of priest figure, leading the congregation and chorus in ritual. A quote could be obvious in its humor, such as Dizzy Gillespie's in the opening choruses of the original recording of Anthropology, "We're in the money . . " Or far more sly and inside, such as the exchange of phrases by Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis on Paper Moon, each quoting from Lester Young's solo on the same song from 1946. That solo in fact, doubtlessly one of Lester's best, has Prez quoting from, Fly Me to the Moon! Quotes have often been used in the architecture of a given composition as well. Two masters of this technique were, of course, Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington. The quote, as such, provokes memory, thus a time and place not of this time. As improvisation is an art of the now the provocation allows the soloist yet another field of play in which to arouse our feelings. For those interested in finding an easily discernible example of this type of playfulness in jazz, this "serious fun," I highly recommend the following experiment. On the well known and widely available original recording of Now's the Time by Charlie Parker on Savoy, 1945, Miles Davis begins his solo weaving out of Bird's own with his usual understated lyricism on the Blues. Over a decade later Miles was leading his own band, one many consider his greatest, recording Monk's Straight, No Chaser for the album Milestones on Columbia. A bit past half way through his solo on this angular Blues, pianist Red Garland begins quoting Miles' 1945 solo, substituting block chords for Miles' single notes! The effect is delightful and intriguing, not just because of the inventiveness of Red Garland but because of the scope of history that comes into play. Suddenly illuminated is the arc between these two extremely important sessions and the special meaning the Blues, and most particularly Bird's, in the lives of these men. Listen on!