Saturday, April 10, 2010

50BC10 #3: The Jazz Ear

The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music by Ben Ratliff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a fabulous collection of interviews with a variety of jazz musicians, including Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Guillermo Klein, Dianne Reeves and Ornette Coleman. But this is not a series of transcripts. Ben Ratliff captures subtle inflections of character in these conversations centered around a shared listening experience. Ratliff sits down with each musician to listen to music of others, and in so doing, reveals how these artists react to and dialogue with their musical influences. Sometimes the "set list" from one of these visits creates an intriguing link between the interviewees (such as Joshua Redman's experience with listening to Sonny Rollins, who is interviewed in the third chapter). In addition to the observations made by the musicians, Ratliff's ability to unobtrusively insert himself as both commentator and investigator makes this a superior reading experience to most "meet-the-artist" type books.

What I appreciated most was the variety included in these listening sessions. Sacred Harp, Kyrgyz music, Frank Sinatra, Rachmaninoff, Wagner...all of it is fair game for these musicians, who unapologetically cross the lines of categorization to search for organicism and authenticity as both performers and listeners. The questions of how perfomers/composers listen is one that is underexplored, and I would hope to see more of this type of study incorporated into a discussion of compositional and improvisational aesthetics.

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