Excerpt from Nicenet

The following was taken from my writing on Jazz and the Teaching of Writing for Dr. David Stacey's ENglish 612 class at Humboldt State University.


At the risk of making a false parallel, I had what I consider a mini-breakthrough I had regarding the cadenza today. Before I share my insights, however, I feel obliged to offer the caveat that this breakthrough is related by a narrator who may be unreliable due to stress and a hacking cough, both of which are exacerbated by planning and running a 7 hour workshop yesterday for English 450.
Well, that should cover my behind. Here goes.
In the classical music of North India a structural element much longer than, but arguably similar to the cadenza exists. In Indian music, the notes of the Raga (most similar, if memory serves, to the mode in western music – that which governs the melody) are introduced and skillfully improvised by the instrumentalist(s) (that is to say, without percussion). Both cadenza and alap are improvised and serve the function of introducing (or at least playing with) the melodic structure the artists will stay with through the rest of the piece. Thinking of this parallel increased my understanding and appreciation of both Louis Armstrong and Nicholas Payton's renditions of “West End Blues.”
Now of course the cadenza doesn't have to come at the beginning of the piece as does the alap, but it is similar inasmuch as it is improvised, elaborate, and representative of the melodic structure of the rest of the piece.
The relationship between the instruments in Jazz also reminds me of classical Indian music; the most important thing in accompaniment, my tabla teacher Swapan Chaudhuri says, is to listen to the other instruments. In my experience accompanying other musicians, including fellow percussionists in tabla duets, I have found that the best music comes when players work together, listening to each other and “commenting” or “responding” to what the other musicians are “saying” as one might do in a conversation.
In listening to Armstrong and Payton's renditions of the West End Blues, I was struck with the same impression Martin voiced in his post: the drums are too much. But not only that, in Armstrong's piece the instruments seem to work together more effectively like partners dancing or love making, while in Payton's version the result is more like that of vehicles smashing together in a ten-car-pileup.

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