There’s a common understanding that the way most music gets made is a three-stage procedure. 1) A composer composes a piece 2) Some musicians rehearse it in order to be able to accurately play what the composer wrote 3) The piece is performed.
There has been quite a lot written to dispute this model across musical genres, and at the very least most jazz musicians will attest to the fact that, while rehearsals normally precede performance, the purpose that they serve is more nuanced. I am currently mid-way through a series of preparatory rehearsals for a large ensemble project called Picasso(s):Interactions that will have its debut performance next weekend (27thApril 2019).
The first thing to say is that being in a position to say this at all is quite unusual, and I should once again acknowledge the support of Arts Council England for making it possible to dedicate four long sessions to working on my new music with a 12-piece ensemble!
To continue, if we return to my opening remarks we could speculate that the reason for my having chosen to spend so much time rehearsing is that the music that I have written is extremely complex and difficult to play. However, while there are some sections that have needed a bit of work, all in all what I have written is relatively simple, at least in terms of the number of notes.
So why the need for so much rehearsal time?
Consider the following description of Duke Ellington’s composition process:
‘Ellington is a new type of composer in that he has written…for a particular group of human beings…The more respect shown for the identities of the individuals who comprise it, the better it will be…. This is why there must be a two-way relationship between the composer and the players.’
I won’t go into too much analytical detail regarding this statement beyond drawing attention to the last line, and to the ‘two-way’ relationship between composer and musicians. Because jazz relies heavily on improvisation it is inevitable that individual musicians will make unique contributions to the music.
This effect becomes more pronounced the more improvisation is used.
When I compose music for MFJO I try and follow Ellington’s model. I prepare fragments of music to stimulate the collective imagination of the group, and then we spend as much time engaged in musical dialogue as is necessary to establish a way of performing the material that represents the group aesthetic.
The Picasso(s):Interactionsrehearsals has reinforce to me the importance of allowing time for a group of jazz musicians to develop a relationship with one another via the music they perform. I’m very much looking forward to continuing this process and finding out where my initial ideas end up.
It might be possible to detect a slightly academic note to the way I think about music. This is because my ‘day job’ is as a researcher and philosophiser of music. Not too surprising then….
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to spend several days among likeminded colleagues at the Rhythm Changes jazz studies conference in Graz. As I have been writing about the importance of dedicating time to exploring and developing musical ideas, I should point out that the same is true of research. As well as being given time to share my ideas with a group of other musician/researchers, I was also lucky enough to hear a number of presentations from a diverse range of people on an equally wide variety of topics.
I’m feeling particularly well nourished in music and ideas these days!