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Part II

Perspectives &
Polemics Junking the
WEAM baggage
Jazz On Its Own Terms
History Is Bunk
The Song As Raga - A Brief Survey Of Jazz
History And Practice
Copyright Royalties
Cherokee - A Case Study

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

Part II Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM baggage


Jazz On Its Own Terms

uch of this book asserts that the needs of jazz, and the ways of approaching it are often
misunderstood, not least by many of its theorists and so-called teachers. There are inevitably
victims of this, and they tend to be the people who are misled by the teachers they trust. It is
important to recognise the dichotomy between the facts and the misconceptions, because it will
then help us to understand better what the real nature of this music is.
In order to learn to listen to and/or play jazz you must approach the music on its own terms, and not, even
unconsciously, bring to that approach the baggage and analytical techniques of the WEAM tradition. If
they fit the problems of jazz, fine. But more often, within jazz, they are at best irrelevant, and at worst
damagingly wrong!
Jazz doesnt need (and shouldnt try) to prove its respectability by donning any sort of WEAM mantle.
This part of the book is meant to give you some courage, as well as something to think about. You
sometimes have to stand your ground against some pretty aggressive chauvinism. When assessing students
at end of year recitals in more than one University, I have been told by the WEAM staff that they were
fully capable of assessing a jazz performance (despite their accepting they knew no jazz) because they
knew all about music. They simply wouldnt accept that there are such immense differences between the
idioms, that the meanings and standards they undoubtedly perceive may well be distorted when applied to
jazz.
Ive always found this odd. Because if ever one is tempted to think that a given sound, such as a chord,
must always mean the same, whether in jazz or WEAM, consider the problem of languages. The word
mist is not only spelt the same in German as in English, it is pronounced the same. Yet the meaning of
the German word, manure, is utterly different. (So too is the similarly pronounced but differently spelt
English word missed). You think you know the sounds produced by, say, the letters H, P, and C. Yet in
the Russian alphabet those exact same symbols are for the letters N, R and S! The particular cultural
context is the sole determinant of meaning. Jazz is not the same language as WEAM and the meaning
of its sounds is not the same as when those sounds are used in WEAM. Why should we expect them to be?
Some of the words we conventionally use when talking about jazz, whether WEAM derived or not, are not
very helpful to our understanding. Terms like soloist and rhythm section for instance, even though we are
stuck with using them, are misleading and demeaning, especially if taken literally by people who dont
know the music. Leaving aside the purely solo playing of a solo (unaccompanied) performer, the WEAM
notion of a solo exists in an arranged context. What happens in jazz is that a group of players improvise
together: all through the performance! What we habitually describe as solos are not that at all. They
are ensembles being led at that moment by one player. As for rhythm section (usually a synonym for
piano, bass, and drums), is that how you would describe Monk behind Coltrane? Or Scott LaFaro and Paul
Motian with Bill Evans. Not to mention the classic Coltrane Quartet, where Elvin Joness drums were
absolutely on a par in terms of importance with Coltranes saxophone.
In the process of transcending the limitations of the European framework in which it was born, jazz has
emancipated all players from purely functional roles.
The material offered here as Perspectives & Polemics is intended to help put the record straight. Each
section is necessarily short, and that is why it has to be a little polemical. But however assertive they may
seem, the pieces are intended to stimulate more than to shock. The aim in each is to reveal something
about the sort of music jazz is. In the case of two of them, this is done by showing the problems that arise

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

if you put on what we might call WEAM-tinted spectacles, and view jazz as a music of the WEAM kind.
And although I use the word malign from time to time, I dont mean to imply that people have
consciously malign intent - quite the reverse in fact. But we all know what the road to hell is paved with!
The two sections History Is Bunk and The Song as Raga, emerged from the realisation that almost every
book about jazz, its players and its history, tended to represent its overall evolution as one of a movement
from simple to complex harmony - in many cases flying in the face of the recorded evidence in order to
stick to the thesis. Their aim is to put some clear water between the WEAM and the jazz way of regarding
jazz phenomena, and to make the irrelevance and potential damage of applying WEAM norms (when out
of a WEAM context) utterly clear.
History Is Bunk shows the trouble jazz gets into if it lets WEAM tell it what jazz harmony is about. The
Song As Raga builds on the arguments presented in History is Bunk and suggests a much more reliable
and simple overall perspective on what has driven jazz during its existence, namely what Litweiler calls
the freedom principle. In doing so, it briefly relates jazz to other world musics more relevant than
WEAM.
Copyright Royalties illustrates some of the injustices wrought on jazz players by the application to jazz of
musical copyright laws based on music as a notated score.
And finally, to drive home the theme of all these perspectives and polemics, namely to demonstrate that
jazz is not WEAM, and to illustrate graphically the problems that arise when you think it is, A Case Study
takes one of the simplest of all jazz songs, Cherokee, and looks at why it seems to be one of the hardest if
you let WEAM determine the way you approach it.

History Is Bunk
Lead Kindly Light?
Harmony has occupied an odd, misleading, and misunderstood place in the history of the way people have
thought about jazz and what it is.
In large part, this is due to the norms of WEAM culture which so far as thinking about jazz is concerned
have almost always been malign in their effects, because they are so systematic as to be invisible. That is,
people (even people who dont need them, or who might be hindered by them) use them as facts without
being aware of it. For too long, European conventions of cultural practice (and not just in WEAM) have
felt, to European sensibilities, not only normal - which is of course acceptable - but right, which is
pernicious and dangerous!
Pernicious and dangerous because it makes work which emanates from other normative practices by
definition exotic (i.e. abnormal), and in some cases dismissable. The word barbarian comes from the
notion the Romans had that alien languages sounded like bar bar, and gibberish, which has similar
judgmental connotations, is a colonial word, used to describe the sound of the indigenous languages of the
subject nations: actually unintelligible to ignorant Europeans, and therefore supposedly without meaning!
It is the power of these WEAM norms that misled, as is well known, marvellous musicians like Max
Roach and Kenny Dorham into thinking that Academies of Music were about music, instead of about
WEAM, and so subjected them to some unhappy experiences.
The soft and despicable other side of this rather nasty coin is where everything unintelligible is
automatically invested with significance by culture vultures. That was exemplified at George Harrisons
Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971 when Ravi Shankar, quieting the rapturous applause, said: Thank you.
If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will like the playing more.
Because much jazz material used (and uses) for source material songs where the apparent harmony seems
capable of description in conventional WEAM terms, WEAM musicology has monopolised the way jazz is
discussed, even by serious jazz critics. Always, this has been to the detriment of jazz. And that is why I
say that the WEAM norms, which should be neutral to jazz since they dont actually involve it, are
ultimately malign in effect.
Looking at exactly the same evidence, say a blues chorus by Charlie Parker, the WEAM explanation will
be entirely different to the jazz one, and entirely wrong! In the next section I show why this is.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

The myth of complex chord sequences


The idea that bebop introduced complex changes (still widely thought to be so obvious as not to be worth
discussing) is based on applying WEAM notions to jazz practice. Because of it, you can look at even good
transcriptions and see that they show different symbols being used in each chorus, depending on what note
the soloist happens to be playing at the time. If you think about it, this is ridiculous. No-one in a blowing
situation would (or could!) use different changes for each chorus.
It is bad enough to assume that good note choice is at the forefront of a jazz players mind. If you go
further and think that the choice of notes in your improvised melody is dictated by the harmony, then you
are forced to the conclusion (still prevalent) that if you play a note not in the simple chord, you must be
playing a note derived from a complex version of the chord. The whole notion of complex chord
sequences in jazz arises from this fallacy.
The myth of complex chord sequences is so deeply embedded in the way people think about jazz that it
takes some uprooting. And it isnt enough to look at (i.e. to listen to) what actually happens -although it
should be! Regularly, having dealt with the critics, the next objection I have to face is usually something
like :
Yes but Bird himself, and other musicians, said that they were using complex chord sequences. Do you
know more than Bird?
It isnt of course a question of whether I know more than Bird, but whether the critics explanations were
right, and if they werent right, then why were they wrong?
Let me take two of the most used quotations in this respect, one from Charlie Parker, and one from Dizzy
Gillespie, and let me subdivide the discussion into funny notes and funny chords.

Funny Notes.
While working at Dan Walls Chili House in New York, in a band led by guitarist Bill Biddy Fleet, Bird
is famously supposed to have said:
I remember one night before Monroes I was jamming in a chili house on Seventh Avenue between
139th and 140th. It was December 1939. Now Id been getting bored with the stereotyped changes
that were being used all the time at the time, and I kept thinking theres bound to be something else. I
could hear it sometimes, but I couldnt play it
Well, that night, I was working over Cherokee, and, as I did, I found that by using the higher intervals
of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes I could play the thing
I'd been hearing. I came alive.
The level of circumstantial detail, time and place, is meant to suggest that it was a sort of road to
Damascus feeling, and no doubt most of us have had comparable experiences when some penny dropped,
and the accumulated tension disappeared, and we shared that I came alive feeling.
Bird was apparently expressing a feeling that is still common. The feeling that some notes are
theoretically wrong can actually inhibit you from playing them, even though you hear them. This is the
most important point about this whole episode, Bird said he had been hearing them. The desire for
correctness is seen nowadays when jazz teachers make you improvise from a specific note choice instead
of either letting you sing what you like and sort out what notes they were afterwards, or find a way to
ignore note choice altogether and concentrate on rhythm.
But the trouble with this famous story is that it isnt true! Bird never said it. Thanks to diligent
research by Carl Woideck for his wonderful book about Bird, Charlie Parker, His Life and Music, we now
know the truth. The words about higher intervals and appropriately related changes were written by
Michael Levin and John S. Wilson in a piece in Down Beat in September 1949. As such they merely
reflect the idea prevalent at the time that musical progress is the same thing as harmonic progress,, and that
as bop seems to have progressed from swing, it must be using complicated harmony. They looked for a
form of words which would lend a spurious dignity to the process even though their ears should have
warned them that nothing of the sort was going on.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

It wouldnt have mattered, and the article would have died the death of all such feeble posturing and been
deservedly forgotten, except that when Hentoff and Shapiro came to put together their anthology of things
jazz musicians had said, Hear Me Talkin to Ya, the article was paraphrased, souped up, and presented in
the form I give above as if it was a verbatim quote straight from the Birds mouth. This is unforgivable. It
is also inexplicable, since Shapiro is now dead, and Woideck reports Hentoff as being unable (or
unwilling) to say why the second version came to be written like that.
Nevertheless there is other evidence that Bird did seem to want to legitimise himself in WEAM eyes.
Even this great genius was inhibited by the arrogant imperialist certainties of WEAM. He thought
recording with strings would enhance his artistic standing. When he discussed the possibility of Edgard
Varese teaching him, he reportedly said Take me as you would a child. I want structure. The aspirations
of his conscious mind offered to get in the way of the natural flow of the unconscious. Always an
inhibiting thing in artistic expression, this is particularly so in a performing art like jazz, as opposed to
WEAM which of course, is not, from the creators (composers) viewpoint a performing art at all: it is, as
is discussed more fully in Part VI How and What to Practise, a literary one, and so there is plenty of time
for the composer to work in. In jazz, the creator improvises live, in WEAM, the composer writes down a
composition to be played live later.
The 1937 Birds Eyes recordings of Honeysuckle Rose and Body and Soul, predating the Chili House
experience show he played it more than he appeared to think he knew. Birds solo on Koko, from
November 26th 1945, which is on Cherokee changes, illustrates through its many simple arpeggios that he
didnt actually do what is reported as saying he thought he was doing in respect of upper intervals. In
fact analysis of any actual Parker solos shows that bebop practice was different harmonically: it was
simpler - if, by bebop practice we mean what Charlie Parker did! Even the most cursory examination of
his recorded and documented output shows a preponderance of simple material Blues, Rhythm Changes
songs, and Cherokee. Not pieces with complex changes.
What Bird did in essence was to use these simple progressions, and enlarge the note choice against each
of them.
In fact the note choice had always been larger than WEAM, or naive jazz historians would suggest. Chris
Goddard in Jazz Away from Home quotes extensively from Leo Vauchants account of his meetings with
Maurice Ravel. In an effort to understand what was going on in jazz, Ravel invited Vauchant to his house,
and said OK, Ill give you a C scale. What are you going to do? Vauchant replied Well the first note I
would play on a C chord is Eb. And in an attempt to deal with Ravels evident incomprehension,
Vauchant, quite rightly, stressed the importance of being true to the idiom you were working in. Well, its
a style, like the Hungarians do.
Dexter Gordon (Swing to Bop p302) says that the accusation from other jazz players was that they were
playing All those funny notes on ordinary chord sequences. And Priestley (Charlie Parker Ch 8), quotes
Dexter Gordon saying (in the same vein as he was to do later in Bertrand Taverniers movie Round
Midnight) that Lester Young introduced the VI and the IX, and that Bird, like Dizzy started using the XI as
well as altered notes like the flatted 5th and the flatted 9th. These notes, as Priestley points out:
were already common in the work of at least Art Tatum
were (of course) those self-same higher intervals in the quote above referred to!
What we are looking at therefore is the legitimisation of any note over a given chord, with the limiting
factor only being appropriateness to context, and not an a priori limited specification.

Funny Chords
Birds approach was nevertheless in marked contrast to the jazz practice which immediately preceded him.
Genuinely sophisticated harmonic sequences were in fact deployed systematically in jazz during the
1930s by composers like Duke Ellington, as well as by improvisers like Art Tatum and Coleman
Hawkins, both of whom were significantly literate in WEAM terms. These musicians characteristically
enlarged the note choices available to them by complicating the chords, (both in type, and with formally
incorporated substitutions in the sequences), and by choosing notes in their improvisations which followed
these complex nooks and crannies.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

It was a brief (and stimulating flirtation) with rich, complex chords, written into the sequence, and
observed in every chorus. (Ultimately though, in terms of the innate needs of jazz, it was as much of a culde-sac as was the brush with purely modal jazz a generation later). And in the 1920s (by when, if you
think about it, everything there was to know about harmony was already known, so why shouldnt it show
up in jazz?) there were many notable novelty numbers which used complex changes. Bix Beiderbeckes
piano solo In a Mist is a good example. But there were popular songs too, like Walter Donaldsons
Changes (recorded among others by Paul Whiteman) and several jazz originals like Queer Notions by
Coleman Hawkins, recorded by Fletcher Henderson.
It is because of these practices that Lionel Grigson, in A Jazz Chord Book, has to point out that bebop
actually simplified some 1930s chord sequences (see Honeysuckle Rose). This goes right against what
most of the histories of jazz in print still maintain, namely that bebop is virtually synonymous with
harmonic complexity - an extension of conventional jazz harmonies into arcane chromatic hinterlands as
Benny Green has put it.
As Grigson says, Charlie Parker did it the other way, and used simple chord sequences, but with a wider
range of notes to fit over them. To the extent that there might be some vestige of accuracy in the famous
quote above, I suggest that what made Bird come alive was the fact that he had found a form of words
which made what he was already doing respectable in WEAM terms. There is an excellent discussion of
Birds attitude to and treatment of complex sets of changes in Chapter 8 of Brian Priestleys
indispensable Charlie Parker. For now though, let us just recall the well-known story of Parker at the
Miles Davis recording date for Savoy on August 14th 1947. This was the date which produced Half
Nelson, Little Willie Leaps, and Sippin at Bells, as well as the subject of the story, Milestones (now
usually known as Old Milestones). As retold by Gary Giddins in his Celebrating Bird - The Triumph of
Charlie Parker, Bird apparently said to John Lewis: John, I cant play this - too many changes going by
too fast. Ill just play the bridge. This of course, as Giddins remarks, is just what he did.
Brian Priestley, in the entry on harmony in Jazz - the Essential Companion, sums up the whole issue
admirably. Taking George Russells suggestion that jazz improvisation has always (emphasis added)
been more scale-based than chord-based Priestley says:
Perhaps the truth is that the use of harmony in jazz is less of a guiding light than in most
European music, and more a matter of texture.
So now, when we read quotes from Miles, in the early days of modal jazz, about chords being a limiting
factor, we can now see that it wasnt chords per se but the apotheosis of chords which was the limitation.
Nevertheless, the idea of harmony as the guiding light for development persisted for a long time, and
even in jazz education circles, alas, still obtains quite widely

The myth of simple chord sequences


Its on the record!
The (albeit unconscious) need to see jazz development through harmony coloured ears has led quite
sensible critics to some truly amazing conclusions. Andre Hodeir (1955), for example, claimed that jazz
had traversed five centuries of WEAM musical history in as many decades!
(Pause for thought: if anything like that were actually true, then it must have been because the WEAM
tradition was not providing what the jazz musicians needed! There is more on this in the next section:
The Song as Raga).
A further irony is that so-called complex changes appear in jazz much earlier than the proponents of
Harmony As The Engine (HATE) recognise. There is no doubt about this. If jazz were older, or was an
undocumented art form, then I would be having to make the same sort of case for an unconventional
interpretation that people who want to claim an eighteenth century actor as the true precursor to
Stanislavsky do. I would have to present a lot of unsubstantiatable suppositions and special pleading.
Fortunately, since 1917, jazz has been recorded and the records make their own case without the need for
argument.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

In public lectures, I like to put up a slide from a typical jazz book describing early jazz harmony, and to
play a record from the era which gives the lie to it.
For instance, on page 18 of Jazz in Perspective by Charles Fox, there is a sequence described as Chords
used in the earliest form of 12 bar blues. This is in fact the first of three such presentations of blues
sequences. The other two are Chord sequence of 12 bar blues played in the late 1930s and Chord
sequence of 12 bar blues played by Bebop musicians in the mid 1940s.
In the lecture, while everybody gazes at the dreary harmonies on show, I play Louis Armstrongs solo on
King Olivers Chimes Blues. This was recorded in Richmond Indiana on April 6th 1923. Now thats
pretty early isnt it?. It is also obviously a set piece, since Louis plays two virtually identical choruses, so
there is no question that it is all deliberate. What is interesting, though, is that at all the points where the
significant differences occur between Foxs version of early and bebop- such as the sixth bar, Louis
plays the bebop changes! In particular, using a diminished chord on the bV in measure 6 as a way of
getting back from IV to I. Another easy way to get the point is to listen to the two stop choruses King
Olivers Creole jazz band plays under Johnny Dodds on Dippermouth Blues. There is no argument about
what they think the chords are.
If there werent so much Europe-induced tunnel vision in jazz criticism, these records would have settled
the matter years ago, thus liberating several generations of would-be players from much pointless,
irrelevant, theory.
So ironically, having had the myth of complex chord sequences, now weve got the myth of simple chord
sequences to fight against as well!

Evidence
Heres a bit of tunnel vision in action. You probably already know and love Birds Parkers Mood. And
you probably get goose bumps at the beginning of the second chorus, where after an exultant whoop, Bird
plays a beautiful descending blues phrase. In King Pleasures vocal version, the whoop is So long
everybody, and the blues phrase begins the time has come when I must leave you....
In that descending phrase, Bird is just playing the blues scale, straight down from the bV. No more, no
less.
Almost perfect, I would have said. However, in the Down Beat for August 1995, I find Remo Palmieri, in
the course of introducing his transcription of that solo, not considering the blues scale at all! For him, it all
has to be explained through harmony. He says, of the phrase in question: Bird plays...implying an
Eb7dim9 on beats 1 and 2, Bbm7 on beat 3, and back to Eb7 on beat 4.
I rest my case.

Problems of appropriate jazz terminology


Because of the malign norms of WEAM, musicians at the birth of bebop still articulated what they were
doing in those terms, and still tried to write complex sequences in order to produce complex music.
Eventually, they grew out of it in the main, and that is the difference between Miles Daviss playing in the
Charlie Parker Quintet, and his playing from Birth of the Cool onwards. It is also what Miles meant when
he said that from that point on he played with more taste.
Biddy Fleet (Swing to Bop p68) expresses the problem perfectly when he says I didnt know the
name...Nobody knew any names until later years. This specifically refers to the beginning of Duke
Ellingtons song Solitude. What he says is that musicians knew and used the sounds, but didnt have the
terminology to describe it, and therefore somehow felt it might be illegitimate to play them. We have
already seen this apparently affecting even Charlie Parker.
In To Be or Not to Bop (p 135) Dizzy Gillespie describes the genesis of the multi-subbed turnaround he
introduced to I Cant Get Started (the part where the words say Revolutions in Spain), and spends the
best part of a paragraph explaining the problems in defining what everybody now just calls a half
diminished chord.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

The first time I heard that, Monk showed it to me, and he called it a minor sixth chord with a sixth in
the bass. Nowadays they dont call it that. They call the sixth in the bass the tonic....
This is because in conventional jazz terms, the sixth is the real root, a normal part of a normal progression.
If you divorce the notes from their function you could decide, as Monk did, that it was a different chord.
Either way the notes you would play as Dizzy said are exactly the same thing. The name in present use,
half diminished, is simple and unambiguous.
The search for an adequate and appropriate technical vocabulary is legitimate and desirable of course, and
both Dizzy and Monk were of the breed of musicians who wanted to account verbally for their thoughts
and discoveries. But you should never have the feeling that you cant use something until you have a
name for it! That is neither legitimate nor desirable.
When Robert Simpson said you might not know a fourth from a rissole, but anyone could hear the sense in
a cadence, he was encouraging people to trust their ears. He knew that people were inhibited about doing
that, and so even with Bird it was only when he found a way to articulate verbally what he had been doing
already that he supposedly said I came alive. Any explanation would do, as long as it sounded
respectable in WEAM terms.
It is significant though that once the musicians relaxed because a name existed, they either then forgot
about it, or later came up with a more appropriate (to jazz) name.

Blue Notes
In fact the whole problem, both of fact and terminology, is solved if we simply say that Parker extended
the list of available blue notes, and was thus able to dispense with complex preordained sequences - hence
the Milestones story above.
Unfortunately, as with harmony, much writing on jazz has used far too limited a definition of blue notes.
Benny Green for instance, expressed the conventional view when he said that there are only two of them
(the notes in question are the third and seventh of the diatonic scale) and that they are produced by
flattening those notes by a semitone. That last, Im afraid is simply wrong. To flatten a note by a fixed
amount does not make it blue at all, it simply makes it flat by that amount! On the other hand, Priestley
gives a wonderfully succinct and useful definition, and concludes (emphasis added):
any one of the 12 divisions of a scale can be made to appear in context as a blue note, given the
necessary prominence and vocalised articulation.

The definitive difference


So we can now raise definitively the fundamental point of difference between jazz harmony and WEAM
harmony. In WEAM harmony, where the view of the sound is vertical, adding extra notes to a chord does
make it into a different chord. In jazz, where the view of the sound is linear - like North Indian Classical
Music, a sort of counterpoint against a background - the chord is not deemed to have changed, it is simply
that the player, on that time through that bit of the sequence, has used a different colour. Most importantly
of all, if you do take the strictly vertical view that harmony dictates what notes you play, then you will
miss some of the most basic and effective musical devices employed by jazz musicians.
For instance, you wont then see a musician like Charlie Parker or Sonny Rollins taking a rubato view of
the sequence, and picking up a chord early or only hanging on to one after it has gone by (see Priestley
Charlie Parker page 66). Instead you will be trying to find a theoretical explanation in terms of a
substitution of chords, when, as Priestley rightly says it is a case of merely anticipated or delayed chords.
The easy way to grasp this idea is to think of plain and coloured effects: blue notes and their deployment.
The basic quality of a chord, its mood feel, and the type of movement it suggests, is the fundamental thing.
We might think of that as the plain version - the minimum necessary to give it the right function in its
context. Over and above that musicians can colour the effect the chord makes, according to their taste.
Even a chord at rest, such as the last one in a song, can still recognisably be at rest, but can nevertheless
have its sound modified by leaving notes out, and/or by adding extra ones. Jazz musicians have always
called the extra notes colour notes or colour tones. We see what is happening much better if we both
listen and play on the basis of choosing colours to highlight a progression.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

This means that for any given chord quality, it is necessary for players to know the plain vanilla version
(what, following George Russells advice, in Part IV The Transition From Listening to Playing, we call
Parent Scales). They must know which of the twelve notes dont make waves, but just represent the
simple basic function. They can then, as Priestley said above, view any of the other notes as offering
colours of varying intensities, and can experiment with them in an informed context.
Later they can if they wish, find that some of these colour notes can be systematised by being incorporated
into alternative scales which can be played over the same background.
Not only does this explanation account better for what jazz players have always done than does the
WEAM Harmony As The Engine notion, but it helps us to see where jazz fits into the world context of
improvised art musics. The processes and techniques just described are the jazz equivalent of the choices a
sitar player has in bending pitches from the ragas, against the stable drone background.

Conclusion
We may therefore conclude this brief examination of the relation of jazz to what Europeans call
harmony, by asserting that, from the time that jazz became recognisably an art form for individuals
(albeit working collectively) - that is to say, roughly from the impact on the music made by Louis
Armstrong - the harmonic parameters to which musicians respond have been remarkably consistent.

The Song As Raga - A Brief Survey Of Jazz History And


Practice
You may be relieved to know that although this chapter presents an alternative way of looking at jazz
history as a whole, and suggests it is both more coherent and helpful than the HATE (Harmony As The
Engine) way, it doesnt propose an alternative set of jazz masterpieces and milestones. It agrees wholly
with the consensus about which have been the great, seminal performances on record. It does not question
what came about, rather it looks briefly at why it came about.
You can tell a lot about any form of music not just by listening to it but by looking at the source material it
uses, and the way it treats it.
In doing this to jazz we can actually approach a definition of the essence of the music by looking at the
way songs have been treated.
With the inestimable benefit of hindsight, we can see that the pace of the evolution and development of
jazz practice, which was rapid and highly evident for about five decades, has been much reduced for the
last quarter of a century or so. The experiments have largely stopped. This could be because the music
has atrophied (what we might call the Philip Larkin tendency), or it could be because it has arrived at a
period of common practice, where it can function on its own terms, and there is a lot for musicians to do.
Prior to Andre Hodeir, the word classic was applied to the New Orleans jazz of the 1920s. Hodeir was
probably the first to deny that classification. He argued that too many aspects of jazz were trammelled by
the format, and that the first classical period in jazz was the 1930s, when it first became an art form sui
generis, as musicians found freedom in their efforts to incorporate the momentous discoveries of Louis
Armstrong into their own playing.

The Freedom Principle


This was the title John Litweiler gave to his invaluable book on Jazz since 1958. But it serves to
illustrate the whole of the development of the music. Let us consider the acknowledged revolutions in
jazz history from this perspective.
Priestley (Charlie Parker p64) sums up a major part of the jazz musicians aim as
the art of creating an improvisation with an apparent rhythmic life of its own,
That is to say,. a freedom that transcends the apparent limitations of the context.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

Nobody disputes that jazz is an improvised music. By definition anything improvised must allow an
element of freedom of choice, in the moment of playing, to the improviser. How much freedom is needed
depends on the idiom. Where the style is pre-eminent, such as in New Orleans jazz, the European
Baroque, or Flamenco, then substantial constraints operate. (Note that this is not a value judgement,
simply a way of regarding phenomena). These are musics of what Martin Williams (Williams 1960) called
integrated self-subordinated discipline. Individuality comes second to idiosyncratic authenticity.
Considering the music we now see it to be, and the nature of the musical goals of jazz players, it is possible
to see in the early marching bands of New Orleans, a seriously trammelled situation - a music in chains.
Louis Armstrong unleashed a rhythmic potency that snapped some of them off. Some of these chains were
formal. Much New Orleans jazz, like Ragtime also, used multi-themed pieces. Marches, such as Fidgety
Feet, generally had three 32 bar themes (each new one in the subdominant of the preceding one), although
any solos were usually restricted to the third theme. The Chant written by Mel Stitzel and made famous
by Jelly Roll Morton exemplified many of the practices common in the day, depending on a pre-composed
format with regard to the introduction and repeat of the themes, and the shifts of the harmonies.
The word solo was used in quotes above for deliberate reasons. Quite apart from the fact that solo in this
context means simply that the instrument is not performing in a section, it does not mean that it is
unaccompanied. Solos were in general set pieces, there to provide contrast with the ensemble passages,
not to provide the soloist with a means of personal expression. The recordings of King Oliver (even those
with Louis present) and Jelly Roll Morton provide many illustrations of this, which accounts for the near
identical solos on alternative takes.
What Louis introduced was the primacy of the need for that personal expression. And what that meant was
that the structure had better not get in the way! Almost immediately, multi-thematic material was dumped
in favour of apparently trite popular songs, and the improvising could even start right away, passionately
and in full cry. If I may use a recording actually made a few years later, (in 1933), I would say that the
definitive difference is clearly exemplified in the contrast between Mortons The Chant, and Spike
Hughess Sweet Sue.
In the latter, Henry Allen launches directly into what I have always taken to be one of the great defining
jazz solos. An oblique parody of the trivial melody, with immense rhythmic variety. The track is a
superb snapshot of where the music was at that stage. The brass players, Allen and Dickie Wells, were
free to create real statements, but you get the feeling that the other soloists, Benny Carter, Coleman
Hawkins, and Wayman Carver, were still imprisoned inside the pulse.
As well as the use of a single, simple background, not obtruding too far into the soloists territory, we
notice other differences. The underlying pulse has been smoothed out by the use of equally accented beats
instead of a One Two alternation, and has been made less obtrusive by the use of a string bass rather than
a brass bass, and a guitar to play a chord on every beat instead of the more insistent banjo.
These formal changes were enough to provide jazz musicians with a decade or so (roughly coinciding with
the 1930s) of things to work on.
They had not of course come from nowhere. The actual performance practice of King Olivers Creole
Jazz Band was to use a four piece rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. For technical reasons
to do with acoustic recording limitations, the band recorded with piano, banjo and drums. In the late
1950s, the clarinettist Albert Nicholas in Paris told a guitar playing friend of mine that the nearest thing he
knew to the sound of Olivers bands rhythm section was that of the 1930s Count Basie band - and once it
is pointed out, the contrast between Mortons and Olivers rhythm in this respect becomes clear.
In fact, as far as form is concerned, if we assume that (roughly) jazz is what happened when the blues met
European music, and that the blues is what carries the essence of jazz, then the reversion to simple themes
is simply that essence re-asserting itself, after a thorough exploration of the possibilities offered by the
other tradition, one which in Mortons case undoubtedly produced a set of enduring masterpieces.
And as far as the primacy of the individual voice was concerned, I think that can be traced back to the
blues also. The germ of the jazz solo is in the responses made by musicians such as Charlie Green, but
pre-eminently Louis Armstrong, to the vocal lines of singers like Bessie Smith. A track like Reckless
Blues, made by Bessie on January 14th 1925, with Louis Armstrong on cornet and Fred Longshaw on
harmonium shows this clearly.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

As soon as Louis showed that it was possible, musicians on every instrument saw what to do and set about
doing it. All jazz musicians began to develop the ability to counterpoint rhythms in solos against
undominating but nevertheless supportive backgrounds .
A good pointer track here is the Jones-Smith Lady be Good recording from 1936, featuring Lester Young,
since in itself it sums up the extent to which the music had assimilated Louis Armstrongs revolutionary
discoveries, and in Youngs solo, prefigured subsequent developments. (The absence of a guitar and of a
complete drum kit is a happy accident of history that lets us see more clearly what was going on).
Young and Charlie Christian, followed by the bebop players began to emancipate themselves even further
from the tyranny of the underlying beat. The beat itself became less overbearing, the guitars which had
replaced the banjos were given up as instruments for banging out a chord on every beat, and drummers
stopped playing the beat on the bass drum and switched to carrying the pulse on cymbals. Young and
Christian began letting the improvised line have its own shape. Until then improvised phrases were largely
the same length as the phrases of the underlying melody, and contained within the (usually) eight bar
structures. The new approach led to what at the time sounded revolutionary, very short phrases
interspersed with very long ones. And phrases which ended with two eighth notes on the first or the third
beat of a measure.
What made bebop sound odd to people at the time was all to do with rhythm and phrasing, not harmony.
And so far from bebop being, as Steve Voce once said the most European form of jazz, it was arguably
the most African! Goddard (1979 p107) quotes A M Jones, author of one of the best books on African
music, listening to Charlie Parkers Bird of Paradise and remarking that it was the closest thing he had
heard in jazz to what an African master drummer does when he proves his skill by laying out the most
complex rhythmic ideas over the original pattern without ever getting lost.
So Birds revolution was as far-reaching and significant as Louis Armstrongs. But whereas (to simplify
only a little) musicians everywhere immediately caught on to what Louis was doing, albeit it took a decade
or so to assimilate it thoroughly, the same did not happen to Bird. The reason of course was that the theory
of the music was hijacked by WEAM. As Priestley (Essential Companion p216) says, the
lesser players of the 1950s...seemed over-worried by chordal correctness (emphasis added).
Because the theory was wrong, and against all the aural evidence, jazz took itself right up a cul-de-sac in
what Priestley calls the wake of bebop.
In the end, the internal pressures from an art form whose essence was being denied expression caused an
explosion. Everyone knew at the time that there was such an explosion. Many of the jazz doom-mongers,
like Stanley Dance, assumed that the bebop disaster had self-destructed. Barry McRae celebrated it in a
book called The Jazz Cataclysm. And for about ten years from approximately the mid fifties, jazz began to
do what we can now see as setting about implementing Birds real agenda.
In retrospect it is clear that musicians set off to experiment in ways many of which involved doing
without aspects of music which to European ears were essential for coherence. I have been searching for
years for a better term than cataclysm to describe this period, and now I have it. In his Wire review of
the then newly discovered Monk/Coltrane Five Spot tapes, the critic Andy Hamilton called it the heroic
decade. Here are some of the significant experiments.
Sonny Rollins, whose ground-breaking work from this time is too often under-appreciated, found that you
could develop thematic improvising into single self-sustaining coherent statements which just happened to
be at a particular tempo and a particular number of choruses.
Bill Evans, or more particularly his bassist Scott LaFaro, found that nobody was required formally to carry
the pulse unless they wanted to.
Cecil Taylor found that you didnt need metre, but that the absence of one did not prevent you from
playing a popular song like Whats New, if you wanted to.
Ornette Coleman found that you did not have to have chord changes in order to improvise over a steady
pulse. He also let the tunes he wrote have their own length. His phrases stop when they are over, and does
not struggle to accommodate them into 4 bar units. It doesnt stop them being immensely singable though:
one of his best is the down-home feeling Ramblin, which (if you count) is twenty and one half bars long.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

Miles Davis experimented for a while with preserving the AABA structure but improvising over a single
mode in each section instead of a set of changes. If anything proved that HATE was the wrong way to
approach jazz, this did, because if HATE were true, you wouldnt be able to find anything to play over
one chord if it went on for so long. In So What, counting the last eight of each chorus and the first
sixteen of the next, you get twenty four consecutive measures over a D dorian. Yet so far from this
proving constricting, musicians found that they experienced a great feeling of space and liberation when
they improvised over it. Check out So What, from Kind of Blue. Later Miles went back to playing songs,
but with the whole band playing the song. No steady tempo set at the outset and maintained throughout,
solos not limited to stopping at the end of choruses. Real collective exploration of spontaneous ideas
about the repertoire, the epitome of jazzs treatment of its traditional source material. Check out Stella by
Starlight or My Funny Valentine from My Funny Valentine.
John Coltrane set about constructing chord sequences which did not obey WEAM rules, and found that
beautifully coherent jazz improvisations could still be made. Not just Giant Steps itself but the whole of
that album. Just check out the opening eight measures of his solo on Syeedas Song Flute. Flowing and
lyrical, and yet the chords are basically an alternation of G major and Ab major, which if HATE were true
would sound choppy. He invented his zigzag cadence, the Coltrane substitutions, and reharmonised all
sorts of standard songs. Then he started to construct his improvisations around a fairly static oscillation
between two chords, underpinned by bass and piano, while the real development built in cycles of
polyrhythmic dialogue between him and his drummer Elvin Jones, rather than chorus structures.
Albert Ayler experimented with doing without notes, pulse, metre or structure! Almost nothing that gives
coherence to WEAM was present in his music, yet Spiritual Unity is one of the most coherent and
integrated parts of the jazz canon. Later Ayler superimposed his melodic discoveries over radically simple
backgrounds, like New Orleans marches and spirituals.
Charles Mingus experimented with the textures and techniques of ensemble playing, blending real
autonomy for the players with composed forms, and producing sounds (e.g. on Blues and Roots) which
sounded abrasive and chaotic to many late 1950s ears, but which sound wonderful now.
There were lots of experimenters. Far too many to mention adequately here. But in considering the
characteristic work of this heroic decade, we now have a context in which to understand the nature of what
was happening.
At the time, other things were happening too, including Third Stream, which recognised the same
problem but attempted to solve it having jazz get back into bed with WEAM. It is perhaps significant that
those who felt that jazz should solve its manifest problems by self-consciously going back to its roots in
response to all the harmonic correctness should today sound the most dated. The funk or soul based
tracks of, not just the obvious contenders like Silver and Adderley, but of lyrical players too, like Hank
Mobley, are today often boring when they are not also embarrassing. Especially when compared to free
and enduring masterpieces like Anthony Williamss Spring and Lifetime.
But what I find most significant is that so many of the experimenters, as well as the general run of jazz
players, went back to playing songs again, but this time playing them as jazz, not as a more intelligent
version of easy listening. Going outside when they wanted, staying in when they wanted. Using, rather
than being dominated by devices like pulse, meter and structure. The model for this is Miles Daviss
Plugged Nickel recordings, now thankfully released in their entirety.
This is not at all, as is sometimes suggested, neo classicism, or a turning of the musics back on free jazz.
The heroic decade, in spawning all those experiments gave the music the confidence to function on its own
terms, and provided it with a repertoire of devices and discoveries which could be brought to bear on what
the music had always done best - taking something relatively trite like a song, and weaving collective
spontaneous stories over it.
There is not the space to argue this in more detail here, but if Hodeir is right when he says that the Thirties
were the first classical period in jazz, then the period of common practice since the mid sixties is the
second. And it is by no means exhausted yet. Randy Weston suggested somewhere that it would take
about 2000 years to work through what Dizzy and Bird had laid down.
In my view this is only slightly hyperbolic.

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

Copyright Royalties
The legal position of the jazz artists work is nothing short of astounding. Put briefly, jazz does not exist.
The only thing that exists in music copyright is compositions.
Other art forms exist in Western culture, and are understood. The series of paintings of the west face of
Rouen cathedral that Monet made from his draughty open window above a lingerie shop between 1892 and
1894, for instance. Each of these is understood by everyone to be a unique work, and of course, a work by
Monet. In jazz terms, though, the unique work would be said to be the cathedral, and the royalties for
each painting would go to the architect. If they were reproduced in a book, the printer would get a royalty
too. In all cases, Monet would get nothing. This is because legally the song is a composition, a set text,
and if a jazz musician performs the song, then in law, a composition is being played. If there is any
recognition of the uniqueness of what the jazz player does, it is in the performance being called an
arrangement of the composition. If someone transcribes the solo though, it is the transcriber who gets the
copyright, not the musician. That is what I mean when I say that the jazz musicians art does not exist in
law.
This is unjust and absurd. It prevents books of solos from giving credit where it is due, and makes them
give it where it isnt.
For instance, in Brian Priestleys excellent Front Line Jazz Piano Solos 2, there is a transcription of Keith
Jarrets solo on the track Autumn Leaves from Charles Lloyds album Dream Weaver. And in his Jazz
Piano 3, there is a transcription of Bill Evanss solo on Autumn Leaves from Portrait in Jazz.
Neither transcription includes any reading of the theme (although I would argue that even that is still not
the playing of a composition). And, most significantly, neither mentions the jazz players name. Both
transcriptions have the following at the top of the page:
AUTUMN LEAVES
(Les Feuilles Mortes)
English Lyrics by JOHNNY MERCER
French Lyrics by JACQUES PREVERT
Additional Verse Lyric by GEOFFREY PARSONS
Music by JOSEPH KOSMA
Music Copyright 1947 and 1984 by Enoch et Cie (France)
Lyrics by Ardmore Music Corp (USA)
Sub/Published by Peter Maurice Co. Ltd
In other contexts, this might be actionable. As presented, it could be argued that it is passing off the
transcriptions as the composition, and somebody should sue the publishers, saying they expected it to be
the composition, and it wasnt. But you see what I mean about jazz not existing. Further examples
abound. Lionel Grigsons Study Books, published by Novello, are limited to performances of
compositions to which Novello owns the rights. Slone and Aebersolds magnificent Charlie Parker
Omnibook is 1978 ATLANTIC MUSIC CORP, not even Slone or Aebersold, let alone Bird, and is
ridiculously dotted with advertisements for things like textbooks on arranging.
Companies like Advance Music, in their admirable book of Chet Baker Solos, for example, try to get a
little justice by tackling it another way. They avoid mention of the song as composition, heading each
transcription Chet Bakers solo on the chord changes to.... And Gary Campbells Hank Mobley
Transcribed Solos has this on the title page: the transcribed solos in this book utilize only the chord
progressions of the title listed. This is fine as far as it goes, but it prevents them including any of Bakers
or Mobleys opening choruses - the ones misleadingly called theme statements', when they are, as much
as Monets paintings, personal statements. But if they did put them in, they might get sued. Andrew
White, whose monumental achievement has been to transcribe all of Bird and all of Coltrane at first didnt
include Coltranes opening statements, but then started to put them in. When I asked him why the change
in policy, he said he had realised he was too small to be worth suing!

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

Composer Credits are included on all recordings and publications, which is bad enough in itself, but
becomes farcical when the need to give anyone except the artist a fee also entails real money going to the
wrong person! The money does go to whomever is listed, so its serious.
A few examples.
On early examples of Miles Daviss vinyl twofer Green Haze, Benny Golsons Stablemates is credited to
my friend Alan Zeffertt and his collaborator Tony Day.
On the Japanese reissue of Dizzy Gillespies For Musicians Only, because the original sleeve mis-spelt
Denzil Bests Wee as We, the tune title has been studiously corrected to We (My Honey and Me) by
Woods-Sherman-Tobias.
On the Island re-issue of Booker Littles Legendary Quartet Album, the Wilder and Engvick song Who
Can I Turn To is credited to Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
In Jamey Aebersolds Playalong Volume 22, 13 Favourite Standards, the Gershwin brothers song Soon is
credited to Rodgers and Hart, on both the music and the lyrics pages, even though what appears is the
Gershwin song not the Rodgers and Hart.
On the CD of Sara Vaughans In the Land of Hi Fi, there are two versions of the Vincent Youmans song
Sometimes I'm Happy, each with different composer credits! Both have Youmans and Clifford Grey, but
for one Irving Caesar makes a third, and on the other Leo Robin makes a third. Perhaps they should have
let Oscar Hammerstein in too, since he wrote the words in the days when the song was known as Come on
and Pet Me.
If the Radio Times lists the items in a jazz concert, it lists them as if they were compositions. So just like it
might say
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto Number Two
it will say
Washington and Young: Stella By Starlight.
Unfortunately, even this misplaced willingness to give credit where it is due, is not itself always accurately
directed. In its August 19th 1995 entry for Julian Josephs performance at the Promenade Concerts, the
Radio Times referred to Nat King Coles Everything Happens To Me. So Matt Dennis (who wrote that
song, as well as other gems like Violets for Your Furs, Angel Eyes, and Will You Still Be Mine) gets zilch!
Fight all this whenever you see it! Claim your intellectual copyright!

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

Cherokee - A Case Study


This section shows you how you can be positively impeded in your endeavours if you let WEAM and
WEAM thinking colour the way you approach a song. To play Cherokee is still treated as a kind of
shibboleth, a proof that you can cut it. Here we leave aside the fact that you can cut it only by sounding
convincingly like a jazz player, and like yourself. The reasons why Cherokee has this intimidating status
in so many peoples minds tell us a lot about the differences between WEAM and jazz in practice, and help
to clarify our own specifically jazz objectives.

Cherokee must be difficult, because everyone says it is


Heres a sample of the sort of things that are said about it.
The bridge of Cherokee is long and harmonically more difficult than most of the bridges of the most
popular songs. (As originally written, it is polytonal. Few jazzmen of the day understood this concept;
most found the bridge puzzling. Eventually, Parker worked out a set of changes for it, built on the Tea
for Two changes). James Lincoln Collier (The Making of Jazz. pp 232-233)
Cherokee is a long, intricate sixty-four-bar theme with involved chord changes. Ross Russell (Bird
Lives p21)
Cherokee, a jam-session terror, because of the fast moving harmony in its middle section Gary
Giddins (Celebrating Bird p54)
Like Charlie Christian, he (Charlie Parker) seemed to eat up the chord changes - he made complicated
chord progressions like that of Cherokee his speciality. Lewis Porter et al (Jazz from its Origins to the
Present, p218)
Now play Cherokee (Anonymous barracker during Ornette Colemans performance of Silence at the
Fairfield Hall, Croydon, England, 29th August 1965).

Now it can be told: Cherokee - the facts


These quotes, though highly typical and widely believed, are patently wrong if we just look at the
evidence.
Cherokee is a completely conventional AABA tune, with absolutely normal changes. It is however sixtyfour measures long not thirty-two as you would expect. However this is not to do with any kind of
complexity. The reason for Cherokees length is that the melody, (like that of Skyliner, the other big hit of
Charlie Barnet, who first popularised it), is comprised of really long notes. Typically they last a whole
measure when in other songs they would only last for half a measure. So the song becomes sixty-four
measures instead of thirty-two. This means that the melody appears to be going at half the pace of the
accompaniment. But neither of these things makes the song in any way intricate. If anything, quite the
reverse.
In fact, in the A section, the chords change at the same pace as the melody - i.e. with twice as long on each
chord as is normal. How intricate is that? How complicated?
In the bridge, the rate of chord change reverts to what we would normally expect from its number of
measures. So in that sense, it becomes the same as most every other song. Is this where we find the
intricacy or the fast motion or the complication? Well, not unless you think that the straight cadence
which is the last phrase of (say) At Long Last Love is intricate or fast moving. Because the bridge of
Cherokee contains nothing but straight cadences! The only difference is that because there are sixteen
measures not eight, the pattern occurs four times instead of the usual two we get in songs with two-cadence
bridges like Honeysuckle Rose.
And you dont hear these complaints about Honeysuckle Rose do you?

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

So why all the fuss?


I have just shown that Cherokee is a trivially simple song. So the interesting question is why it is so often
taken not to be. Lots of times I get a sort of fifty million Frenchmen cant be wrong argument thrown at
me. People say things like Well, since all the books - and the quotes from musicians - say Cherokee is
hard, they must have a point mustnt they; and you appear to be the only one out of step.
So let me face that. Having demonstrated incontrovertibly that Cherokee is in fact easier than most songs
(because of the slow moving changes in the front), why is it that so many texts assert the exact opposite?

The answer is to do with keys


The bridge of Cherokee uses a single, consistent, movement through its cadences, (aimed, just like most
bridges, at the usual logical jumping off point to reprise the front). The fact of its being twice as long as
most bridges simply means that it starts twice as far back from the jumping off point. The movement
through the bridge is nothing exotic though. It is the one you find giving the characteristic shape to songs
like Laura or Tune Up. Each new cadence ends a whole step lower than the preceding one. On this basis,
if Cherokee were only thirty-two measures long then a tenor player playing it in C would play cadences to
resting points on A and G. (If you want to hear what an eight measure bridge played like that sounds like,
listen to Hampton Hawess I Got Rhythm from The Trio Vol I). As you can see, A is a whole-step higher
than G, so if we need to precede these two cadences with two more using the same movement. A will be
preceded by B, and B will be preceded by Db. This means that, for our tenor player, the bridge of
Cherokee is a set of four straight cadences going through resting points at Db, B, A, and G.
So the entire case for saying that Cherokee is anything other than intrinsically trivial rests on the fact of
those cadences to Db and B (not the other two) being (and remember these are quotes from reputable
critics) horrors, fast moving, intricate difficult or in some other way a challenge.
Lets have a typical question and answer session from one of my seminars.
Q. Why are straight cadences to Db and B deemed to be hard?
A. Because in WEAM terms, for beginning players, Db and B are difficult keys.
Q. Why are they difficult in WEAM?
A. Because the key of Db has 5 flats, and the key of B has 5 sharps.
Q. Is that difficult?
A. Not in itself. That is, playing them is not. In fact the key of B is so much easier for a pianist than any
other that Chopin used to start his pupils off in it, and Barry Harris always says that C is the hardest key for
a pianist. But, both keys are very much more difficult to sight read than say the key of C, because there
is so much more to take account of. So if you are basing the learning of your instrument around learning
to sight-read music, (which because of the importance of the notated score in WEAM, is the conventional
WEAM way), you will start with C, and these keys will be a long way down the line, and will therefore be
framed in your mind, possibly forever, as difficult.
Q. Is it relevant for beginning jazz players to base the pace of their development around skill at sight
reading?
A. No! Not only is it not relevant, it actively prevents aspiring jazz players (who should, from day one,
be trying out everything they can do in every key) from concentrating on the real skills they need.
Q. OK, but professional players like those around Bird would never have found those keys difficult would
they?
A. Amazingly, they would! Biddy Fleet in whose band Bird was working at the Chili House, actually
said: A lot of the greats had pet keys as well as pet tempos. And you put em in another key or another
tempo, theyre in trouble. When I say the greats I'm talking about name greats. However, Im excluding
Tatum, Bird, Diz and several more.... (Ira Gitler, Swing to Bop , p69)
Q. OK about keys then, but like he said tempo is difficult, isn't it?

Perspectives & Polemics Junking the WEAM Baggage

A. No. As an improviser, what you play is your choice, including the choice to leave some silence.
There is no compulsion to make the number of notes you play bear any kind of functional relationship to
the number of measures to the minute at which the song is being played. That means that that tempo isnt
difficult, even for beginners. If no-one else taught us this, listening to someone like Sonny Rollins (e.g.
coming in right after Clifford Brown on Ill Remember April from Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin
Street), did. Brown, of course, used the pulse to work with, playing the majority of his phrases with two
notes to every beat, and so the number of notes he played was related to tempo, and that approach certainly
makes fast tempos harder technically. To do it that way was Brownies choice. But Rollins, like Lester
Young before him, shows that you can construct any kind of melody you want, regardless of how fast or
slow the tempo. (Refer back to The Song As Raga).
Nevertheless, Biddy Fleets point about tempo is interesting too, because as weve seen, Cherokee moves
so slowly until the bridge that some musicians just might not realise until then quite how fast a tempo had
been called. (Although the bassist and drummer would have been fully aware from the outset!).