Nowadays is a project that treats core jazz repertoire (standards) as an archive of dialogue on a particular musical topic. It is designed to be experienced as an Artistic Research project or as an online album. If you only want to listen to it as an album you can listen through this site or download the tracks, or you can delve deeper into the background and analysis of each track by following the links on this page.

During 2019 I will be adding materials as they are generated.

Introduction

For many years I said I didn’t see the point of doing an album of jazz standards: plenty of other great musicians had already done so. It was through reflecting on the nature of jazz and jazz scholarship that I eventually returned to the idea. Jazz scholarship has tended to focus on the lived experience of jazz and the mythology of individual performers (Berliner, 1994; Monson, 1996), the cognitive architecture of the improviser (Pressing, 1998; Sawyer, 2003, 2007) and musicological analyses of the products of improvisation that by default treat them as ‘works’ (Schachter, 2013; Larson, 2005; Aebersold & Slone, 1978). There is a notable divide between work from the cognitive sciences (generally treated with hostility by jazz musicians), and the work of jazz scholars and musicologists who tend to deify the great improvisers and their improvisations. Everything in the literature seems to reinforce a very modernist notion of creativity: the idea that Coltrane, Davis, Parker and others came out of nowhere; that their creativity was unprepared and unrivalled. Musicologists analyse their improvisations with the same attentiveness as classical symphonies. Ethnographers document a culture based on the cult of the artist, and popular biographies further reinforce the mystique. This to me seems at odds with the way that our understanding of creativity has evolved more generally. I would prefer to adopt a poststructural lens. What if these musicians are products of a particular time and place? They’re great. The best. Amazing. But also, they are absolutely able to be explained by what was happening at the time and the evolutions in music around them. My argument is that besides history and culture, the logic that underpins the contribution of these musicians is bound up in our understanding of jazz standard repertoire.

It is relatively unmentioned in the literature, but from my experiences in western classical music and world musics, our relationship to standard repertoire is one of the most characteristic aspects of our practice as improvisers and interpreters. Jazz standards not only define the scope of harmony and melody, they to some extent prescribe the possible ways in which rules may be broken. Standards are the basis of all pedagogical methods and practice and I would suggest that all musicians who identify as ‘jazz’, as disparate as they may seem, have a connection to standard repertoire. I have begun, through this reflection to think of the jazz standard as an ‘archive’ of thought. An archive is a collection of knowledge organised around a particular topic. This conception is fundamentally different to the western classical tradition, in which interpretive performers enter into a dialogue with the composer via the score. It is similar in a way to other improvising traditions such as the Indian and Persian classical musics in which performers enter into a dialogue with the tradition of performance on a particular raga. My argument is that what makes jazz jazz, rather than Dastgah or Niraval, comes from the structural logic of the fundament: the jazz standard and the historical layering of musical approaches to it over time.

In Nowadays, the application of this theory involves treating jazz standards using something like Foucault’s notion of archaeology: the musicians develop a deep knowledge of the archive of knowledge around a particular tune by exploring various printed and recorded versions that might exist and talking about what we think is significant about them. It’s a framework designed to explore existing musical connections and propose new ones. It is hoped that Nowadays will be a transparent record of the application of genealogical method in the practice of music. It is certainly a great excuse to get together with a bunch of exceptional musicians, to delve deeply into historical practice, and to make music together.

Reference List

Adorno, T. W., & Levin, T. Y. (1990). The curves of the needle. October 55(55), 49-55.

Barthes, R., & Heath, S. (1977). Image, music, text. London; New York: Fontana.

Berliner, P. (1994). Thinking in jazz: The infinite art of improvisation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bowen, J. A. (1993). The history of remembered innovation: Tradition and its role in the relationship between musical works and their performances. Journal of Musicology, 11(2), 139-173.

Bowen, J. A. (2015) Who plays the tune in “Body and Soul”?: A performance history using recorded sources. Journal of the Society for American Music 9(3), pp. 259-292.

Corbett, J. C. (1994). On the musical subject: Sound politics and the body of the performer in the era of recorded music. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Northwestern University.

Dodd, J. (2014). Upholding standards: A realist ontology of standard form jazz. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 72(3), 277-290.

Doffman, M. (2012). Jammin’ an ending: Creativity, knowledge, and conduct among jazz musicians. Twentieth-century Music 8(20), 203-225.

Forte, A. (1995). The American popular ballad of the golden era, 1924-1950. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Gioia, T. (2012). The jazz standards: A guide to the repertoire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Larson, S. (2005). Composition versus improvisation? Journal of music theory 49(2), 241-75.

Levinson, J. (2013). Popular song as moral microcosm: Life lessons from jazz standards. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 71(1), 213-

Monson, I. T. (1996). Saying something: Jazz improvisation and interaction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Salley, K. (2012). Ordered step motives in jazz standards. Journal of Jazz Studies 8(2), 114-136.

Schachter, M. (2013). “Autumn leaves”: Intricacies of style in Keith Jarrett’s approach to the jazz standard. Indiana Theory Review 31(1-2, Spring/Fall), pp. 115-167.

Waters, K. (2001). Outside forces: “Autumn Leaves” in the 1960s. Current Musicology (Spring 2001), p. 276.


Guide for Collaborators

I’m trying to understand the way we navigate and draw on tradition, and how what we think is important in a tune affects our interpretation. At the same time, I want us to use the opportunity to go further than we might usually in our preparation of a tune.

As we choose a song and begin to research it, I want to understand what you think the essential and inessential elements of that tune are. I am expecting that we will have a period of preparation in which to research and analyse different versions and to talk about those together. We might then discuss how to respond to those musically, or to simply ‘work it out’ through recording. Some of the following questions might be a useful guide:

  • Which printed/recorded versions were important to you?

  • Which specific musical ideas in which versions were important to you? (i.e., what is the climax, the defining feature, the groove, the swing, the emotional core of the tune?)

Proposed collaborators:

Bruce Woodward; Kristin Berardi; Sean Foran; Sophie Min; Andrew Garton; James Sandon; Zac Hurren; Helen Russell; Andrew Shaw and Chris Vale.

Song 2

  • embedded audio file

  • transcription (opt.)

  • discussion/analysis

SONG 1

  • embedded audio file

  • transcription (opt.)

  • discussion/analysis

 

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