I really love artist that push and sometime break boundaries, leading to a new style or vocabulary, or even redefining what constitutes art or not. Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, and maybe Andy Kaufmann would be examples of the latter. Other innovators, who may not cause us to re-think art, but I still I like a lot are Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, to name a few. This is a thread to discuss innovations of specific artists as well as innovations in art more generally. I want to start by talking about two different innovations in music that I’m interested in.
5 thoughts on “Art: Innovations and Innovators”
An Innovation I’ve been wanting to hear
Watching the documentary about Butch Morris and his conduction technique reminded me of a type of music I pined for (back when I sought out such things more actively). In jazz, I saw the musicians change their approach to improvisation. For example, many would improvise based on the chord changes and melody. Later, they would improvise based on modes or scales. At one point, jazz musicians improvised outside of conventional harmony. This got me to thinking about other ways of structuring an improvisation.
The one thing that came to mind was improvising the groove. By groove, I mean the rhythmic and harmonic backdrop that would be played by a rhythm section. Rock, country, R&B, funk, be-bop, New Orleans jazz, etc.–all of these styles have different grooves. What if you could groove was subject to improvisation?
I did find at least one group that did this–namely, Naked City. However, the basically employed a “jump-cut” approach. That is, they would play in one style, and abruptly jump to another.
What I had was a smoother more gradual and organic transition. A song could start in one groove and throughout a performance gradually morph or mutate into other type of grooves.
As part of this, I wanted to have have enough musicians so that the instrumentation of the rhythm section could also change during the course of a tune. To me, this was important because the instrumentation of the rhythm section can greatly impact the nature and type of groove. A rhythm section with a tuba instead of a bass will change the nature of the groove and add different possibilities, while closing others. So a band may have a keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, horns, vibes. percussion, etc. A song could start off with piano bass and drums in the rhythm section playing a swing groove, and some point a guitar would replace the drums, and maybe the groove could morph into something like a bluegrass groove. I’m just choosing existing grooves, but it would be cool if they could make up grooves that are either new or at least doesn’t really fit neatly into an existing category.
I think there are a few problems/challenges with this idea:
Repetition of patterns is inherent and fundamental part of grooves. Some of all the patterns are often simple, at least rhythmically. Musicians can decorate the groove in a way that doesn’t follow patterns, but overall there static patterns–and while I love grooves, to some degree, the grooves can get boring. This is especially true if one compares the groove (rhythms) with melodies and harmonies.
But to try to improvise on the grooves is probably hostile to the grooves. It would make finding a good groove really difficult, if not impossible. Good grooves don’t happen automatically and not always easily. Indeed, for a performance, the musicians may never really get into a good groove.
Now, I’m asking for musicians to be ready to improvise–to develop and find news grooves, possibly with different instrumentation. The chances of playing music with a good groove likely going to be low.
One possible solution is not to change grooves so quickly–play in a groove for about 3-10 minutes or so before changing.
A musical innovation involving humor
In my opinion, one of Zappa’s most innovative ideas is to incorporate humor into music–including blending avant-garde musical elements as well. Most of his humor falls can be described as “stupid” or silly and sometimes dada.
Here’s the idea I had: Instead of stupid humor, could musicians incorporate stand-up humor–like the type characterized by Jerry Seinfeld. Humor that’s based observations and funny (not stupid) delivery. Seeing someone like Jamie Foxx do this might be interesting.
Have you ever sat in on a drum circle, or just hung around near one? There’s often a gradual morphing of a groove, ‘though I don’t know how intentional it is or how improvisational. You won’t hear changes in time signature, I don’t think (I mean, in a drum circle of 20, I don’t know how that could even happen), but you there is a movement through time from one to another, often difficult to sense unless you’re listening for it.
Drum circles are cool.
Are you talking about Jamie Foxx improvising as a musician, because he’s a piano player and a comedic actor? Or are you talking about Foxx doing humurous improviational lyrics over a musical background?
Remember that local jazz trio that often played at coffee shops in the mid- to late-90s? They started off as UH band students and then kept playing together after graduation (I think). I can’t remember their name.
But they often played at the cafe where I worked, and I’d hear them throw in familiar licks from other songs during their solos. I don’t know how planned this was, but it was fun to listen to. Not haha funny, exactly, but amusing. Once in a while the other musicians would throw in other familiar licks in their solos within the same jam. They cracked each other up.
One night, when that trio was playing on a particularly slow evening, they got going and sounded really, really good. About an hour into their set, the door opened, and two very attractive young Japanese women came in. One carried a guitar case. They took a table, setting the case on top.
A moment later, a tall, lanky, well-dressed Japanese guy came in and sat down. Nobody ordered a drink. They sat and listened, clearly absorbed in the music. The trio was cranking.
They took a break. The guys went over to the tall Japanese guy and shook his hand. They sat around the table chatting.
When they started their second set, the Japanese guy took out his guitar and joined them and he was amazing. I don’t know a lot of about jazz music, but even I could tell this guy was from a different planet from the UH guys. They were clearly enjoying themselves, but they were also clearly intensely focused. I thought someone might burst a vein.
It was a really amazing set. When it was over, everyone was all smiles. They shook hands, they chatted some more, and then the women put the guitar in the case, closed it up, and left. The guy left a moment after them.
I asked the UH guys who the guy was. They told me his name (I’ve long fogotten it) and said he’s a huge deal in Japan, and that he was here visiting, and they invited him to come jam with them.
We should all have two gorgeous women carry our guitars for us. That was freaking gangsta.
I’ve stood on the side, but not for a long time. My sense is that the groove is essentially African. I’m thinking of morphing in more radical ways–e.g,. bluegrass–>New Orleans–>funk–>afro-beat. And they could morph into unnamed styles. The instrumentation would or could change, too. violin-bass-banjo-trombone–>violin-bass-trombone-drums-saxophone, etc.
More the latter, but I chose Foxx because he can sing and play, too. And I was thinking specifically of stand-up humor–especially the ones based on observations, humorous delivery/facial reactions, etc. Eddie Murphy is another guy I thought of. So I’m thinking of a fusion of stand-up and music performance.
The only one I can think of is with Les Peetz, Greg Pai, and I’m not sure who was on bass. But those guys didn’t seem like they were right out of college. Is that who you were thinking of? The other guy is Shoji Ledward, but I think he usually played solo.
Yeah, this is can be funny. The one example that comes to mind is from Dexter Gordon’s Go, one of the first jazz cds I bought. On a tune called, “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” Gordon, at some point, throws in a snippet of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”