Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Musical Conversation

The Following Conversation Took Place Between thegrowlingwolf & thedailygrowlerhousepianist (used without thedailygrowlerhousepianist's permission)

The following is a conversation that took place a couple of days ago. It has to do with jazz, American music, but especially feelings about Charles Ives.

thegrowlingwolf: Like Randy [Weston] trying to bring African
>rhythms and shit into jazz--yeah it's fun for a while,
>but when they went back to the blues during that one
>tune, couldn't you feel the fire come back into their
>playing, whereas all that primitive drumming wasn't as
>exciting as the release the blues gave them--dammit,
>without the blues, American music can suck just as bad
>as German jazz guys, or the Beatles. You take the
>blues out of Jazz, you take the motherland out of it,
>because blues is what the American blacks heard in
>their dreams

thedailygrowlerhousepianist: Sounds like you're saying that
African American music is more African than African music.
This guy was just that: one guy with one drum and
it's no wonder he couldn't match that band. And if any African ensemble
could match them, and they could, they could only match them
rhythmically - and that would be the only way I'd expect them to match.
Never forget the American side of African American music which is
Harmony and Changes or if you prefer the white part of black music.

>thegrowlingwolf:it started as a march music--and that's
>Ives's contention too about true American music--based
>on the doubled duple--and why Ives insisted on keeping
>European restrictions out of his compositions. [I just
>read Ives calling Beethoven necessary in understanding
>his music, though he says Thoreau was a better
>musician than Beethoven--and that's what I love about
>Ives; he demeans the European dudes who he admits are
>musically important to learn and understand and that
>Beethoven's music is great music, but then he cuts 'em
>totally down by saying Thoreau was a better musician
>(he played the flute)--Ives says his Thoreau movement
>to the Concord is based on Ives hearing with his ears
>Thoreau playing his flute out across the waters of
>Walden Pond.]
thedailygrowlerhousepianist:Yeah well I bet Ives thought
Ives was a better musician than Thoreau. And if Ives was,
then I'd wager Beethoven was too.
Ives is very unforgiving towards musicians like Beethoven and
I for one think he's
unfair. Not because I think Beethoven's music is better than Ives said,
though of course I do, but because Ives seems to have so little
sympathy for their positions. Why is it so bad to want to
have others play your
music or to write with the performer in mind? I think that modern
people, and a middle class prig like Ives is a prime example, don't
appreciate how people in more primitive times had to work to feel like
they were humans and not animals. In this day and age, no one is so
backwards as to think an educated human is anything but a human no
matter how bestial their behaviour, but I'm not so sure older
generations were as scrupulous. And it wasn't only that they didn't
want to be animals, they feared it. Remember that they all lived among
animals, it's not like they had to stretch their imaginations to
understand animalistic behavior. No, they were into control and
structure and it's not hard to see why. Why should they be condemned
for not seeing the beauty in badly played music? I think that Ives was
standing on the shoulders of giants, to paraphrase Newton, and it
bothers me when he derides those who are holding him up. I appreciate
his points, but he's a bit too thorough and malicious for my taste. I
understand his bitterness, but wish to be excused from sharing it.

thegrowlingwolf:I think you're a little hard on Charley.

thedailygrowlerhousepianist: We're talking in a narrow sense here.
Ives is my favorite American composer and my favorite modern composer.
Not only was he a genius, technically and artistically but he had the
courage to stick to his guns. Maybe they warped him, but they never
crushed him. All indications are that he was a warm and generous person
pretty much liked by everyone that knew him.
Another of the ways he reminds me of Bach.

I love Stravinsky, but Stravinsky was a shit of a person in many ways.
In France he kept his family in poverty out in the provinces while he
was running around Paris screwing showgirls, dressed like a dandy and
eating in the best restaurants, boorishly snapping his
fingers(embarassing Robert Craft) at the staff. His children hated him,
it appears.

Many of my favorite musicans had serious flaws as people. Ives compares
very favorably to most of them, except in the memos. I think it's sad
more than anything. I mean if he's as great as he says he is, is it any
wonder that most people don't "get" him? Think about it, he was saying
that the worst musicians make the best music, is it any wonder that he
had a rough time getting his message across? Bach wasn't great in his
day, most of the great composers were either unknown or controversial.
They weren't all Haydns or Handels. They were not appreciated to their
full worth in their day, just like Ives.

One thing about the "rulebook". Bach was the one who really
crystallized the "rules". But they didn't look at it quite the same way.
In order to sound good, you had to do certain things, just like we do.
In order for the voices to sound full, you avoid parallel perfect intervals.
Avoid intervals that are hard to sing, etc. All of those rules had good
musical justifications behind them, however anachronistic they were by
Ives' time. Now, for us to sound good, we have to swing. We have to
express, we have to be unique, "ourselves" etc. If someone says this is
a blues and the chord in the 5th measure is V instead of IV, our
reaction is to think "it's not a blues". We may think sure it could be
a blues no matter what, but our initial reaction will be to compare the
so called blues to what we know as blues - IOW a rule. Swinging and
improvisation are our tradition. Bach et al had another tradition.
Beethoven wasn't as strict as Bach, and he knew it and didn't care. The
problem for Ives came when imposing this tradition on America where
there was no time to develop an academy, people needed music and they
needed it now goddammit put down your music book start playng a tune
1234. As far as I'm know, Debussy, a generation older than Ives, was
the first one who said Never Mind the Germans.

So I don't think I'm being hard on him. My reservations are in a small
part of a great appreciation. But that's how I am - I deconstruct
because of my insecurities.

thegrowlingwolf:I find in a Freudian sense he's so very defensive that he can't
>marvel over Bach and Beethoven for fear his own works aren't really very good
--his big fear was that the people who called his work nonsense or full of
horrible sounds or unplayable were right. His New England defense mechanisms
are to praise and then demean at the same time, which, in Ives's mind, keeps
>him innovative whereas Beethoven and Bach and Brahms
>were innovators but within the German rulebook,
>whereas, Ives is treading on a new ground, a ground he
>is pretty much defining as he goes along. He's a
>brilliant thinker really--Mark Twain was his favorite
>writer he later says--and there is a lot of Mark
>Twain's wry cynical wit in Ives. Henry Cowell said
>Ives was very well read.

thedailygrowlerhousepianist: Yeah I recognize the Twain in Ives too.

That's pretty good conversation, don't you think?

for The Daily Growler

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