Who’s in Charge Here?
The starry-eyed disciple, an aspiring musician asked of his learned teacher, “In a music concert, who is the boss? Is it the composer of the music, the lyricist who wrote the words or the artist performing?” The wise teacher had a wry smile as he answered, “Well, in a classical music concert the artists all have their music written out precisely and have to play it note for note.
The starry-eyed disciple, an aspiring musician asked of his learned teacher, “In a music concert, who is the boss? Is it the composer of the music, the lyricist who wrote the words or the artist performing?” The wise teacher had a wry smile as he answered, “Well, in a classical music concert the artists all have their music written out precisely and have to play it note for note. The conductor of the orchestra makes sure that the music is played perfectly with immaculate timing. But the boss of the show is the composer, who has set down precisely how his music is to be performed. On the other hand when performing a popular (or pop) song, the artist has to adhere to the lyrics as penned by the lyricist and largely to the tune to which the words are set. The singer or singers perform with the best emotion and voice they can produce, but the songwriter and lyricist are the bosses here.”
Quite disheartened by these words from his teacher, the student asks, “What is the point of mastering one’s musical skills if someone else is going to be the boss anyway?”
The wise man had a broad smile on his face as he said, “Do not lose heart, son. There is some music where the player is the boss. It’s called Jazz! Here the player takes a composition and pays it some respect by enunciating the tune. He will do it to his own tempo, play it in a key of his choice, and have as few or as many musicians with him in the performance of the tune. He can play it on the instrument of his choice, or even sing it! He can inject his own lyrics into the song, even if the original is only meant to be an instrumental piece and he can play it for as long as he likes! He will, as will others in his band, improvise on the tune to his hearts’ content. There is no greater freedom in music than in this thing called jazz. But it will challenge the artist to constantly and instantaneously create on the spot. For this he has to be a master of his chosen instrument. He has to practise for long hours until he plays by instinct. It is not easy and not many achieve total mastery in their craft. However, the few that do are truly blessed, liberated souls and can create magical music.”
High profile classical musicians, such as Andre Previn and Itzhak Perlman to name just two, have both indulged in playing jazz. Andre Previn has a number of jazz albums to his credit. He is an accomplished pianist and his album, My Fair Lady Loves Jazz under Shelly Manne’s leadership, is a well known jazz album. Perlman, the virtuoso violinist, has gone on record to say that he envies jazz musicians their freedom to play as their mood dictates at a concert or recording. He too has recorded with a jazz ensemble. Billie Holiday summed up this view expressed by Perlman, when she had once famously stated, “No two days are the same in my life. Why should I sing the same song twice in the same way?” Indeed, no two recordings of Billie’s are the same either in mood or expression. That was her true greatness. That freedom to express is the ultimate lure of jazz!