Musician’s comments on new tunes vs standards – Jazzcorner’s Speakeasy

The Speakeasy at is having an interesting discussion about new tunes and standards in jazz.

Musician’s comments on new tunes vs standards – Jazzcorner’s Speakeasy

It started as a question about where the new standards might be coming from, but has developed into an originals/standards as performancee practice discussion.

I prefer to hear a group play original tunes. Classic jazz tunes are next on my list of preferences, with the Great American Songbook tunes following that. Ideally a mix of all three would be played.

My quartet book is mostly originals by me or friends of mine, with a healthy dose of classic jazz tunes like Monk, Mingus and Shorter compositions, with some more obscure tunes as well by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Grachan Moncur, Joe Lovano, and the like. I do have about a dozen Great American Songbook tunes for times wheen they would be a ppropriate, but they aren’t a regular part of most Jeff Albert Quartet performances.

If I go out to hear music and catch a group playing Stella or All The Things You Are, it has to be super happening to keep my attention, whereas a passable performance of an original will keep me tuned in. I am sure to some extent that is simply a taste issue.

What do you prefer to hear people play?

5 thoughts on “Musician’s comments on new tunes vs standards – Jazzcorner’s Speakeasy”

  1. I think different musics do different things and present different challenges. Lately I’ve been learning Gershwin songs off of an Ella Fitzgerald record. As a trombone player, I get a lot out of imitating Ella’s sound, articulation, phrasing, and vibrato. But aside from that, those songs do particular emotional things, that I think have to do with when they were written. I’m also in the midst of a project playing strictly new interpretations of the music of Radiohead. The music does something completely different. It’s not just that Radiohead music has no II-V’s in it. Radiohead songs and Gershwin songs exist in totally different emotional zones. Exclude one side as a student of music and I think you limit the emotional range you have as a player.

    To address your question about whether or not you want to hear players doing standards, I love hearing people play standards because it’s a form I’m familiar with. I get to see how another player would approach a song I know. There really are endless ways you can approach a song.

    I was in NYC recently and saw Ben Monder play – mainly standards, as it was a pick-up group. Really exciting music. These are time-tested compositions always available to be personalized so that the music feels relevant.

    Playing standard material is not just about being unimaginative. It ties you into a tradition that I feel keeps you grounded as player.

  2. That is true, there is an emotional space that exists in song standards that is hard to reach in jazz specific compositions…or Radiohead tunes, and vice versa.

  3. I guess my views on this line up pretty well with Rob’s in that I’m more interested in the style of the artist than I am with the age of the material.

    One the one hand, I enjoy listening to artists who are doing something truly new and innovative. Bela Fleck comes immediately to mind. Is it jazz? Is it bluegrass? No, it’s Bela Fleck. On a similar note, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Boston-based pianist and composer Donal Fox, who does some very interesting stuff improvising on the works of classical composers from Bach and Scarlatti to Hindemith and Ives. Unique in my experience, quite sophisticated from a musician’s perspective, and highly enjoyable for the average concert-goer.

    On the other hand, like Rob, I enjoy studying and learning from interpretation of standards as recorded by the greats. I’m in the process of digitizing six years worth of Monterey Jazz Festival tapes that I recorded off the air when I lived in the Monterey area, and I’ve really been enjoying the Sarah Vaughn tracks. If my trombonistic skills were on a par with the likes of Jeff and Rob, I’d be stealing left, right and center from The Divine Sarah’s work.

  4. For me, it is not so much the age of the material, as it is the amount of exposure that I have had to it. If I have a choice of hearing Joe Lovano play “All The Things You Are” or one of his original tunes, I’ll usually opt for the original.

    You both mentioned singers, and I have to agree that there is nothing in the world like hearing a great singer do Great American Songbook tunes.

    I think part of the issue for me, is that I know as a musician, I will never reach the heights that Sarah or Ella or Sonny Rollins have on those tunes. For me to do something new and noteworthy it will have to be outside of that vastly rich, but very deeply explored mine.

  5. I’m not going to reach those heights either, but learning that music keeps me humble and growing. I also feel that it keeps me honest with my improvising, focusing on melody and sounding vocal, rather than trombonish.

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