Back last year I posted a piece on jazz and accessibility, and proposed a five part "accessibility scale" from A1 (most accessible) to A5 jazz. Since then I have been listening to a much wider range of jazz, and my own ear for the music has become considerably more flexible. But I think that my categories hold up pretty well, and I return to the project now. I will refer to them by the slightly more elegant terms: Page One to Page Five Jazz.
- Page One is jazz style with no or almost no improvisation going on. Think of Frank Sinatra or a lot of Ella Fitzgerald.
- Page Two is solid melody with improvisation providing a little entertainment in gaps. Think Diana Krall.
- Page Three is the heart of modern jazz: the improvisation is center stage, but the improvisation is strictly dedicated to milking the melody of every drop of beauty. Almost all bop falls into this category, with hardbop perhaps more loyal to the melody than classic bebop. In page three jazz, almost all the lines sound traditional and the instruments tend to be strictly familiar.
- Page Four jazz reverses the relation between improvisation and melody, with the latter only a launch pad or in many cases merely an excuse for the exploration of abstract musical ideas. The trend toward abstraction will often be evident even song titles like Part A, or Composition No. 45. Page Four jazz also includes a fondness for odd sounding instruments and playing around the extreme ends of the horns, with a lot of hysterical squealing. This is where avant garde or free jazz should be parked.
- Page Five leaves all familiar concepts like melody and coherent rhythms. There is definitely something like music going on there, but no human being could walk away humming the tune as there ain't no tune to hum. I was once quite contemptuous of this kind of jazz. I remain skeptical, but every now and then I find myself enjoying it.
Well, here are some samples to back up my text.
Page One Jazz
Page Three Jazz
Minor Move is a fine album, with a really good band: Lee Morgan (tp) Tina Brooks (ts) Sonny Clark (p) Doug Watkins (b) Art Blakey (d). There is a lot of Lee here, and this is straight ahead Page Three bop.
Page Four Jazz
Page Five Jazz
The Snake Decides is a very difficult disc to come by, but I got it. Its solo horn twilight zone. I can't say I whistle this one on the way to work, but it does display a magnificent command of his instrument. There are moments when I spin this up on my iPod, put on the headphones, and sit inside Parker's horn. But only a few such moments. As one critic put it, his solo recordings "aren't for the sqeemish.
Well, that's the spectrum. Let me know what you think.