Ch-ch-ch Changes

Thanks again to Eric Lewis for yesterday’s post.

Nothing Eric said was really a surprise to me, but I can’t remember anyone else being so frank in print before. I remain thrilled that he entrusted DTM with such a valuable document.

Just a few final thoughts:

1) In some ways, Eric’s recap and analysis of the Monk Competition validates my criticism. As I’ve said all along, the more personal and vulnerable aspects of art are jeopardized at these sporting events. In my opinion, if you are a musician looking for a more private path, stay away! You don’t need the grief.

The year Eric won, the other finalists were Orrin Evans, Sam Yahel, and Jacob Sacks. I wouldn’t dare make the ruling that Eric is top dog of that incredibly diverse group. It makes me queasy imagining them trying to best each other for a purse and a shot a record deal. Those four outstanding pianists should all be on the same side.

But, also as I’ve said before, DTM obviously isn’t going to end competitions (and I wouldn’t want that responsibility, either). So: If you are a musician who is a natural athlete and competitor, Eric offers valuable advice. Research your fellow contestants and the jury. Figure out how to best please the committee and the audience. Prepare your mental state and each detail of your presentation in order to dominate and win.

Just make sure that’s the path you want to be on if you decide to go for it, for Eric makes it clear that competitions don’t always do so much for the winners.

Indeed, he only turned that win into a decent-sized poker chip outside of the jazz industry! Perhaps in the future other powerful musicians will follow Eric’s path, first gaining respect at straight-ahead competitions before settling down into a crossover career. Robert Glasper said something like that recently as well, that he made conventional trio albums first so that nobody could say he couldn’t play when he moved into hip-hop. Interesting stuff to think about.

2) In the video of “Cherokee,”  especially in the blistering stride chorus, Eric plays a lot of A-flat dominant on the A sections.  That is what everybody plays these days --  Wynton, Marcus Roberts, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Brad Mehldau...

I don't play it that way, though. In my opinion, A-flat 7 is a misreading: the real chord is E-flat minor sixth. Relisten to Bird and Bud again -- they don’t really play A-flat 7, or at least they don’t play it in a “Get your A-flat 7 licks in while you can” way. Especially Bud: In his left hand, E-flat is the lowest voice, not A-flat. Bud does this because he knows the next chord is B-flat. There are no Bach chorales where the tonic is preceded by a dominant on the lowered seventh, but there are many examples of Bach getting home via four minor.

If bar 7 is A-flat, then someone should write a contrafact of “Cherokee” where bar 9 is D-flat.

3) My favorite of the links is Eric’s stellar rendition of “Pinocchio," which has some great Ralph Penland; the snare commentary in particular is outrageous. In the ‘90s I saw Penland play with Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton and also have him in my library with George Cables and other groups recorded on the West Coast. Penland is undoubtedly underrated, especially out East. It’s a good move to have an older cat playing with some post-Marcus and Tain types: Penland warms the beat right up, making it instantly more like old-school jazz.

“Pinocchio” reminded me to look again at this tiny Kenny Kirkland clip with Penland, which is about as good as this style ever got. 

Kirkland’s untimely death left a hole in the scene that hasn’t been filled. My only regret about ELEW is that I personally am more intrigued by Eric Lewis, one of Kirkland’s best successors. Eric notes that The Magic Hour has “The types of contrapuntal and micro-polyrhythmic initiatives I favor experimenting within Swing.” I believe those initiatives would occasionally surpass Kirkland or even Roberts in complexity and intensity.

Of course, I need to remember: now and in the future, ELEW is still Eric Lewis, someone I am never going to follow at a jam session!


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