Midway Through Banff, Week 2

In the first week of Banff, Vijay Iyer presented a list of "bad binaries," i.e., phrases or ideas that are often placed at odds with one another, but need not necessarily be. One such false opposition of ideas that came to mind today was the pairing of "subversion" or "disruption" of tradition with rigid adherence to tradition.

A distinction should be made between negative terminology like "subversion" and "disruption"—which suggests replacement, destruction of established values, and the like—and the personal search for self-expression through personal and/or increasingly novel means. Liberty Ellman gave a masterclass today in which he emphasized the historical value of a tightly knit but broadly encompassing community in jazz, noting how musicians like Bud Powell who would come to influence musicians like Monk often were influenced later by those who they influenced. 

Sometimes, what comes across when somebody tries to do something "new," i.e., intensely personal to a musician, is that he or she is trying to shake things up—I generally think that journalists like to spin things off this way, in my own experience (it's easier to have an angle to a story if you look at things like these from a slant). Many times, though, what's really happening is that said innovative/disruptive musician isn't trying to undercut the tradition from which they emerged as artists; rather, he/she is either expressing something in a way that is unique to their personality, which comes across as being so different as to be disruptive, or he/she is searching for new tools with which to express him/herself. 

The great Andrew Hill — courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
And that's good! If there are communities of artists who identify with jazz or BAM or whatever they want to call it, then it would be in the interest of all for artists to try to develop new tools/modes/methods of expression—doing so means everyone else can try it out for themselves, too. At one point, Liberty put on a recording of an Andrew Hill tune, "Siete Ocho," which, if you catch the title, is in 7/8. It might have been somewhat more unusual to hear jazz being played in 7/8 back in the '60s compared to the 2010s, but what struck me was that the purpose of trying to create meaningful music in 7/8, it seemed, was more-or-less simply to establish that as a more widely-accepted mode of expression. In one sense, it might be seen as a disruption to the omnipresent 4/4, but seen from another way—in terms of community—it's a personal contribution to the music and to the artists.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it's easy to get caught up in trying to do the next new thing, trying to revolutionize the world, etc.; it's really more important to try to do something personal. I'd argue it's also important, when surveying the musical landscape as it were, to think in terms of contributing something personal instead of subversion/disruption — both for oneself and when making personal judgments of taste w.r.t. to other players. We're all in it together.