[@] = E-mail/Chatroom News
Subj: Re: Speaking on/of Bebop
Date: Thu, 1 Mar 2001 6:24:01 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Karlton Hester <email@example.com>
To: AAJC Group
I was talking to Donald Byrd over the years about the circular pattern Coltrane left for us (Yusef Lateef has it in a prominent spot at the beginning of one of his method books), and we though pretty long about the possible meanings and implications. The system implied seems closely related to his concept of symmetry and proportion. Coltrane was intensely interested in the Nicholas Slonimsky "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns", so Donald and I both saw a relationship between the structure underlying Slonimsky's patterns and Coltranes music, particularly during the 1960's. Byrd and I tried to think of other African American innovators who seemed headed in a direction directly related to Coltrane's mandala. We thought of Monk, Herbie Hancock (the mathematic emphasis on Inventions and Dimensions, for instance), Cecil Taylor, Eddie Harris ("Freedom Jazz Dance", his theory book, etc.), Ornette Coleman (Harmolodic approach), Yusef Lateef (especially in his method books), and others.
Coltrane was one of the most systematic musical thinkers and Composers of the 20th century. For me, looking at his music clearly demonstrates the relationship between the phases of his evolutionary style: from his early eclectic experience in elementary, junior high, high school, at the Philadelphia conservatories, and with the Navy band; through his R&B days with Big Maybelle, Eddie Cleanhead Vincent and Earl Bostic; playing bebop with Dizzy, hardbop with Miles, playing Monk with Monk, . . . on into all the personal stretched-harmonic (polytonal implications), quasi-modal and "free" approaches of his own inimitable style. Trane's systematic evolution involve thorough absorption of the Afrocentric pantonal implications of the blues (which appear to me firmly rooted in the functions of the harmonic series) and the abstract mathematical proportions dictated by Nature. Through it all Coltrane, like most other African American innovators, makes it clear that "it's essentially all the evolution of blues" as it extends continually from its African origins; and traditional African music, which reflects Nature because it remained intimately close to it - contains the Creator's application of mathematics. (When Coltrane was asked if he was interested in 12-tone music he replied that his music already utilized all twelve tones.)
Coltrane was talking to Michael Olatunje Babatunde about all this (and more) in his final years, so African music, mathematical symmetry, and the full range of the blues was clearly on his mind. It appears this (African polyrhythms, harmonic extensions, extended timbre, freedom, flexibility, etc.) may explain why he often extended his ensembles to include two bassists, two drummers, etc. in his final period.
Any single label intended to contain our fall short of concrete identification; and, as Bob said, "It may be that the true essence of Bebop (blues/"jazz") defies verbal description." The crux of my point is related. Innovative masters of African American music are most often absorbing from as astounding range of ideas and influences while putting them through their own fissionary process. Regardless of how far out the music stretches, nonetheless, this evolutionary process is invariably linked to African American musical tradition (particularly the blues - as "Relaxin' at Camarillo" and other Bird [bebop] compositions demonstrate). Anyway, that's what I hear in the music.
>You're on the right page all right. I was speaking on the problems that many
>musicians have putting their thoughts on the subject into words. Many of the
>great musicians we have learned to love never put their own descriptions of
>what they were doing into spoken nor written words. This has been done by
>others to the best of their abilities. However, I sure would like to have
>heard what Bud had to say about his approach. Trane left a circle which
>nobody I have met yet can explain. Barry can explain his. It may be that the
>true essence of Bebop defies verbal description.
E. Hester, Ph.D. - "Jazz" Studies Director
MUSIC DEPARTMENT: 284 Music Center
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Office: (831) 459-2575
FAX: (831) 459-5584
Encyclopedia of Global African Music