Philosophy of the Arts


Jazz and classical music

1. While listening to John Coltrane, this thought came up:
jazz musicians play on a favourite instrument. And, sometimes, the instrument they pick does not really connect with them. [Multi-instumentalist Anthony Braxton seems best when playing on a soprano; Coltrane on a tenor sax, etc.]. This is not merely due to an accidental preference on behalf of the musician, but, rather, to how their bodies connect with this instrument.
We shall discuss the notion of ‘individual style’ that is connected with this line of thinking.
2. In class, we discussed Mozart’s Concerto for clarinet. Nanny argued that the timelesness of this work has to do with how Mozart in it gets the best of the instrument.
It is interesting to realize that Mozart succeeds through a score that instructs an infinite number of musicians to play the work. Thus, he brings out the best of various musicians’ playing (on the clarinet) irrespective of the particular musician (assuming that she controls the instrument to sufficient degree).

  • Listening to John Coltrane confronts me with the thought that Coltrane gets the best of the soprano that he is playing on.
    We also discussed, however, that it is difficult to conceive of any other musician to play an improvized part in exactly the same way–not difficult as in ‘hard to master’, but difficult as in ‘inconceivable’: such playing would be a form of ‘copying’ instead of ‘performing’ the relevant music. One way or the other, that would amount to a kind of forgery. The improvization in a piece of jazz is not notated in a score; that would be superfluous, would go against the nature of this music.
    3. Would it be too far-fetged to think of jazz as a domain in music-making that has tried to make instrument-playing more dependant on the particular musician’s embodiment?
    Coltrane’s improvizing is in “Spiritual”, on The Other Village Vanguard Tapes, Impulse!, 1961.

  • One Response to “Jazz and classical music”

    1. Kino Haitsma

      Dear Rob, I just stumbled onto this short but very interesting blog item…and in another item I read about the relation between the listener, the composer and the performer. Nice to read! I doubt the notion though that only jazz musicians play a favorite instrument. I’m a musician myself and know a lot of musicians, in jazz, classic and pop. Being able to play an instrument well is often a physical aptitude, in the way that some people are just very good at tennis, some others can swim really fast…
      Coltrance “transcended” the saxophone, and “connected” with the listener through the music.

      with respect,

      Kino Haitsma

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