Dmitry

How do you define genius , as it pertains to jazz?

73 posts in this topic

I think a genius creates something radically new, something beyond what has even been considered possible before them. Geniuses, be definition, are extremely rare. I would consider just a few in music overall to be geniuses: Monteverdi, Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel, Stockhausen, Scelsi, Monk, Captain Beefheart, John Butcher. Maybe: Ellington, Zappa, the Beatles as collective genius, Erwin Schulhoff.  

   

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nothing between Bach and Stravinsky made the cut but Stockhausen is in there: Strong statement (and I don't really buy it, but I haven't seen the detailed argument).

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Quite arbitrary in my view. Since I'm not versed in classical I cannot comment but it's interesting that John Butcher was listed above. I'm an admirer and some of what I've heard from him is of the first order of modern saxophonists but I'd certainly believe just from a saxophone perspective that Joe Maneri, Evan Parker, Mats Gustaffson, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Lacy, Tony Malaby, Anthony Braxton, or even Urs Leimgruber or Martin Kuchen would also then have to be considered.

I think Dave Rempis is as talented and brilliant a player and thinker as almost anyone playing today. But he's not well known at all and will probably never be so is he never considered for approval as a member into some sort of pantheon. Kind of Kennedy center honors - what a tucking bore that scene is...but Rempis is kinda like Peter Kowald - well there is a genius right there - as is Barry Guy but neither of them make the grade either. 

and of course others I don't know or prefer, etc.

who is to say that it's just Miles or Monk or Duke?

Keith Rowe for me is just as brilliant as anyone to my ears.

whether they influenced or are well known to us are really not much of a consideration, in my view. I certainly believe Joe Maneri was a improvisational genius of the highest order and I think the same of his son. Whether anyone here agrees here or anywhere is of no concern to me. I've got ears and I know how to listen.

enough out of me - resume....

 

 

Let The Horse Go

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I´m quite astonished why some have named classical composers here. I thought it´s about jazz.

It´s hard to say who is a genius. Many like Lester, Bird and Bud and even Monk had a relative short period of creativity and then started to repeat themselves. Anyway they are geniusses for what they did and for what they left for the past. And you might add Lennie !

All say Bird, but don´t take Diz for granted only because he wasn´t just such an enfant terrible like Bird.

Diz had it all, his contribution to modern jazz is at least as much as Bird´s . And Diz´ compositions, I love them most.

Mingus, Miles, Trane, Ornette.

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4 hours ago, Gheorghe said:

 I thought it´s about jazz.

Yep.......!!!  It's about jazz :) 

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To me a genius is original, skillfull and creative. I mainly like ‘original’ voices in jazz, people that differ themselves from the rest. There are people that I dig and also people that I do not dig, but still consider a genius. 

I personally don’t dig Lennie Tristano, Anthony Braxton and Lee Konitz. But I do consider them to be genius. I appreciate what they have meant/still mean to jazz and I can see what they are doing but I just don’t feel it.

Geniuses that I do feel:

Hawk, Bird, Lady Day, John Coltrane, Mal Waldron, Monk, Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, McCoy Tyner, Dollar Brand, Kidd Jordan.

And of course much more...

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On 10/21/2017 at 11:58 AM, paul secor said:

I can understand enjoyable, but where exactly does "useful" come into play in music?

"Useful" in that other musicians use the innovations that the genius invented/created/discovered.  I think Jimmy Smith was a genius, and so many other organists emerged using/developing/playing off of Smith's work.  Think of the explosion of organists in the late '50's-early '60's.  They didn't evolve from Wild Bill Davis or Milt Buckner, but they did from JOS.

Perhaps another aspect of genius is that the innovations are so rich that many different paths lead from it.  I read somewhere that so many saxophonists evolved from Bird, but each took a different aspect of his work: some his speed, some his tone, some his rhythmic attack, some his complexity.

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I don't know what genius means in jazz. This century I don't use that word with frequency at all. I'd say Pops, definitely. And Pres. And Bird. And perhaps, most probably Duke. 

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On 10/20/2017 at 10:11 AM, mjzee said:

I think a genius is someone who plays what sounds like a new solution to a problem, a fresh, new approach, that is instantly recognizable as "the next step forward."  It is truly bound up in the person - it is not "inevitable," and perhaps would not exist if that person had not come along.  Thelonious Monk is a good example - he put forward a new approach that others could use in their own playing.  Coltrane, too, in the way he led the power approach to playing.

Some caveats:

Genius is not eternal.  It erupts, maintains for a few years, then declines.

Genius has to be useful and enjoyable.  Many people are labeled geniuses who are just annoying.  On the classical side, Harry Partch comes to mind.  On a parallel note, mental illness should not be confused with genius.  

Some jazz musicians/composers/arrangers who I would consider geniuses: Lester Young, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Jimmy Smith.

I appreciate how you've attempted to arrange structure to the definition. And yes, like others, I'm definitely on board with accepting  'useful AND enjoyable' as critical, and thank you for cataloging that!

The name that has not been mentioned yet [surprisingly to me] is Bill Evans. He did not invent the format, but, in my opinion, became THE most influential pianist and interpreter of music of the last 50 years. To me, he fills all the boxes of genius. Would you agree or disagree?

Everybody and their uncle still tries to copy his style and approach, some quite successfully, others just annoyingly.

 

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Genius validates itself.

The only problem with the "useful and enjoyable" thing is time. Yes, all "genius" reveals its usefulness and does bring enjoyment, but not necessarily right away. People in all disciplines can tell you about people whose work had to be "rediscovered" either later in or after their life. Even Bach, not always regarded as the genius he is today.

Look at Monk - let's play a game where he dies in, say, 1954, before Riverside, before his legal issues got cleared up, before anything that made him any thing other than an obscure cult figure with a handful of indie label recordings, both man and music viewed as eccentric, difficult, perhaps obtuse, perhaps even mentally ill. What happens then? What would the process look like that brings this music to fuller fruition and visibility. How much longer, if ever, does it become as "useful" and/or "enjoyable" as it is now? Would it ever?

Was there no genius evident in the Blue Note and Prestige recordings? I think you'd have to be wrong to think that. So what would you have if that had been all there was? Genius waiting to be discovered? Just some weird guy playing weird music? Some fetishized cult figure?

Sure, one could state that the genius was not "proven" until it became "useful" and "enjoyable", but imo, the genius was already there, it didn't need to be proven, it simply needed to be found. Which is why I think that time is the ultimate judge. Not do the "creators get paid" (which, really?), but do the creations reveal their truth over time. And "time" is only sometimes "in their lifetime".

But - if we think with certainty that our geniuses of "today" will remain as geniuses forever more, think again. Ours is not in any way an oral tradition, we are very much based in documentation. If/when the documentation gets corrupted/lost/stolen/destroyed/whatever, the a few generations go by and a new narrative springs forth. It happens, always, some way.

 

 

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“Useful & enjoyable” to whom?

Plus are all the jazz geniuses dead?

 

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10 hours ago, Pim said:

Mal Waldron

Yep, he was (and he's always on my list).

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I enjoy and agree with many of the names already mentioned so I won't rehash them. One name I didn't see mentioned was Art Pepper. I think he may be one of the greatest, under-appreciated alto sax players of all time. He had his own sound and he grew and evolved over the course of his career and was consistently excellent throughout. After an extended jail term, having been off the jazz scene for a while, he saw some of the new directions jazz was moving and took a chance by adding  avant-garde elements to his playing which was a departure from what he had been playing before. In a way, he reinvented himself and still excelled.  

Genius can be a slippery term too. For example, I don't think that Vince Guaraldi is a genius but I do think that the music he made for A Boy Named Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas was genius. I can't think of another example where the music is so married to the heart and soul of a piece of work. That music is so defining that it is probably one of the primary reasons those particular cartoons were so successful. That music was a breath of life and elevated that which it was supporting. It added a gravity and importance which very well could have been absent had it been different music or the type of music one would typically see accompanying a cartoon.  

 

Edited by mikelz777

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8 hours ago, xybert said:

Tony Williams. 

Yeah good idea, give the drummer some, give the good drummers all the stars you have. I love Tony William he was fantastic. And a composer on a high level also .

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You know it when you see it. 

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On October 23, 2017 at 11:28 AM, Steve Reynolds said:

Plus are all the jazz geniuses dead?

While we all may define "genius" differently, I think you could make a strong case for broad, genre-shattering influence or disruption to be one element of genius. I don't believe that any contemporary jazz artist can have that sort of influence anymore, either within jazz or beyond, regardless of how talented he or she may be.  It is the sound of a tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear it. 

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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By the standards proposed here, Earl Scruggs was a genius.  Not that I have a problem with that, not at all.

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The OP asked that we stick to jazz.

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On ‎10‎/‎23‎/‎2017 at 9:53 AM, Dmitry said:

 

Everybody and their uncle still tries to copy his style and approach, some quite successfully, others just annoyingly.

 

 

Related image

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I'll throw in two names as possessing some kind of mechanical genius as it pertains to jazz - Lockjaw Davis and Eddie Harris. Counter to general experience, the more I listen to Jaws, the less I can figure out how he played what he played or, occasionally, even what he played. The guy took an instrument that was designed be played one way and figured out a whole other way of playing it. I'm not talking about basic false fingerings or overtones or anything like that, sometimes the guy hits certain notes with a timbre that is not germane to any fingering for that note that I've found or even heard about. A few people, including Johnny Griffin, have talked about how he corked some of his keys closed, which would mean that he essentially created his own fingering system, which...mechanical genius at the very least, and the way he integrated the mechanical changes into his rhythmic and harmonic math...he really did create his own way of playing both instrument and music.

Eddie Harris, so much more than just Varitone and other effects, although his official recordings seldom reveal his true depth. Every now and then, though, you get  a glimpse of a guy who also created his own musical and sonic universes. There's things on that Tale Of Two Cities (or whatever it's called) Night Music thing where you hear a guy who had a lot bigger mind than general commerce would accommodate. Perhaps c.f. Lewis Porters recent look at Art Tatum for the beginnings of a parallel? Also, musically, his quartal/"intervallic" approach was often displayed on commercial recordings in its most basic form, but there are moments (like "Oleo" from Excursions where it becomes very clear that this guy could run like hell with that language, not just pimp it. He'd play your conventional triadic/diatonic/ harmonies all night long, but when he wanted to leave all that behind...no hesitation, no problem.

And as far as "value", these are two guys who had pretty good success in spite of their real genius not because of it. There are more than a few Lockjaw solos that would have gotten him fired off of a lot of gigs if it was somebody else who was making that noise. And people bought Eddie Harris records because of the surface appeal. He knew it, and produced product accordingly. It was later in his career (and/or after his death) that a portrait of the real skills of Eddie Harris even began to be considered.

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Jack Teagarden fits right in there with Lock and Eddie Harris Who? 

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On 10/23/2017 at 3:38 AM, Pim said:

To me a genius is original, skillfull and creative. I mainly like ‘original’ voices in jazz, people that differ themselves from the rest. There are people that I dig and also people that I do not dig, but still consider a genius. 

I personally don’t dig Lennie Tristano, Anthony Braxton and Lee Konitz. But I do consider them to be genius. I appreciate what they have meant/still mean to jazz and I can see what they are doing but I just don’t feel it.

Geniuses that I do feel:

Hawk, Bird, Lady Day, John Coltrane, Mal Waldron, Monk, Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, McCoy Tyner, Dollar Brand, Kidd Jordan.

And of course much more...

I find it incredibly interesting that you didn't mention any comtemporary artists, especially considering the recent discussion we had about Ware. 

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