Captain Howdy

Has jazz produced anything to compare to Beethoven's piano sonatas?

90 posts in this topic

Over the winter I started working through Beethoven's complete piano sonatas (Kovacevich on Warner) and got to wondering if any solo jazz piano anywhere near as good has been recorded. 

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Are you talking about solo piano cycles of the magnitude of Beethoven, or this particular set's recording quality? 

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Neither. Just jazz piano pieces of comparable quality to a Beethoven piano sonata. Who are the titans of jazz piano and which are their monumental works, and do you think they are as artistically/historically important as Beethoven's piano sonatas?

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Apples and oranges.

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10 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Apples and oranges.

"There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind." --Duke Ellington

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Just now, Captain Howdy said:

"There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind." --Duke Ellington

"Oh, we have BOTH kinds of music ... Country AND Western!" :D

(Courtesy Blues Brothers ;))

 

 

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19 minutes ago, Big Beat Steve said:

"Oh, we have BOTH kinds of music ... Country AND Western!" :D

That would be the other kind.

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What kinda question is this really. It really is apples and oranges. Whats the definition of ‘good music’, or quality? How fast someone can play? How difficult the piece is? 

Is Oscar Peterson a better pianist than Mal Waldron? Was Tatum better than Monk? You just cannot compare nor should you want to. Part from that: how could you compare fully composed music with improvisation?

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Posted (edited)

Apples and Oranges, yes (I agree).  And not that my next suggestion/question is any better, but...

How about something akin (in terms of jazz solo-piano), to either Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 -- or maybe Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis?

i.e. something that explores solo-piano music in some kind of systematic sort of way, in an extended collection of pieces (that runs an hour, or two).

Edited by Rooster_Ties

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16 minutes ago, Pim said:

You just cannot compare nor should you want to.

Don't you do this every time you audition a new record? Don't you compare it both to the artist's previous work and to other artists' work to assess its worth? Or do you believe all records deserve exactly as much time on your turntable/CD player/DAP?

16 minutes ago, Pim said:

how could you compare fully composed music with improvisation?

That's really the crux of my question, Let me put it another way: jazz is inferior; prove me wrong. If better music results from thoughtful composition, why improvise at all? 

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Posted (edited)

31 minutes ago, Captain Howdy said:

That's really the crux of my question, Let me put it another way: jazz is inferior; prove me wrong. If better music results from thoughtful composition, why improvise at all? 

To put it yet another way: Why stifle the lifeblood out of the creativity of improvisiation in music by having it all written out?;)

Question of perspective, of preferences, of appeal . Apples and oranges again.

 

As for your "comparison" question:

Compare music you newly discover with other music you are already familar with in the SAME field/style of music - yes. But why would ANYBODY seriously want to compare, the piano recordings of, say, Art Tatum or Erroll Garner or Bud Powell or Fats Waller or James P. Johnson or Keith Jarrett (or whoever among major jazz pianaists) to composed piano works by Beethoven or anybody else from the field of classical music or any recorded documents of the performers of classical music? Apples and oranges, or a fallback into the long-overcome period of "third stream" when classical music was held on an unjustified high pedestal that jazz was "supposed" to "aspire" (or "elevate" itself) to in order to reach "respectability". A dead end ... I am not even sure pianists present in both fields such as Andre Previn or Friedrich Gulda would have made a point of comparing music in this way.

Both of these fields of music have their own fortes and appeal and can stand and exist on their own terms. Forcibly mishmashing them together is pointless IMO.

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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24 minutes ago, Captain Howdy said:

Don't you do this every time you audition a new record? Don't you compare it both to the artist's previous work and to other artists' work to assess its worth? Or do you believe all records deserve exactly as much time on your turntable/CD player/DAP?

 

That’s two times a no! No I do not compare it to previous or other work and listen to it as a new experience. Well not in a quality check kinda way. More in what I prefer more. I like Miles’ Porgy & Bess more than Miles’ Milestones. That doesn’t make it better, I just like it better.

27 minutes ago, Captain Howdy said:

That's really the crux of my question, Let me put it another way: jazz is inferior; prove me wrong. If better music results from thoughtful composition, why improvise at all? 

You’re kidding right? If not you I feel really sorry for you. 

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The main problem in this comparison is the focus of the music. Even though Beethoven was reported to be an excellent improviser, his sonatas were printed works, thoroughly composed in reflection if the state of this art in his time, establishing the sonata form and questioning these achievements, expanding on them in later works. They are documents of a process, not a preconceived finished body. Sonata composition was not the same afterwards, with most composers not even trying to surpass his mastery of the form. Look at the development of solo keyboard music before and after him. And consider the changes in the meaning of the tern "sonata" from being simply an instrumental piece of music to one written in a specific form - an approach developped only in the second half of the 19th century in retrospective analysis of earlier music. 

In solo piano jazz, the focus is on the improvisary treatment of standard or original themes, you rarely find anything on the formal level of the sonata. If so, it would be composed, no longer improvised. Some of Chopin*s pieces are said to be be notated improvisations, or the "fantasias" that many wrote down. 

So, really apples and oranges. 

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4 hours ago, Captain Howdy said:

Neither. Just jazz piano pieces of comparable quality to a Beethoven piano sonata. Who are the titans of jazz piano and which are their monumental works, and do you think they are as artistically/historically important as Beethoven's piano sonatas?

Check out Cecil Taylor "Silent Tongues" as a start. 

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Another somewhat different approach is to think of the pianist. Very very few highly regarded classical pianists are capable of sitting in with a jazz group and improvising in a way that fits with what the jazz group is playing.

Yet many jazz pianist have studied classical music and can sit down and play a piece by Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven , etc. It may not be played as perfectly as it would be by a top level classical pianist, but could be quite enjoyable.

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Don't ask me to only ever be just one thing.

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Posted (edited)

If you like Beethoven, that's cool. If you want to measure against Schubert, for example, there are grounds for comparison in the way of methodologies, time period, performance practice, etc. That's a discussion grounded in any number of (theoretical, critical, historical) realities. 

Granted, I appreciate a provocative discussion, but this feels like a bit of rhetorical table flipping--i.e., let's evaluate one canon by the standards of another just because--and, while I'm at it, let's shunt value judgments into the conversation, because why not. It's like cutting someone off in traffic just to see how they'll respond.

It's a fun academic exercise but it strikes at some very real historical phenomena in the way of establishing genre-practice hierarchies. These hierarchies are in turn tied up in some big, messy things like nationalism, classism, racism, etc.--the kind of stuff that contorts civil discussion into 2019 discussion which is--yes, we should all have the presence of mind to not get offended by civil discussion, but if we're going to dig into the meat of this kind of comparison we're ultimately forced to confront a series of messy underpinnings. Bummer.

I actually appreciated Clifford's note about Silent Tongues to the degree that I, too, instinctively went to prime solo Cecil. The "why" of that is, I think, tied into my own auditory prejudices. I liked this note from a Gary Giddens thing:

"Taylor is almost like a tabula rasa in the sense that listeners read into him whatever they happen to know about music. People with a classical background will hear everything from Ravel to Messiaen or Mozart to Brahms, and those with a jazz background tend to talk about Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, Horace Silver or Dave Brubeck, and so forth. While people always seem to hear references to the music that they know, at the same time, whether you love Taylor or not, he doesn’t really sound like anybody else. That is the great paradox, that he is so much an original, yet he calls to mind so much of western music and so much of piano music."

I guess the core of what I'm getting at here is that a lot of the illusion of artistic holism has to do with the limited spectra through which we perceive others' contributions. At the stage in my life that I'm at I'd rather listen to Death Grips or the Adventure Time soundtrack or Babi Music than Beethoven's piano sonatas--and I mean that--but that has everything to do with my own state of mind and absolutely nothing to do with the radioactive objectivity that so much music theory, both brilliant and terrible, seems preoccupied with. 

Edited by ep1str0phy

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12 hours ago, Big Beat Steve said:

To put it yet another way: Why stifle the lifeblood out of the creativity of improvisiation in music by having it all written out?;)

I keep thinking about something Wynton said in the Ken Burns doc. IIRC he said essentially what's so great about jazz is that it's composing on the fly. But the more classical music I listen to, the less satisfying I find jazz as composition. And for all your talk about apples and oranges, that to my mind is what music comes down to: notes in succession. Whether they were written down 200 years ago or invented this very moment, all that matters is whether they sound good. And lately I've been reconsidering why and if I should continue listening to jazz. For example, when I listen to a string quartet I hear four instruments all doing interesting things at the same time. When I listen to a jazz quartet, I hear 3 instruments hanging back while one instrument does interesting things. And maybe that is one reason why improvisation is inferior to composition: in order to produce harmony rather than a circle jerk. What if Beethoven had improvised all of his sonatas? They might be creative but they probably wouldn't be the towering masterpieces that we know today.   

12 hours ago, Big Beat Steve said:

But why would ANYBODY seriously want to compare, the piano recordings of, say, Art Tatum or Erroll Garner or Bud Powell or Fats Waller or James P. Johnson or Keith Jarrett (or whoever among major jazz pianaists) to composed piano works by Beethoven or anybody else from the field of classical music or any recorded documents of the performers of classical music?

To decide what I enjoy listening to more. To me it comes down to a question of what am I going to spend my time listening to tonight? I find classical music fascinating. I'm struggling to find reasons to continue listening to jazz. I freely admit I don't understand jazz, but then I don't understand classical either. ;)

13 hours ago, Pim said:

You’re kidding right? If not you I feel really sorry for you. 

That's not an argument.

14 hours ago, chewy-chew-chew-bean-benitez said:

Image result for keith jarrett koln

 

11 hours ago, clifford_thornton said:

Check out Cecil Taylor "Silent Tongues" as a start. 

Thanks, will check these out.

10 hours ago, Peter Friedman said:

Another somewhat different approach is to think of the pianist. Very very few highly regarded classical pianists are capable of sitting in with a jazz group and improvising in a way that fits with what the jazz group is playing.

Yet many jazz pianist have studied classical music and can sit down and play a piece by Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven , etc. It may not be played as perfectly as it would be by a top level classical pianist, but could be quite enjoyable.

But classical pianists are not composers. The real question is, would Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven choose to play jazz or would they prefer to continue composing? And can any jazz pianist compose music as well as Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven?

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Glenn Gould called Bill Evans, "the Scriabin of Jazz". They were friends, and spent many hours on the phone late at night, discussing music. 

When I 'spoke' to Bill Evans' son online, he told me that his father had perfected a new kind of spontaneous composition that was superior to both jazz and classical music.

In Paris, they think so highly of his music, that they created a "Bill Evans Academy of Piano", and there's also a French classical pianist who treats Evans' music as classical music, and puts out CDs of himself playing transcriptions of Evans' music. 

So I say unto you Pazuzu, The power of ****** command you- listen to Bill Evans!:alien:

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8 minutes ago, sgcim said:

Glenn Gould called Bill Evans, "the Scriabin of Jazz". They were friends, and spent many hours on the phone late at night, discussing music. 

When I 'spoke' to Bill Evans' son online, he told me that his father had perfected a new kind of spontaneous composition that was superior to both jazz and classical music.

In Paris, they think so highly of his music, that they created a "Bill Evans Academy of Piano", and there's also a French classical pianist who treats Evans' music as classical music, and puts out CDs of himself playing transcriptions of Evans' music. 

So I say unto you Pazuzu, The power of ****** command you- listen to Bill Evans!:alien:

Thanks, I have been listening to him for a long time. Live at the Village Vanguard was one of the first jazz CDs I ever bought.

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I would like to hear a version of Beethoven's piano sonatas with a bleating goat overdubbed onto them, and then compare them to some of Keith Jarrett's box sets. 

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30 minutes ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I would like to hear a version of Beethoven's piano sonatas with a bleating goat overdubbed onto them, and then compare them to some of Keith Jarrett's box sets. 

I very much prefer the bleating goat! :lol:

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14 minutes ago, EKE BBB said:

I very much prefer the bleating goat! :lol:

Yeah, I don't understand the love for Keith Jarrett.  I think he is just awful.  Talented, sure, but the results are nothing that I would ever want to listen to, goat or no goat.  

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19 hours ago, chewy-chew-chew-bean-benitez said:

Image result for keith jarrett koln

This is great. I take back everything I said. Clearly I have much more to learn about jazz.

5 minutes ago, Teasing the Korean said:

Yeah, I don't understand the love for Keith Jarrett.  I think he is just awful.  Talented, sure, but the results are nothing that I would ever want to listen to, goat or no goat.  

Why? I'm hearing the Koln Concert for the first time right now and I think it's wonderful. Is the problem that he's too accessible to the masses, not difficult enough? :rolleyes:

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