The Jazz.com Blog
June 17, 2008 · 0 comments
Over the years, I have encountered two different philosophies on sequencing tracks on a CD. One view is that an artist needs to “mix it up.” The tracks should provide a variety of tempos and beats. Each song should be in a different key from the previous number. In essence, the decisions made in programming a recording are treated much like those involved pacing a concert. Contrast and diversity are essential.
The other approach is to establish a single mood that continues for the entire duration of the CD. You couldn’t get away with this in concert. Try playing twelve ballads in a row, and watch your audience drift off to the Land of Nod. But when used in sequencing a recording, this same approach has produced some of the most cherished classics in the jazz pantheon.
Among recent CDs, James Carter’s PresentTense is a striking example of the former approach. Carter moves around from horn to horn, showing off his skills on tenor and baritone and soprano and flute and bass clarinet. And his song choices encompass the famous and obscure, dipping into tunes by Django Reinhardt and Gigi Gryce and Dodo Marmarosa, along with standards and originals and tribute numbers.
On the other hand, we have David Benoit’s new CD Heroes. Mr. Benoit modestly claims that he picked out songs he enjoyed by artists who had influenced him. But he is selling himself short here. Mr. Benoit clearly did a net present value calculation, adding up the cumulative lifetime earnings of various compositions, then discounting the total into current dollars. He was then able to select songs that had the highest potential financial impact when covered on a jazz CD.
Pretty nifty, huh? And you thought David Benoit was just a pianist.
This clever mathematical analysis came up with a track list that goes from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” to Elton John’s “Your Song.” Then stops at the Doors “Light My Fire” and then goes on to the Beatles and other hit artists. Of course, some jazz songs are a necessary evil on a jazz CD. So what creative choices Benoit makes here! . . . with “Song for My Father” and “Waltz for Debby” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” Oh, and did I forget his version of Dave Grusin’s “Mountain Dance” – now that is one song that we haven’t heard enough, huh?
I’m not sure how “The ‘In’ Crowd” and “The Girl from Ipanema” and Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” got left off the playlist. But I guess you always need to save something special for the sequel.
More jazz artists should follow Mr. Benoit’s lead. Imagine all the pain and heartache they could avoid. They could play entire concerts knowing with confidence that their audience was familiar with every song. Even your grandparents and in-laws will hum along with smiles on their faces. Jazz, that bristly and imposing art form, can now be as warm and cuddly as a teddy bear straight out of the microwave.
But Benoit takes it one step further. He constructs these cool diatonic solos that get rid of all that ugly chromaticism. All those sharps and flats that have been holding jazz back for decades . . . whoosh, they’re gone! Gosh, it's about time that some brave jazz artist returned to chord tones as the basis for a solo. Charlie Parker tried to convince us that an improviser could use any note against any chord. But what sounds better than the tried-and-true pentatonic scale? If it was good enough for Stephen Foster, it should be good enough for the rest of us.
But, of course, Kenny G is still ahead of the game. After all, the inimitable Mr. G. once held an E flat note for 45 minutes. Face it, you can’t get any smoother than that.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia.