Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Feel vs Content

Decades ago I went to a club in Chicago to hear some local legends play. They were the venerable "old guys" that some of us younger players were supposed to be in awe of. I remember sitting there thinking that this was supposed to be really good; I was supposed to feel transported by this music. But the truth for me was that it didn't sound particularly good to me. The friend I was with summed it up pithily: "This music feels a lot better than it sounds." In other words, the rhythm section was happening but the soloists sounded pretty tired and uninteresting. Since then that criterion has been central to my ability to judge the music I play and the music I hear.

Sometimes the groove can be great, but the other aspects of the music are flaccid. The tune, singer or soloist can be boring or lame. So it feels good but doesn't sound very good. Or there can be a great composition or an inspired performance by an individual, but the rhythm section might not be clicking. Sounds good, feels bad. When you get both aspects of the music in the plus category, then you've got something extraordinary. Both of Miles' quintets are in this lofty category.

I've been playing this music for more than 30 years, so I do have an idea how it's supposed to sound and feel. As a bass player I'm primarily responsible for the feel side of things but I give almost equal mental bandwidth to the "sound" as well. I try to stay with the song form, play in tune, and shape good bass melodies, whether I'm accompanying or soloing.

There's an argument to be made that if it feels good (ie, if the rhythm section is taking care of business) then everything else will fall into place. I have witnessed that. But there are occasions when no amount of groove can compensate for an untalented horn player or singer.

So, this blog: I'm going for feel AND content, striving for a balance between readable and provocative.

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