[JPL] Guitar vs Piano

Jae Sinnett jaejazz at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 6 13:08:43 EDT 2006


Jim, 
   
  "How do you estimate your listeners' response to piano or guitar as the 
principal harmonic voice in an ensemble - a few phone calls or ? Do 
listeners actually think about or discuss musical textures with you?"
   
  These are good questions. I'll answer yes they do but not in those terms. I only used the word "textuxes" because I believe most on this list would have an idea what I'm talking about. The listeners in general wouldn't or rarely would use this word when describing musical application. That said, the comments many times are in direct reference to textures but not articulated as such. Example...."Jae, that track you just played.....I loved the guitarist and saxophonist but not together for some reason. Their sound didn't blend to me." I played one of the Origin releases but can't remember which one at the moment. 
   
  Over the years this is one of the things I zeroed in on.....listener interpetation. Through many discussions I've noticed that musicians favor this combination more so than average listeners. This is not to imply that I won't play this set up on my show but I notice the response is very different then when they hear piano in the same context. I've been trying to figure out what it is "they" are or aren't hearing with the guitar in the quartet setting. I also noticed that guitar tone makes a significant difference. The response to the guitar is different when it's featured in the trio setting or as I mentioned in my initial post, with the piano or organ. I get responses all the time from listeners hearing guitar when it's played in this line up but rarely with horn, guitar, bass and drums. The Mort Weiss and Terry Gibbs previous recording are just two good examples in how listeners respond to guitar with additional chordal support. 
   
  "First, I don't think you can be a musician and not have it be a major influence what you choose to play on the radio."
   
  Absolutely. When I first started as a programmer I approached it from the musician perspective. It soon became apparent that wasn't the way to do it but I realized it could be a major asset to my program if I could figured out how to incorporate the musician part of me in my program. One of the things I personally think we've underestimated in jazz radio...is the audience desire for information. I've said repeatedly over the years that the core problem with jazz is that the largest portion of the jazz listeners simply don't understand what they are hearing......but they want to understand. The trick is how to do with without as you say...overt pedagogism. My research over the years as to why folk contribute to my show has just as much to do with the commentary as the music. They learn something.     
   
  "I preferred the guitar because it was more open and gave me, the horn player more choices because it provided less harmonic texture."  
   
  This is something similar to what Anton shared with me. I have always been curious as to what the horn players are hearing when playing with guitar vs piano and vocalists. The differences. Dizzy talked about how all horn players - actually all non pianists..........should learn piano .....simply because you can "see" the harmony. When I first read that interview where he talked about this I didn't understand. Over the years with my harmonic and composition study I now get it. The piano has everything there you need. It ultimately becomes a sound preference of the musician once a strong fundamental music foundation has been established. 
   
  "Please don't take this personally, Jae - I love drummers like Ed 
Thigpen, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Brian Blade to name just a few 
examples. But just as not every tenor player is another Coltrane, not 
every drummer makes a positive addition to the group he/she is playing 
in and there have been some undeniably wonderful groups that included a 
guitar but no drums at all."
   
  Funny. In fact Jim, if you remember there was a song on my "Better Half" CD called "Another Fall." It's written for solo piano and I think I remembered you playing it. How many drummer led sessions have you heard where there's a song that doesn't feature the drums? I actually wrote a few pieces that weren't written with drums in mind. I do that for various reasons.....for dynamic and textural changes....and because that's how I hear the music...without drums. Live with my group it also gives me time to enjoy the wonderful pianistic ability of Allen Farnham. You're right...take out the drummer at times and it definitely creates a different listening experience - particularly after you were just listening to something with drums. This is also a revealing situation for the other musicians in reference to how good their time is.  
   
  "I think guitar and piano together is more problematic because there's more likelihood of harmonic clashes unless each plays way less when the other solos, but it's a nice combination when it works."
   
   This situation as you know requires intense listening and communication...before hand. Piano voicings can be radically different than what a guitarist can play. That's one of the strange things about advanced harmony. You can have the same chord - voiced or structured in different ways and it can present a terrible clash. Hence the necessity of communication. I'm reminded of an interview I did about a year or so ago with Gary Burton...... 
   
  At that time he had vibes, guitar AND piano in his band. The first question I asked him...on purpose I'll add to break the ice....was....didn't he think that set up was a harmonic accident waiting to happen? There was this long pause and then he broke into laughter. I had only met him once and he didn't know I was also a musician. This is interesting because most of these jazz "stars" don't think programmers know much about music. Truly. It's a revealing disposition and I would suggest to any programmer interviewing these jazz greats to come out of the gate with one of those type questions and I will guarentee you'll have the best interview. I surprised Gary and we ended up talking for about an hour. The same when I interviewed Herbie. His management kept telling me I had only 10 to 15 minutes with him max. We ended up talking for about an hour and a half. I had to cut HIM off. The first question I asked him was how did Tony's ride cymbal definition affect his rhythmic
 direction with Miles?
   
  Sorry for the length here Jim. Your response gave me much to think about. I'm curious about these things and I know listeners are as well. They may not understand what it is they hear but they want to know. My view is that it's always best to talk about it because someone somewhere will get some infomation they didn't have before that will help them in understanding more about this great music. 
   
  Jae Sinnett




Jim Wilke <jwilke123 at comcast.net> wrote:
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Jae,

I don't think it's a matter of either/or, but your questions do raise a 
few questions of their own. First, I don't think you can be a musician 
and not have it be a major influence what you choose to play on the 
radio. You hear music with more acutely attuned ears than a fan - but 
on the other hand a DJ who's a non-musician may be hearing music more 
as the average (non-musician) radio listener hears it. Should the 
programmer be encouraging more understanding in depth of what's going 
on musically, or just feed the audience what it already knows and is 
familiar with? Most of the great DJs of the past advanced their 
listeners' knowledge and appreciation of jazz and were happy to 
introduce new styles and personalities rather than dwelling on the 
past. Personally, I think the programmer should lead the audience... 
not in a pedagogical manner, but by providing good information and 
quality new music - not merely the tried and true, the expected. The 
problem with audience research is it only tells us what the audience is 
already familiar with, not what they might be enthusiastic about if 
they heard it.

How do you estimate your listeners' response to piano or guitar as the 
principal harmonic voice in an ensemble - a few phone calls or ? Do 
listeners actually think about or discuss musical textures with you? 
I think texture is a very important consideration for programmers in 
the overall arch of a show - it should be neither all complex, nor too 
simple - the same way an experienced musician puts together a set in a 
club. Neither all burners nor all ballads, and a variety of solo 
features from tune to tune. These things should also apply to jazz 
radio programming. Sadly, individuals are increasingly excluded from 
the music selection process in many radio stations, the computer does 
it. Unfortunately it sometimes seems like it's the right music in the 
wrong order... the iPod shuffle effect.

Back to the piano/guitar question, as a saxophonist I worked in 
quartets with both pianists and guitarists at different times and 
personally I preferred the guitar because it was more open and gave me, 
the horn player more choices because it provided less harmonic texture. 
My model at the time was the Hal McKusick Quartet with Barry 
Galbraith, and later the Paul Desmond Quartet with Ed Bickert and the 
Sonny Rollins Quartet with Jim Hall. Think of Desmond with Brubeck, 
and Desmond with Bickert and you get a great example of the contrast. 
Personally, I love the airy feeling with the guitar backing the horn 
with fewer chords. I know there are some singers who feel the same 
way. None of this should be taken as dismissive of the role of piano 
in jazz - that's a ridiculous thing to suggest (some of my best 
friends... yadayada). I think guitar and piano together is more 
problematic because there's more likelihood of harmonic clashes unless 
each plays way less when the other solos, but it's a nice combination 
when it works.

I'm listening to the Patitucci CD as I write this. I love the writing 
for string quartet, one that really jumped out at me was the Theme & 
Variations for 6 String Bass and Strings - with no drums. Now, this 
may be heresy in this particular company, but I don't believe drums are 
necessary in every jazz ensemble, nor in every tune played by a jazz 
group that includes a drummer. Some of my favorite drummers know when 
to lay out - completely - for part or even all of a tune.

I've really enjoyed a lot of duos and trios without drums beginning 
with the King Cole Trio, the first Oscar Peterson Trio, the Jimmy 
Giuffre 3 with Jim Hall and Ralph Peña, up to last Tuesday night when I 
listened to Bucky and John Pizzarelli playing at Jazz Alley as a guitar 
duo - no lack of swing there, and it was very satisfying musically. 
Recent drummer-less CDs by Jiggs Whigham & Wolfgang Köhler, Rich Perry 
& Harold Danko, and others provide a great sound and "feel" without a 
sounded beat from a drummer. I've seen audiences drawn in to groups 
like these because they hear subtleties and textures more clearly when 
not masked by the ride cymbal, hi hat and snare. I think drummer-less 
groups sound especially good in a small cafe or bar.

Please don't take this personally, Jae - I love drummers like Ed 
Thigpen, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Brian Blade to name just a few 
examples. But just as not every tenor player is another Coltrane, not 
every drummer makes a positive addition to the group he/she is playing 
in and there have been some undeniably wonderful groups that included a 
guitar but no drums at all.

Thanks for allowing anyone to jump in on this.

Jim Wilke
Jazz After Hours, PRI
www.jazzafterhours.org



On Thursday, October 5, 2006, at 02:37 PM, Jae Sinnett wrote:

> I have perhaps an odd couple of questions......but I'll set it up with 
> somewhat of an explanation. As a musician I've always appreciated the 
> interesting harmonic avenues jazz explores. In fact I'm fascinated 
> with it. From a chordal perspective it sort of doesn't matter if it's 
> piano or guitar but I do have a preference for the piano. I've started 
> noticing in radio.....the listening audience does as well. Something 
> about....lets say the quartet with horn, guitar, bass and drums. Many 
> seem to have problems with the "textural" part of this set up. It's a 
> different "hear" for sure without the piano.
>
> While both the guitar and piano can create interesting harmonic 
> textures the piano has more of a favorable response from listeners - 
> on the radio. This could have something to do with the comping 
> differences the piano can bring to the music. Like being able to play 
> a line and comp with it but some will say the guitar works better with 
> the horn. There's also more harmonic choices you can make on the piano 
> at any given time. The guitar seems to work better WITH piano or organ 
> or solo and interestingly enough....in the trio setting with bass and 
> drums - with listeners. With the horn though - sax, trumpet, etc. - 
> its textual significance seems to change.
>
> I'm curious if others hear it this way or how you hear this set up 
> and if you notice a similar response from your listeners? I realize 
> this gets somewhat into the musical realm of discussion but I think 
> anyone can jump in on this. I would also like to know the musicians 
> perspective on this - instrumental and vocal. The vocal thing always 
> intrigued me and how they intrepret singing with guitar or piano. Ella 
> loved singing with Joe Pass. What do singers hear differently when 
> working with guitar players vs pianist and visa versa? I had some 
> interesting conversations with some listeners and musicians recently 
> about this. Actually just had a great conversation with Anton Schwartz 
> and he shared some informative thoughts from the perspective of the 
> saxophone with guitar. I've always thought about this but what 
> triggered this thinking this time was the new Patitucci release with 
> Adam Rogers and Chris Potter.
>
> Jae Sinnett
>
>
>
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