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The Tristano school and time

Posted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 4:08 pm
by ryan
Lennie, Lee, and Warne could all play a steady tempo. I've heard all of them rush, I've heard all of them drag. Lee has a special thing going in the last decade, I'll get to that in a second.

Anyways, you hear these three on the old records together, or even when the group had split up, and they can lay 8th notes right into the pocket if they want to. Then why is it that, with few exceptions (Alan Broadbent has a gorgeous time feel), other Tristano students are lacking in their ability to construct an 8th note line, and to perform it with a steady tempo.

I cite several examples. Connie Crothers on Youtube, when she gives an example of improvising several choruses on What Is This Thing Called Love gives no regard to a steady pulse. She is improvising rubato the entire time (with the wrong definition of the term). There are also videos of her with an alto player, and even with the rhythm section, I never feel a strong 8th note in her playing.

Similar with Sal Mosca, but not as extreme. I confess that all I have heard of him is from the new "Unsung" excerpt available on Youtube. He seems to know right where the quarter note is, have a vague idea of where the 8ths in between are, and then disregards them in a sort of haphazard way.

With other Tristano students, or the students of prominent Tristanoites like these two, the lack of steady time is even more prevalent, and honestly quite annoying.

Why can't Tristano students play in steady time? It makes no sense, considering that he is often quoted saying that you have "to put every note right in the pocket."

Lennie always seems to have a good enough 8th note going. Warne's kind of floats around, often behind the beat, but it still feels steady. Just ethereal in a way. His tone contributes to that as well. Lee, in the Lennie years, had the steadiest 8th note of them all. As time has gone on, he has learned to stretch the time within phrases, keeping steady time on large intervals, while letting it fluctuate within. This comes from his self-described process of trying to emulate a singer's phrasing.

On the record Another Shade of Blue, he opens with a solo chorus on a blues. In a phrase starting on bar 6 and terminating in bar 8, he rushes considerably. However, if you listen from the beginning again, he starts off with a quarter-note based idea that very clearly states the tempo. If you tap along with this, from bars 1-6, you will realize that he drags noticeably, and spends bars 6-8 doing the opposite. From bar 1 to bar 9 is perfect time, but the time within individual phrases is stretched.

Art Tatum is described as having a strong "big beat." That's why he could pull off those runs with groups of 10 or 11 or 27 or 5, or whatever strange number grouped into a large beat. The quarter notes were steady, and he could "squeeze" any number of notes in, beginning and starting where intended, right on the beat.

Lee is now like that, only with not only a strong "large beat," but a strong "long phrase" of time. And he can do what he wants within that. Now, I have also heard him drag a tune into the ground frequently...usually because the other players follow a back-stretched 8th note line as the intended tempo.

Anyways, the command of time from Lennie, Lee, and Warne, is never exhibited in any of the other prominent players. And I'm curious to why this is.

And the pianists (not really Sal Mosca) play with "Lennie's hand" as well. That flat fingered style...which is really inhibiting a lot of them. Lennie could get away with it somehow, but his flatness was also not as extreme as some of the people who saw that as efficient piano technique!

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 8:30 pm
by Adam
I've heard Connie Crothers, Sal Mosca, Liz Gorrill (Kazzrie Jaxen), Ted Brown, Lenny Popkin, Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Halperin among others, all play with steady time/pulse, playing strong 8th note lines.

I think I have seen the Connie Crothers video on YouTube you mention. She's demonstrating improvising......does she have to play with steady pulse? Can't she push and pull the beat as she pleases (hears and feels it)?

Crothers has been improvising for over 40 years with recording going back to 'Perception' in 1974. Study her recordings (easily available thru and you will discover she is a master of time, along with many of Tristanos students, who can play steady time when/if she wants.

Would Max Roach record a duo album ('Swish') with someone with bad time?

Have you listened to drummer Roger Mancuso? Check him out!!


Posted: Sat May 16, 2009 9:51 am
by Marv Friedenn
Lennie usually plays like he has a bass and drums pulsating at his fingertips even when he plays alone (some might even add a tap dancer), whereas Connie Crothers’ time is more floaty, less predictable, more like bubbles breaking than waves. So, as does Ryan, I too miss Lennie’s rumble in Connie’s ramble. But I love the meditative way Connie renders “Wow,â€

Posted: Sat May 23, 2009 10:08 am
by B T
Marv and Adam,
Those are great responses. I have also heard the above named musicians play strong 8th note lines, when they feel like it.
That is only one slice of the musical pie. To these musicians, improvisation includes that but much much more.

A very simple answer to Ryan's question is that these musicians are not machines.

Posted: Sun Jun 28, 2009 2:11 am
by Marv Friedenn
Ryan, you ask why Tristano students can’t play in steady time. This will probably sound off the wall but, assuming that in jazz's early years playing in steady time originally served to keep dancers in synch with the music, I answer your question by claiming that it’s been so long now since anyone has danced to jazz improvisation that musicians are no longer motivated to play in steady time. Keep in mind of course that long after couples stopped dancing to jazz in the 1950s and 1960s, the habit of playing in steady time was so deeply ingrained that it not only continued its career; one might say that its career took off again except now serving invisible dancers moving fantastically in the musician’s imagination until finally even the ghost dancers cleared out taking with them the motivation for playing in steady time. This left an empty space that subsequently was filled by a more harmonically exploratory but less rhythmically demanding and hence also undanceable style of modern improvisation.

I drew this conclusion while watching a dramatized documentary called “Isolationâ€

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:28 pm
by Marv Friedenn
Does Ryan correctly interpret Lennie’s advice “to put every note in the pocketâ€

Posted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:00 pm
by Marv Friedenn
Lennie’s admonition to put every note in the pocket echoes his well-known remark about Bud Powell (cited in Richard Tabnik’s article “On Zen And Jazzâ€