Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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December 17, 2009 | Jazz and Bluegrass; How close?

NPR has a terrific online article in their weekly "Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler" series highlighting five incredible "hybridized" audio tracks from some progressive fret musicians including Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, David Grisman, Andy Statman, and Tony Rice. The thrust of the article is the similarities between the genres, and we concur. Despite the differences in complexity of chord structure (including complicated chord extensions and rapidly shifting tonal centers) and urban vs. rural origin, there remains several common threads between the uniquely American grown styles.

Take some time to listen to the tracks.
Read article: NPR Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler; Jazz and Bluegrass

Just what are the similarities between jazz and bluegrass?

Variations on a Theme. You'll find jazz and bluegrass thrive on the conflicting elements of predictability and exploration. Both use the familiar tune as a jumping off point for improvisation and deviation, taking the rest of the ensemble and the audience on a creative journey, but the basic background chord structure remains the same. There is always a fabric of familiarity, something for the players to keep in common as they try new melodic riffs and explore the registers of their instrument using rhythmic motifs from the original melody.

Moments of virtuosity. The degree of "flash" varies with the level of musicianship, but it can be argued that both formats give the player the opportunity to be him/herself. You can get the blistering Dizzy Gillespie gymnastics, or the finesse and subtle nuance of tone in Miles Davis. You can get the unique signature styling of Bill Monroe, or the melodic dynamo and fretboard pyrotechnics of Ricky Skaggs.

Common library of "standards." Both styles are easily participatory with a good working knowledge of several dozen "classic" tunes. With a respectful musical ability, you can sit in on most jam sessions equipped with these familiar tunes in your quiver. Bluegrass has its own set of common songs, and of course jazz has its "standards," documented in what's established as a "Real book." It's amazing how no matter where you go on the planet, you'll find a commonality of songs.

Universal format of performance
. Participation carries a common set of community "rules." Those who gather will let someone set the tempo, kick off the tune. There may be discussion prior as to who will take solos, or there will be an organic "understanding" of who goes next. In a good session, players will be considerate of their soloing time, reciprocate, and not hog the show. Of course every jam or performance will have its own outcome and variety of individual personality, but jazz and bluegrass are amazingly similar in the trade-off.

It's all good.

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Respect the Silence

Posted by Ted at December 17, 2009 3:02 PM

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