We must contemplate the weighty.
Jazz is, by its very nature, a conversational and dynamic art form, in which performers improvise on a chord progression or on a series of scales (the latter called “modal jazz”).
In theory then, as in a spontaneous oration, there is no “right” or “wrong” in a jazz performance, just better or less better choices. Consequently, a given jazz performance is just one of a virtually infinite number of possible jazz performances. The fluidity, spontaneity, and variability of the art constitute the very core of its nature.
Which brings us, then, to the potentially problematic issue of a “studio jazz recording.”
We backtrack, momentarily. There are two sorts of jazz recordings: live recordings and studio recordings.
A live jazz recording captures a particular moment in time, a “slice of musical life”: a “slice of musical life” aided, abetted, inspired, and magnified by the presence of an audience.
But a studio recording is another thing altogether.
A studio recording is an object: an edited, multi-take, often over-dubbed document that seeks to create as perfect a performance of a piece of music as possible. In the concert world, in which compositions are entirely notated (scripted!), this means performing (and recording) a piece of music with the intention of adhering to what a composer notated (scripted). Yes, there will always be a degree of “interpretive license” with a piece of wholly scripted concert music, but that interpretive wiggle-room precludes altering a composer’s notated pitches, rhythms, articulations, and tempi.
In a recording studio, then, it is possible to create a semi-definitive performance of, say, a concert work, the designation “definitive” based on adhering to and reproducing the notated/scripted score.
But jazz is not a “reproductive” art. During the course of a jazz performance, there are no scripted absolutes – pitches, rhythms, dynamics, articulations – that must be followed. Everything is fluid; every performance is, by the nature of the genre, different.
As such, a live jazz recording, as representative of the spontaneity of a particular performance, as a “slice of musical life”, is conceptually legitimate as it claims only to capture only a particular performance.
As opposed to “studio jazz recordings”, which are, conceptually, problematic. That’s because a studio recording is, by its nature, a calculated production. There will be multiple takes; there will be edits; the spontaneity and flow that are intrinsic to a jazz performance will be replaced with decisions regarding various takes and edits, all based on what sounds “better” and “less better”, a sort of post-facto manipulation that is, in fact, the antithesis of what jazz is all about.
Now, bear with me.
In fact, I love studio jazz recordings, because they show us our favorite performers at their ideal best. But having said that, we cannot take any jazz recording as being “definitive” because due to its spontaneous and improvisatory nature, there can be no such thing as a single, definitive jazz recording.
Except. (I figure you expected an “except”, or at least a “but.”)
Every now and then, a jazz artist or ensemble will record what is called a “concept album.” It is difficult to define exactly what constitutes a “concept album”, although I will try. It is an album in which its material describes some central theme or idea, an album in which the cumulative whole is greater than its individual parts.
In such cases, then, the album itself, taken as a whole, is the point of the musical exercise, and not the individual numbers contained therein.
Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (although we should say Miles Davis’ and Bill Evans’ Kind of Blue, as Evans wrotetwo of the five pieces on the album, Blue in Green and Flamenco Sketches) is just such a concept album, and in this way it transcends being a mere “jazz album” featuring a series of otherwise unrelated cuts.…Become a Patron!