Get Real

The trombonist and singer Eric Felten chimed in the other day on the proposition that listeners deserve the break of being given something familiar to hang their ears on before the improvisation starts.

I enjoyed your post on the question of writing new tunes, versus playing something recognizable. Jimmy Knepper once told me that the main reason he wrote new tunes for his albums was so that he would get the royalty taste rather than the Gershwins or Victor Young getting it. Thus his boppish “Spotlight Girl” instead of “Stella by Starlight.”
When one thinks of the great eras, and styles of jazz, each has a distinctive repertoire that immediately comes to mind, songs that every musician of the era would be able to play if they were called on the bandstand. Was there a swing era player who didn’t know “Lady Be Good” or “Moonglow” or “Undecided”? Bop players who didn’t know “Scrapple from the Apple?” Hard boppers who didn’t know “Moments Notice?” Or anyone since who doesn’t know the essential tunes from the Miles canon? But this came to a screeching halt sometime in the sixties or early seventies.
For all of the revival of jazz performance in the 80s and 90s — and for all the tunes written on all those records — I can’t think of a single song that has entered the jazz repertoire in the last 25 years. It isn’t that there haven’t been any good songs written, just that no one has picked one up and repeated it. One would think that, with the tremendous success of Norah Jones and the fact that several of the songs on her first record were jazz-inflected, we would see a slew of players treating “Don’t Know Why” as a new standard. But if that’s happened, I’ve missed it.
Why? I’m not really sure, but perhaps it’s because very few players today listen to the records being made by their contemporaries. I know I’m guilty of this myself — when I go to the record store, there’s always a Basie record or some such that I don’t have that I’d like to pick up. Maybe it’s that there just haven’t been enough distinctive, compelling tunes written. But I’d be interested in your thoughts on why the jazz repertoire seems to have stopped with the compiling of the Real Book (hmmm, and maybe that might have something to do with it…).

Hmmm, indeed. I’d be interested in Rifftides readers’ thoughts.
Back when I was first attempting to play jazz, someone gave me a three-ring binder full of surreptitiously photocopied lead sheets with lyrics and rudimentary chord symbols. “Learn these, and you’ll be okay,” my mentor said. The degree of okayness that ensued is still up for debate. But I digress. That book was a fake book. The difference between it and The Real Book is that The Real Book is legal.
It has been a long week, full of blogging and travel, with more travel to come. My intention is to post again on Monday, but if I slip, put something you like on your CD player, Ipod or Garrard AT6, and wait for me, please. If you don’t know what a Garrard AT6 is or was, ask your dad. Or his dad.
Have a good weekend.

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