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Old 08-24-2009, 03:58 PM   #1 (permalink)
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You know, I get a little OCD sometimes, about music and sometimes about other stuff. But one thing that really surprises me about myself when it comes to my love of music is the way I gravitate toward concepts, latch on to them like a Rottweiler on a Raggedy Ann doll, and refuse to let go. I think this is a huge reason why I have such an interest in jazz. Jazz is very much about taking the tangible thought and emotion and making it conceptual, more vague, but at the same time, more specific.

Case in point. The song Mercy, Mercy, Mercy written by legendary jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul was first recorded in 1966 by The Cannonball Adderly Quintet, of which Zawinul was a member, on the album Live at 'the Club' (which, by the way, is a live album in the same vein that Tom Waits' Nighthawks at the Diner is a live album: It's really a studio album with an imported audience). This song is pretty much the definition of a contemporary jazz standard. It has been recorded and performed in so many different ways by so many different ensembles, from solo piano performers to orchestra-size big bands. Now the rub of this song is that it's one of those tunes where the feeling and emotion of the song is supposed to reflect the title of the song, as Cannonball Adderly Explains in the intro to the original right here:



As much as I love this song I've always had somewhat of a presumptuous attitude toward it in a couple of different ways. First of all, despite Adderly explaining the song as depicting the feeling of hopelessness when faced with adversity, I have never gotten that from this song, probably because this song has always filled me with a much more vivid impression. Mercy Mercy Mercy has always struck me as the quintessential "I'm so in love that I just don't know what to do with myself" song. Musically It has all the same telling gestures of being caught up in that same wave of emotions and thought processes. That being said, I guess my disagreement with the overall concept of the song pretty well explains my second point of contention, and that is that nobody, not even Joe Zawinul and The Cannonball Adderly Quintet, plays this song correctly.

On the piano, particularly the electric piano, this song has made itself quite the standard repetoire for jazz and blues afficianados, but there are two almost juxtapose qualities that any performance of this song has to have in order to get my seal of approval. One, it has to be slower than molasses goin' up a hill backwards and it has to have swagger. These are two qualities that tend to cancel each other out with all but the most patient and proficient players. Firstly Everybody want's to play this song too fast as seen here with this gentleman on the fender rhodes, which is as close to terrible as your gonna get:



Then you have the other extreme with those players who seem to be fairly in tune with the songs tempo, but the slow pace of the song throws off their ability to work the pocket with the bottom end chord work of their left hand which gives this song that essential "helpless" soulful inflection that makes it what it is. Like this kid on the piano, the swagger is all off:



Despite the fact that I could not find any marginally professional solo performers doing this song on youtube, (all of the professionally recorded versions have either been full ensemble or completely off the mark) its been an interesting experience seeing the various subtle ways in which this song can be interpreted by amateurs. Perhaps the best version I've been able to find was by this poor sap in his living room gettin' groovy on a Rhodes electric piano, which is really the only instrument that truly does the song justice. It's still, too fast, but it's as close as I'm gonna' get.



This song has been driving me quite crazy as of late. It seems to really be my musical holy grail, but I'll be having many more of these moments in the future as you will undoubtedly see.
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Old 08-25-2009, 10:02 AM   #2 (permalink)
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It seems to really be my musical holy grail
Is that because you play piano and are trying to find that balance between swagger and molasses going up a hill backwards? Or is it just in general.
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Old 08-25-2009, 12:46 PM   #3 (permalink)
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It's a feeling I know all too well when a good song just drives you nuts and you feel like you have to express something about it, no matter how long it ends up taking or how many people end up listening. I find myself doing the same with albums and artists as well and before I became a mod that sort of need for expression was virtually the main reason I kept coming back to this place. I know next to nothing about jazz and its many forms (let alone Mercy Mercy Mercy there), but I just thought I'd say that it's always great to see posts like this around here. So, yeah, I'll be keeping an eye on this thread - looking forward to your next entry (as such).
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Old 09-26-2009, 01:22 AM   #4 (permalink)
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One of the most famous quotes ever from a musician about music in general was given to us by the late Louis Armstrong when asked by an interviewer "What is jazz?" to which his reply was "If you have to ask what jazz is you'll never know". In the 40+ years since these words were uttered by mr. Satchmo himself the phrase has been modified and bastardized by everyone from pretentious boutique salesmen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And anyone who ever read any pretense or snobbery into Armstrong's remark need realize that he was actually speaking volumes on the essential nature of jazz as an artform and mode of personal expression.

While were on the subject of quotes by jazz musicians, Wynton Marsalis once said about the general perception of instrumental jazz "People will say all the time that without words jazz music is just too vague and abstract. Music as a language is never vague. It's words that are vague and abstract. Music is very specific. It's too specific for words.".

Both Wynton and Louis stumbled on something quintessentially important, yet equally ineffable in describing the core essence of what defines jazz, and that is jazz is about internal knowledge. It's about what you know and feel but can't complicate with words trying to express. Essentially Louis, in his own sweet way, quoted the Lao Tzu's Tao te Ching "Those who know don't speak and those who speak don't know". It's the knowing that's important. It's the knowing, the implicit, the ineffable that is jazz.

Take everyone's favorite jazz album ever Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. This album gets so much word of mouth lip service from people who believe it's their moral obligation to laud it as the greatest jazz album of all time. Is their any other genre that experiences such an unwavering unified opinion amongst it's fans regarding it's "best" album? I can't think of any. It does get to be a bit tedious when it get's to be a Pavlovian response to the question by jazz neophytes. What is it about this album that makes it so great?

Some will say that it's because the recording session was just business as usual for the hired guns involved, that it's Davis' vision that shines through. Some say, including myself at times, that it's Bill Evans' haunting yet subdued piano playing that unifies the entire album and makes it a cohesive whole; many have added that it really deserves to be considered as much a Bill Evan's album as a Miles' album. I might agree with that too. But there are thousands of amazing jazz albums out there. What really makes this one so special?

My response to this question is it speaks volumes to a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. I can only tell you that my particular love for one song on Kind of Blue pretty much seals it's reputation as a masterpiece.

The song Blue in Green, which I don't hesitate to confess that I usually skip halfway through the album to get to most of the time, conveys the depth and dimension of being in love as being anything but a black and white emotion. The constant pile of conflicting emotions and feelings, the introspection, the need to draw closer coupled with the spontaneous urges to draw away. The vulnerability beneath the surface of joy and passion. It's all in there in all of it's subtle glory. Even the title of the song implies the complexity inherent in the piece. Again, with this song Bill Evans adds something so essential to the texture and dimension of the piece.



I can hint at with words what this song means to me, but I can't tell you what Miles is saying. I know what he's saying, constantly I know, but...If you have to ask, well...
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Old 09-26-2009, 01:24 AM   #5 (permalink)
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i know
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i changed my mind; i changed my mind;now i'm feeling different

all that time, wasted
i wish i was a little more delicate
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i wish my
i wish my name was clementine - sarah jaffe
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Old 09-26-2009, 01:55 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by savannah
i know
I know you do.
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