Welcome to the Official Jeff Shadley Web Site. (I don't know of any unofficial
Jeff Shadley Web Sites.) Alas... maybe someday.
Here you will find much information about what I love to do more than anything
else in the world; make music; especially Jazz but also "Legit" which is a
term I use to mean what most people call "Classical". (The problem with the
term "Classical" is that Classical is a very specific period of music. Think
Mozart, early Beethoven, Hayden etc.. The term "Legit" to me includes everything
from Gabrieli to Philip Glass; although I'm not a huge fan of Philip Glass (sorry Philip).
Of course, that implies that Jazz is somehow illegitimate and I like
kind-of like that too.
I think of Jazz as the music of the underground. The music is all there but
sometimes it is intentionally obfuscated. It doesn't take a frontal approach. It
kind-of comes in the back door.
It is highly structured and yet, within that structure a great deal of freedom
is allowed. Even the freedom to improvise comes with limitations however. A
seasoned listener of Jazz knows the language. When the language is a dialect
that matches a known dialect, a tremendous amount of information is
conveyed. Jazz allows for new dialects too. This is Jazz's double-edge-sword.
We allow for a constant innovation and churning of what is the Jazz language.
But even new dialects are unlikely to "catch-on" unless they also demonstrate
an awareness of one or more known dialects.
I know some people who think that Jazz is just a mumbo-jumbo of random notes and
sounds that have no meaning. this is what Jazz sounds like to people who simply
don't know the language. It's OK for folks to not know the language. Jazz
is not for them.
My hope however, is that someday, everyone will understand that Jazz is not
random bovine scatology. Jazz musicians are certainly not charlatans! Well.. most
Anyone who has seen the movie called "The Gods must be Crazy"
might recall the scene where an African bushman hears a white woman speak
the first time. He observes:
"The funny thing about these
gods was that they couldn't speak.
They could only make chattering sounds like monkeys."
As we age, our ability to learn language diminishes. Surely you know someone
that was raised in a place other than where they live now who's accent sticks
out like a sore thumb. For them, language, dialect and accent were imparted
very early. It's difficult for them to change the way their brain creates words.
For some of us, it's difficult for us to change the way we _hear_ language. It's
normal. But it also means that sometimes we have a hard time learning new languages
and new music. How many of us listen to the same music we listened to
when we were young? I dare say a LOT of us. There is a tremendous market for
classic rock. This is simply because those of us who learned the language of
classic rock are now the ones with the money. If you're going to sell
toothpaste and cigarettes, a classic rock station is the way to go.
listening to those old songs from my childhood too. But not all day, every day. Classic
rock to me is like the pizza I used to eat when I was a kid. It tastes sooooo good.
The problem for some people is that they want to eat nothing but pizza
every day. And frankly, some of that pizza doesn't have all natural ingredients.
Pizza once in a while is great! Our bodies are _designed_ to eat pizza once in a
while. Maybe 2 or 3 times a week. But pizza every day for lunch will make us fat.
(Don't believe me? Look around!)
We have to vary our diet and we have to vary our music. I know a lot of folks who
say they don't listen to "classical" music. Of course this is a load of bull.
Anyone who has seen Star Wars has listened to "classical" music. then George Lucas
made Star Wars and every sequel that came after, he used "classical" music because
he knew he could make more money even _after_ paying the London Symphony Orchestra
than he could with any other kind of music. I put to you this assertion: classical
music forms the base upon which everything else (even Jazz) is built. John Coltrane
would not have had the tertian harmony system to build his "Coltrane Changes" on
without Gregorian chant which divided pitch into octaves, fifths and fourths. That
had to happen before Mozart could build his symphonies and Clifford Brown could
will the most exquisite improvised jazz to emanate from the bell of his
trumpet. What was lacking in Western music was what African Americans brought to it.
It's not that African Americans are better jazz musicians that European Americans.
It's just that we already had the European influence on music. We needed a breath
of fresh air that was provided by immigrants from the African continent.
Today, what we have in American music is simply stunning. There is no other
way to describe a Freddie Hubbard trumpet solo. I for one prefer to listen to the
music of those who think differently than I do. I'm always looking for diverse
(but substantial) influences. I try to imagine my brain changing when I hear stunning
music. I try to think of neural connections being made that would be impossible
without the opportunity to learn a new dialect or language. I'm not a licensed
medical professional but it seems to me that learning new music is a great way
to keep the brain limber.
But there are some things I've come to believe Jazz isn't. Not to say that Jazz never
dabbles in these areas but these things don't seem to me to be core to Jazz's
What most Jazz does seem to have in-common:
Power is not essential for Jazz. Jazz doesn't seem to require a deep throbbing
Bass Drum to get its message across. What delicate accents are added to Jazz's
higher-tuned Bass Drum are spontaneous rather than regular. Power doesn't seem to
require extraordinarily loud volume levels in order to create excitement. When
Jazz recordings are processed, the tracks don't have to be as "loud" as in
certain other types of music.
To me, this is an important fact. The message of Rock and Roll seems to be one of
commandeering the sonic landscape. It's a hostile takeover of the venue using
brute force if necessary. This kind of thinking is deeply entwined in post World War II
thinking. Being American means being powerful; or at least it means projecting the
image we have for ourselves as being powerful.
Jazz understands that all things change. Ultimately, we Americans will one day
reap the rewards of the seeds of force we are sowing now. Jazz understands that for
each and every force, there is an opposing one. Jazz by contrast is about style
Jazz doesn't seem to require much in the way of stress. You don't have to scream
jazz to say something meaningful. You can scream if you want but there's not
much evidence to suggest that you will garner more fans.
The preceding comments are not intended to belittle other music like Rock and Roll. I've tried
to play Rock and Roll. There is a right way to do it and my experience is that most Jazz
musicians don't know what the right way is.
I don't know why so many of my fellow Jazz musicians expect other people to hear
Jazz the same way we do. We have training in Jazz. We've practiced and studied for years.
Somehow, we think that if we could just play a little better, more people would like us when
what we really need to do to be "popular" is to simplify so more people can understand it.
Jazz music generally requires a degree of technical facility. You pretty much
have to be able to play your ax.
Jazz music generally requires a deep understanding of music theory. Jazz even
has a theory that is all its own. There are ways of making and analyzing music
that are unique to Jazz.
Jazz is personal. Like Rock and Roll, the very best recordings of Jazz are not
performed in a large Concert Hall. Even when Jazz is recorded in a large studio
such as New York's 52nd Street Studio, the music is close-mic'ed so the
affect of the room on the music is minimized.
Jazz seems to allow for moments of vulnerability. For example, it's not
uncommon to hear dynamics in Jazz. (in this case, the word "dynamics"
refers to a change in the overall loudness of the performance.)
Jazz music seems to have some degree of ambiguity to it. Chords are constructed
in such a way that they could mean any one of several things depending on their
context. This is why some many chords in Jazz are built on 4ths and why many
chords are spelled much the same and only the Bass notes clearly defines which
chord we are talking about. Even bass lines are walking bass lines. this
means that bass notes that are inharmonic with the chord itself are momentarily
Jazz music is compressed. In my lifetime, mankind has invented the technology for
transmitting highly compressed images over networks. Some networks are simple phone lines. To get
images through the network quickly, it just makes sense to "compress" the image first.
A great way to compress an image is to identify aspects of the image that repeat. If
you can do that, you don't have to send the repeating part every time. You just have
to tell the receiving computer "remember that bit of data I sent you a little
while back? Ya? Well, I'm not going to send it to you again because it's too long
and besides, you should already have it so please put that data again." So Jazz is
like that. Rather than play stuff you already know, Jazz explores new melodies
and new treatments of the music; variations if you will.
Related to the topic of compression is the idea that Jazz musicians always strive
to give you something original.
I remember hearing about
Glenn Fry of the Eagles telling Randy Meisner something like "You gotta sing Take
it to the Limit. Some of these people have waited a lifetime to hear
the Eagles do that song." The idea being that the audience wanted to hear the
same exact song played in pretty much exactly the way it was recorded on the record
Jazz Musicians would never play anything exactly like they played it on the record.
I for one, couldn't do it. Every improvised solo is different. Every time the Bass
walks, he picks different notes. The pianist almost never plays the dominant sonority
that is written. He will instead embelish with a #9, or a b5 or a 13 or a b9 or some
combination of alterations to a straight 7 chord. Since you've already heard the record,
why hear it yet again? Jazz musicians will improvise something new for you right there
Also related to the topic of compression is the fact that you can't listen to any
5 second chunk of Jazz and get much of anything from it. Because everything is
"compressed", you have to know where you are in the "form" to understand what's
going on. My ex-wife's Mother is a dear sweet woman who is highly intelligent
and a superb learner of languages other than her native language; English. She
has always be open with me about the fact that she doesn't enjoy listening to
Jazz music. After talking with her a while, I realized that she wasn't able to
keep track of where the music was in the "form". Improvised jazz typically plays
the melody one time at the beginning of the tune. This is the statement of the form.
Unlike other forms of music, the form (or chord progression) is assumed to be the
same for each chorus and your brain has to know where you are in the form. If you
only listen to a short 2 or 3 second cross section of the tune, you can't know where
you are. The notes and chords will be different every time through the form but it
is assumed that you know what chord went there originally. Unless you can do that,
jazz is pretty well meaningless. It's no wonder so many people think Jazz is
mindless mumbo-jumbo! it takes practice to learn to listen to Jazz and most
people don't see any reason to take the time to practice listening to Jazz when
they could just listen to something that makes it obvious where you are!
Jazz is genuine. Improvising takes every bit of skill and intellect you have. The
minute you master some lick or style, it's time to move on and try to grasp the
next one. But this is good. When you improvise to the highst level that your
abilities will allow, there is no way to censor the sound that comes out.
What people hear is really how you feel at that very moment. As George Burns, Groucho
Marx, Samuel Goldwyn are all credited with saying (and I'm paraphrasing here).
"The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you've got it made."
I'm kidding of course. But maybe they aren't? Dunno.. I've always wondered how the
recipients of Academy Awards really feel about receiving their awards. I mean, they are
getting an award for acting, right? If anyone could fake it, it would be
Jazz is in some ways Pollyannaish; candid and sometimes unreasonably optimistic.
The idea of playing anything other than the very best music and telling
the most truthful story about how they really feel at that moment in time
has never occurred to most Jazz musicians. Sure, Herbie Hancock and Chick
Corea (to a lesser degree) "sold out" but even their so-called sell-out
music is still very highly complex and I for one believe that they
really felt the way they were playing and so it falls within the broad
category of Jazz.
Jazz is Good music played by outstanding musicans. When arranged,
it is arranged by the very best arrangers. The first time I tried to find
Frank Sinatra records in the public library, I was actually surprised not
to find them in the Jazz section. I had to go to the Pop music section.
Somehow, Jazz seems to have absorbed the very best of what we used to call Pop music in our
country. But I think that's because Pop music used to be made by
the best musicians. I don't want to berate Pop music of today. But today's
Pop music is made by the best engineers and not necessarily the
best musicians. Michael Jackson's Thriller was an exception having been
produced by the great Jazz musician, arranger and trumpeter Quincy Jones.
I for one am flattered to be lumped into the broad category of works by
Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Niel Hefti and the likes.
But Jazz musicians won't simplify. If we did, it wouldn't be Jazz. (Recall taht Jazz is
genuine.) We all choose honesty over popularity.
Speaking of honesty, be sure to see
Mad Men of Swing's SummerStage show
will be some honesty in that show although it will be coded (kind of like Jazz itself) so
as not to offend anyone who doesn't care for the underlying message.