Chicago, Commentary, Music, Sociology

The jazz repertoire in action

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It’s that time of year again and the Chicago Jazz Festival is right around the corner. While Chicago’s jazz scene is active year-round (check one of these calendars for some upcoming shows) the festival offers audiences a unique opportunity to see some of the best local talent playing together with some of the international stars of jazz. And whether performing hard-bop improvisations over standard tunes, or completely unrehearsed avant-garde jam sessions, Chicago jazz masters like Mwata Bowden or soon to be octogenarian Fred Anderson always make it seem easy, sparking awe in those of us who still remember struggling through “Basic Basie” in junior high band class. So how do they do it?
In Robert R. Faulkner and Howard S. Becker’s new book “Do You Know … ?” the authors—both jazz musicians with decades of experience performing—present the view from the bandstand, revealing the array of skills necessary for working musicians to do their jobs. While learning songs from sheet music or by ear helps, the jobbing musician’s lexicon is dauntingly massive: hundreds of thousands of tunes from jazz classics and pop standards to more exotic fare. Since it is impossible for anyone to memorize all of these songs, Faulkner and Becker show that musicians collectively negotiate and improvise their way to a successful performance. Players must explore each others’ areas of expertise, develop an ability to fake their way through unfamiliar territory, and respond to the unpredictable demands of their audience—whether an unexpected gang of polka fanatics or a tipsy father of the bride with an obscure favorite song.
“Do You Know … ?” dishes out entertaining stories and sharp insights drawn from the authors’ own experiences and observations as well as interviews with a range of musicians. Faulkner and Becker’s vivid, detailed portrait of the musician at work holds valuable lessons for anyone who has to think on the spot or under a spotlight.
Read an excerpt from the book.
Also check out some of these other related books on jazz and jazz in Chicago:
A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music
The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism
Come In and Hear the Truth: Jazz and Race on 52nd Street

Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans