Sunday, July 13, 2014

How much do we know about the standards we play?

How much do we know about the standards we play? I grew up at the time when the "holy" real book was the only thing you thought you really needed. Find a dodgy music shop with this mysterious hand written book of charts, and you were off. You knew every tune you ever needed. Get together with a bunch of like minded friends and the only question was how to find the first gig.

Twenty years on, that same trusty book is ragged and tattered. It's seen hundreds of gigs and rehearsals and it's served me well. Maybe by now I don't even have to take it around with me, as a lot of the tunes are ingrained in my memory. What a fabulous tool this has been.

So how many of these 600 odd tunes do I really know well?

The honest answer is hardly any. Yes, I can play a number of them. At one point or other I may have even played most of the book. Some are even recorded. But do I really know them? The truth is no.

I've known this for a long time. Admittedly the gigs in which I have to play these tunes now, are very few and far between but this is not an excuse. How can something that I thought so useful as a teenager really be quite the opposite? Not only that, it is well known that the original Real book is full of mistakes that I certainly wasn't aware of or bother to check years ago.

I definitely did something wrong.

The clincher came when I read this article about Blue Bossa by Rachel Bronstein on Don Sickler's website. It reminded me of something I was telling myself for a long time. Every song, tune, composition has a story behind it. In order to do it justice, to play it well, we must surely really know these things. This wonderful article illustrates just how far I was from this, and how sad it is that even the most famous of standards, I know almost nothing about.



Rachel Bronstein said...

Thanks for the shout-out! I'm glad my article made you think. Since I've started working with Don, I've begun thinking about jazz standards like little poems: I can enjoy them how ever I interpret them and with whatever meaning I derive from them, but man, it feels great when you get that nugget of information that makes you realize a-ha! So that's what it really means!

Matt Littlewood said...

Thank you for your feedback :-)I really enjoyed your article and others on the site. I look forward to reading more.