"The Logic of Jazz" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Mark Weinstein
12:06AM Apr 16, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm sitting here on stage in the beautiful art deco Empire Art Center in downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota. On the stage next to me is my father, a legendary jazz musician and in front of me are hundreds of wire radio fans who have braved you. You've braved the below zero temperatures to commemorate a wonderful milestone. This month. The show is 10 years old. Tonight, we'll be exploring the logic of jazz but before we do, I have never been happier and prouder to say wherever you are, wherever you're listening to this Welcome to why philosophical discussions about everyday life Life
I grew up hearing two types of music, Bebop jazz and Cuban salsa. Sometimes the jazz came from the stereo but more often than not it emitted from my father's flute. It was perennial ever present. I could not avoid it even if I wanted to. Salsa surrounded me to it was the heartbeat of the Hispanic neighborhood we lived in. When I heard my father play that it was always via trombone on recordings from a life he led before I was old enough to notice. My father is a musician that makes me his permanent audience. This is why I said I grew up hearing the music rather than listening to it. I listened to pumpkin ska, the music I chose for myself when I was 11. But I heard jazz. For me it was just as normal as sunshine and experience justice thoughtlessly, whatever tastes and jazz preferences. I have I developed without reflection or any deep knowledge. I had an issue intimate relationship with music, but I didn't understand it. On today's episode we're going to explore jazz but preparing to do so forces me to ask two difficult philosophical questions. How do we discuss that which we take for granted? And how do we investigate the involuntary soundtracks of our own lives? It would be easy for me to describe the emotions that jazz inspires in me, although they run deep enough that I probably ought to deal with my therapist before I do it before a live audience. But considering the logic of jazz allows me to investigate the parts I have no intimate connection to the craft the music theory, the conversational back and forth each album plays a part in the logic undergirds the rules and methods that allow musicians to play together that allows them to be improvisational, yet predictable. It tells performers what key to play in and how to hear each other. It gives them the structures to harmonize while having the freedom to assert their own voice. Knowing as little as I do about all of this puts me in a paradigm position. I'm talking about something I know as well as my own breath. But I'm participating as a novice. I'm comfortably at home, but I'm ignorant. Here's the thing. I suspect that the vast majority of people experience jazz the way I do. Most listeners aren't musicians and even fewer philosophers. People know what they like, but they don't know why they like and asking them to explain their musical tastes tends to make them uneasy. They become defensive, as if they're being asked to justify their emotions. Anyone can like something that isn't very good. But can we like something and be wrong? I'm not so sure. In 1965, john Coltrane released A Love Supreme one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. aficionados classify it as a modal or free jazz trains tone is precise, although not perfect, like Miles Davis this can be he weaves a saxophone through the other instruments, sometimes barely touching them in much The same way Michael Angela's God barely touches his atom. reviewers have described the album as a complete statement, listeners experience it as mystical. What a weird mishmash of technical and subjective terms my description of A Love Supreme is. modal and free jazz denote something specific mystical doesn't. We can objective Li compare Coltrane's tone with Davis's? But what does it mean for instruments to touch one another? claiming music is precise is one thing saying it's complete as another? What is all of this mean? Sure, it's coherent, but it's logical. How do you make objective statements about something that is so subjective? How do you explain the causal relationship between musical notes? When nothing in music is inevitable? These are the tensions that any musician takes for granted. To claim jazz is logical is not to say that it is only so to say it is emotional. It's not to say that it's arbitrary. The Jazz tradition is the ever expanding realm of permission. musicians have to find their own voices. It is born of European classical music and African rhythms of American ingenuity and the crushing in humanity of chattel slavery. As contradictory as this history is, the music still makes sense. It can be discussed, it can be explained, even if I personally am not competent enough to do it myself. So my father played jazz, and I heard it. And while his music meant something very different to him than to me, this is true of all performances. The artists in the audience share only brief touches again, like God and Adam, but that's the point, isn't it? It isn't the recording that matters. It's the people and their ephemeral connections. Louie Armstrong begat Miles Davis who got Wynton Marsalis, my father begat me his music begat mine. And these two people who live together in a small apartment in New York City, now meet on stage in Grand Forks, North Dakota, so all jazz, it's all improvisation and that if you don't mind me saying so is what makes it all so beautiful.
And now our guest Mark Weinstein is a professor of education at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He has a PhD in philosophy specializing in mathematical logic. He is also an award winning jazz musician with 19 albums to his name. His fearless World Music recordings fuse Bebop with Cuban, Brazilian African, Argentinian and Jewish Music tradition. I Pop's Welcome to why.
You know, I've been listening to these things that you do. And I always like the monologues better than anything anybody else's says.
So I'm gonna leave.
You know, the things you said are so incredibly profound as they always are in your monologues that I have no idea How to respond.
except to say
that jazz is a human phenomena. It's an interaction between people history, the instruments that they play, the audience's that listen, the economic environment that stifles or supports them. And throughout that jazz has tried to balance in a very strange way. Somebody said this about, we're talking about Andy Warhol. They said that fine art looks to innovation. And popular art looks to acceptance.
That's a cliche.
But jazz musicians live in that cliche because jazz started as Popular music, people playing music for people in venues where they were intended to entertain, to give background to give enjoyment to give cover to give noise, they've excuse for the nefarious things that were going on when the jazz musicians were playing. And at the same time, Louis Armstrong most essentially saw that as a vehicle to extend the music that he had inherited, from listening to brass bands from having to play brass band music, with fewer musicians and the brass band required with musicians that were less tutored than the best than the brass band tradition demanded. And he saw in the limitations of jazz, the possibilities of personal expression and that has persisted No matter how popular or successful, a jazz musician has been the struggle to get enough acceptance to survive and to find a way of innovating within a community of other musicians. Because although jails these listeners, jazz is first and foremost, a life choice of the musicians who dedicate their life to its performance. Okay,
I want to I want to hold off for a second on the sort of the relationship between musicians and I've been thinking a lot about a conversation that we had yesterday, you came to you Andy, you gave a masterclass to the to the jazz band, and you had a conversation with the director of the band and he was talking about his jazz life. It was incredibly interesting. And he said that he was inspired to jazz by listening to Doc severinsen. And we are in the land of Lawrence Welk, who also has a big band. Now I grew up, right. Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights. I'm your son. I hear about Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman and john Coltrane is the big band of Lawrence Welk and Doc severinsen. The same as the big band of Duke Ellington, is it? Is it just a regional difference because I know that the romance of jazz is much more about Southern African American Experience urban African American experience. Yet there are plenty of jazz lovers in this hall. Now so how do we balance that that Lawrence Welk culture with the Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong culture,
I love to listen to Lawrence Welk on television when I was a kid, because I loved music. And Lawrence Welk had Fine, fine, fine musicians. I used to watch that band and see them as a model of perfection because not one guy in that band ever played a note that didn't have a beautiful sound that wasn't perfectly in tune. That was perfect in the rhythm for the kind of music he played. Doc severinsen is one of the greatest trumpet players of all times. Technically, guy is a master. That guy's a monster. He made records that trumpet players full with a full with a floor, listening To his technical proficiency is unparalleled. And the musicians in his band including a trombone teacher, I want studied with got to play one 10th of 1% of what they were capable of playing. And they got very well paid for it. The guys in Duke Ellington's band, was stretched every single night of their life. The guys in Duke Ellington's band, who could play their instruments as well as the guys in Lawrence Welk had to play a level of musical risk. That's all I'm gonna say. I tried to think of a better word, but that's the best word. They had to risk. Somebody once said that a jazz musician has to play every night as his life as if his life depends on it. That's what jazz musicians do. The worst insult that you can say about someone who played a gig is that he phoned the gig
in. Okay, so so so what does it mean, to engage in a musical risk? I mean, obviously, right? There's, you play badly you lose the job, right? But there's a there's an artistic notion of risk. What does that mean? What does it mean to risk something when you're playing music?
Okay, what does it mean to play as if your life depended on it? It means that if you died the next second, you would be happy that you died playing that. That's the essence of what jazz musicians try for, to play everything they play with a total degree of engagement, and integrity, expressiveness And because musicians are egotists. And because musicians are athletes of the small muscles, so wonderful phrase athletes of the small muscles, a musician is as much an athlete as a quarterback, except his muscles are in his fingers, or the tiny little muscles around his or her mouth. So you always want to like every athlete, you always want to be at the peak of your abilities. You want to be performing in a way that shows the tremendous accomplishment, that's the result of a life of effort. So you put those two things together, tremendous emotional integrity, incredible physical demands. And because so far, we'll be talking about rock and roll, a degree of intellectual sophistication that comes from always searching for new harmonic, melodic rhythmic world influences, etc, etc.
So I'm already doing things a lot quicker than I had planned. But we talked about Louis Armstrong, we talk about risk. There's a very, very famous track by him, West End blues, which is influential in a whole bunch of ways. So what I'd like to do is play a little bit of the song, and why don't you tell us about the risk that he's taking, and what someone who is new to the experience of jazz as I think many of the students are in the room hear what they ought to hear
So when I hear that when I hear the beginning I always think of the Royal fanfare The king is coming and the trumpets Blair and in walks in the divine and I, I think of I think of Louis that way, and it's funny. There's a wonderful biography of Louis called pops. And he's quoted as saying, white guys always called me Louis and black guys always called me Louis and I'm not sure why. And so every time I say, Louis, I think Am I supposed to say Louis but that's a different conversation. What's happening? What What should we be hearing? And and why is this so important?
Okay? It's important because he's taking a tradition from the white band tradition of the late 19th century of coloratura trumpets solos. That beginning as he's playing is a thing that mimics what the great classical cornetta su played was Sousa, who was a soloist in the band did. He's playing an cadenza. He's playing and he's announcing the queen. The Queen is Is the blues. He takes that cadenza with all of that flourish with tremendous innovation in jazz. I can talk to you about his use of the triplets, I can talk to you about all of the things that he did that nobody did before that record. And then he plays a gorgeous blues melody, because it's not about the cadenza. It's about the queen. So, you sit there and you listen to it. And yeah, I stopped the music coming out. God forgive me. But I don't know if you saw my face when I was listening to it. I can't listen to that thing without paying attention to every single note because every single note is absolutely perfect. And nobody, nobody from his community. ever dared to what he just did. And by the way, after Western blues was released, every trumpet player in the country try to learn that cadenza. And most of them could play it. And none of them could play it.
So, all right, without, without slipping into therapy, what's it like to be part of that tradition to be a tradition? Which I mean, it's like philosophy, right? The very first day of an intro to philosophy class, we introduced students to Plato, possibly the greatest and certainly the most important thinker who ever lived. And we say two things, right? We say this is the foundation of certainly the entire Western tradition, whatever that means. No one we are going to read is going to be More important and more lasting. You're in your first week of college. Tell me why he's wrong. Right? There's this both awe inspiring and democratizing experience of philosophy that is both undermining and celebrating failure and success. I'm not entirely sure how to say it. And it feels like there's something similar going on there. How do you play knowing that? Louis did something which you'll never get to do.
Louis Armstrong was one of a bunch of trumpet players who lived the hardscrabble life, playing music and trying to survive. He was the original poor boy he was raised he learned to trumpet and the orphans home.
Duke Ellington said of him. He was born Poor and died rich and didn't hurt anyone along the way.
Well, he was a marvelous human being, besides being a great trumpet player, which is why he was so successful. And why, despite the fact that he had a completely unattractive voice, everybody loved every single note he's saying. I mean, he invented not having a good voice at all the rock and roll musicians now make a living off of. But that's not where I wanted to go with this. At the same time, that Louis played, there was a Midwestern white boy
named big spider back
who was the next great trumpet player who played absolutely nothing like Louie. And yet, he played with the same intensity and integrity. And between Louie and Bix, they invented the trumpets style that ended up giving you dizzy Gillespie on the one hand and Miles Davis on the other, that they showed that there were two sides to the trumpet. There was the flourish. And there was the vocation. There was the invocation and there was the avocation there was bringing the bravada out, and it was the intensity and self reflection. So Bix loved Louis and he found a way to be big spider back, and Dickstein made a half a dozen records with sort of weird almost Forgive me Lawrence Wilkie type bands. He played with Paul Whiteman, which was where Lawrence Welk got his ideas from of having an impeccable band of fabulous musicians playing music that people really like to listen to. And pick spider back fit into that. band. And that's a metaphor for what every jazz musician of genius did. They fell in love with the music, listening to the greats, and then figured out what they had to contribute.
When we come back, I'm going to play some contrasting music confessed to a great sin. And then I want to talk a little bit about music theory and how to start thinking about this as more than just the experience of listening. But for the moment, you are listening to Mark Weinstein and jack Russell Weinstein and a wonderfully engaged audience at the Empire Arts Center. In Grand Forks, North Dakota, you're listening to why radio and we'll be back right after this
The Institute for philosophy and public life bridges the gap between academic philosophy and the general public. Its mission is to cultivate discussion between philosophy professionals and others who have an interest in the subject regardless of experience or credentials. visit us on the web at philosophy and public life.org. The Institute for philosophy and public life because there is no ivory tower. We're back
with a philosophical discussion about everyday life. I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein. We're talking with Mark Weinstein about the logic of jazz I have a favorite jazz track. It's, um, we're gonna play it in just a minute. It's a musician Charles Mingus, who I love so much that we named our first dog after him. But I have this this guilt because I think this track is beautiful and challenging and rich. But I also tell everybody that it is the single best music to go into a carwash with that if you put Wednesday night prayer meeting on your stereo, just as you start going into the brush car, carwash, the images of the water and the brushes and all that it's almost like a Pink Floyd laser light show. And part of me loves that. And part of me feels incredibly guilty because I'm taking this thing that I know that I regard as as incredibly moving work of art and I feel I'm trivializing it. So I want to play it. Unlike you, Dad, to contrast a little bit with what you said about about Louis and about Western blues, and then either condemn you to hell, or or or, or really the philosophical question is, is there a right way and a wrong way to enjoy a great work of art like a piece of of jazz but actually Wednesday night prayer meeting
So that's probably my all time favorite track. Most people prefer Mingus on a different album. I think blues and blues roots is great. And I told you that once and in your Brooklyn way. You use the phrase you said, Son, you got taste in your mouth. Let's contrast that and talk a little bit about what we're supposed to do with it.
Okay. was being a father when I said your taste in your mouth. Give me I'm used to it.
Alright, so Mingus was a punk rock jazz musician. niggas was living at a time when jazz had become more and more authorial, more intellectual. Everybody was trying to play perfect. Everybody was trying to play sophisticated, and Mingus decided to dip back into not even jazz but pre jazz, gospel roots music, and he was a bass player so he couldn't show off like Louie Armstrong. bass players don't get to play fanfares, and he surrounded himself with musicians, none of whom was top rate. None of them. The only top rate musician played with Magnus was Eric dollfie. And Eric Alfie was so weird that nobody realized this topic. mangus surrounded himself with musicians who were solid, B plus a minus musicians. And he beat the music out of them in order for them to play jazz that reflected what he saw as the essence of jazz. I recorded an album with a great musician, a piano player. And he said that everybody says, jazz is America's classical music. And he said jazz is America's background music. So if the way that you get through the carwash is listening to me, Angus will power to you. Because Magnus was not trying to be a sophisticated clean, starched musician wearing a nice shirt. Nice fancy tuxedo He wanted to go back to what he saw as the basis of jazz, the dirt, the roots, the noise of life. And he did it through a sort of full kind of Southern gospel music. But that's not the sound. The sound is New York gritty, through the lens of Southern gospel music. And that's what the best jazz does. That's what Ellington did. He transformed everything he touched and made you look at many different things through the perspective of something else. Now, these are the great composers of jazz, Mingus, Ellington, and of course, the loneliest among the greatest of the three jazz composers.
Alright, so let's,
I'm sorry if the answer wasn't.
No, no, there's there's no, that's it. That's, you know, there's there's no right or wrong answer and why radio and for me, it's the exploration. And it's interesting because especially given what I talked about in the beginning of the show, the fact that you describe it as that gritty, New York pneus is, of course, something that resonates with me that brings it onto the the subconscious level. And so what I would like to do for a second, especially for the non musicians who are listening, is, I'd like to ask you a little bit about, for lack of a better phrase, the rationality of a musician. So jazz, jazz musicians often use what's called a fake book. And if you take a sheet from a fake book, The way it works is you get a sheet that's the name of a song almost always handwritten, despite the fact that it's printed. And on the on the musical sort of a hand written or sloppily music staff. And then there's what are called chord changes on the staff. So the musicians are all going to play E flat the They'll play D minor, they'll play whatever in order. And then there's usually a melody line, the fake book, you know, you're faking like, you know the song, the band gets that. And the band plays in unison, and whoever's playing the melody plays the melody. And then there's improvisation. And then there's room for each of the musicians depending on their role to create variations on the melody variations on the changes. In so far as you can talk to non musicians about this. What goes through a jazz musicians mind when they're looking at a fake book? And they know they're going to play some music? And they have to improvise. How do non musicians understand what's happening in that process?
Okay, so I'm gonna tell you a brief story, then I'm gonna do something that maybe you're not gonna like,
wouldn't be the first time
I'm going to give the audience a logic lesson. All right, but first story, a friend of mine, who's a historian of flute, said he was at a concert in the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and one of the greatest jazz musicians of all times, a Belgian harmonica player of all things called toots. Tillman's comes up on the stage of the Kennedy Center with this audience and tuxedos with a piano player, and in front of this audience of wealthy music aficionados, he turns to a piano player and he says, What do you want to play? And after the concert, this friend goes to somebody goes up to this friend of mine, and he says, wasn't that hokey? He said, you know, what, what was he doing? I was showing off. You mean he didn't know what he was gonna play. They weren't and my friend asked me What's going on? And I said to him, that guy toots, Tillman's and that piano player, have been playing songs, the same hundred songs, 50 songs, 200 songs, their entire lives over and over and over again. And he said, Let's play misty, which he had played 1000 times. It's because he really felt that that was the right vehicle for that audience. And he had perfect confidence that there and that's why I keep on talking about people that the shared experience of their plane would enable him to play a performance that was worth being in the Kennedy Center at $200 a seat. Now logic, I'm going to teach you all of logic or Right. And I'm going to use the same metaphor I use in my classes, and it's a little politically incorrect now with the horrors around us, but it works. Okay. If your heads chopped off, you're dead. Your heads chopped off. What do you know? Everybody?
very few of you figured that out. I'm a little disturbed.
If your heads chopped off, you did. You're not dead. What do you know?
Your heads not chopped off your computer. That's all it can do. That's all a microchip can do. It can do modus ponens and modus tollens. All basic logic is the result of those two rules.
Those are two Latin phrases for two basic But patterns are first
one is modus ponens. The second one is modus tollens. One way gets you something and the other way gets you rid of something. That's all a computer can do. And remember stuff and fetch, like a dog on command, get the ball.
The computer can do everything.
jazz musicians got 12 notes. classical musicians, got 12 notes. Some societies only have five notes. They're called pentatonic scales. Some societies they pretend to have more than 12 notes, but I really don't believe it. All of the music in the world comes at a 12 notes.
tell you one more story.
Jewish rabbi is brought before Caesar And Caesar says, I want you to tell me the entire Torah while standing on one foot. And the rabbi says do to others what you would have them do to you
now that's the Hillel. You got it backwards. That's Jesus don't
do yeah. Jesus was as good as hell. Well, don't,
they just said it differently.
So do to others what you would not
have others that would that witches do not do to others as hateful to you.
do not that which is hateful to you do not do unto others.
Okay? But then he says
the negative is different. It's but that's another conversation.
If you're a logician, you see that those two things are logically equivalent, but we won't get into that. But after he says that, he says, Now that you know it, go study
Because the golden rule,
the Maxim's of Jesus, the Maxim's of the great rabbis, are not words. They're instructions for life. The Fakebook, the chords, the 12 notes, the simple rules of combination that constitute harmony, that you can program in a computer easily, you know, taught to program in a person because people aren't as good at that as computers. Those simple rules are the beginning of our life. And music is a life. It's not logic. It's not math. It's life.
Okay, so So that leads to a question that I've really been looking forward to asking you and something that I struggled with for a while. I started taking music classes a few years back at UMD I ended up taking some music theory classes with Dr. Berry who I will say for all the audiences one of the single best teachers I've ever had in my entire life. She was astonishingly amazing. And music theory was incredibly hard for me, because as a philosopher theory meant something fairly specific. There was a why there were reasons that you could you could offer explanations and justifications and arguments for things. And music theory was about the relationship between notes. It was about what what keys are, include what notes What, what, how to spell chords, but there was no at least as I understood it, no, why there was no justification. It just is what it is. So a, is that true? When we talk about music theory, when we talk about these are the keys these are the progression So these are how you spell the chords that it just is there's no why and if there's no why, why? What? How can you have a system that doesn't have a justification?
Music Theory isn't music theory. Music Theory is a course that you teach people to teach them how to spell music. They call it music theory to distinguish it from music performance. Music performance is playing on an instrument. Music Theory is knowing the intellectual components that comprise what you play on an instrument. real music theory is like the relationship and now we're getting to my area of expertise. It's like the relationship between logic and meta mathematics. I could teach you a logic in two seconds. But meta mathematics is the study of logical systems. To understand why a computer using those two rules can do everything that a computer can do. Why arithmetic that any child can learn, morphs into calculus and morphs into number theory, and morphs into areas that are so incredibly difficult, because within the kernel of the components of music is everything that music becomes. So real music theory is not learning how to spell chords. It's analysis. It's taking a piece of music, once you know the alphabet, and figuring out how the difference between Bach and Hondo and Beethoven, Mozart and Charlie Mingus and Louie Armstrong in high emotion and everybody else, use those components to create music.
So is there no reason why a G scale has one flat? One sharp, right? I had a 50% Chance I blew it.
Is it I got the one right.
is a? Is there no reason why G has one sharp?
Sure. The reason is really simple. It's the reason that jack is spelled JCK because that's a G scale. Now, why is the G scale G scale? Because there are 12 notes and the 12 notes of white notes and black notes. But every scale has a certain pattern, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step.
Alright, let me start for the audience a second. For those who are not musicians or never taken any music classes, do your best to imagine a piano keyboard, because the piano keyboard is the best way to envision the relationship between notes. It's why I'm telling my daughter this who's in the audience somewhere. It's why no matter what instrument you play, you have to learn how to play the piano because it illustrates the relationship between The intervals but and and between the various different notes and when there's a flat and there's a sharp. And so what he's talking about white keys and black keys, he's talking about the piano keyboard and how it illustrates the 12 notes in their relationship.
All right, so so I wish I had a blackboard. So if you figure the piano keyboard and your play one note, there's either a black note in between or there isn't a black note in between, there's a black note in between, then that's a half step. And so the white note is a whole step. If there's no black note in between, that's a half step. So if you started see that then you play the whole step, whole step, half step, etc, etc. With all white notes. If you start on G, then in order to have that same ratio, you have to play an F sharp, if you start on F, in order to have that same ratio, you have to play a B flat.
Okay? So you're talking about ratios. And you say, you know, the G scale is the G scale this for the same reason that j is spelled j ck. jack is spelled j ck because there was an accident of history that then lent to a logical system based on the nature of our alphabet, the nature of phonetics, the nature of things that I don't understand. was music invented or discovered.
Okay, so you always want to talk about music and mathematics. So the pythagoreans Ancient Greeks developed an instrument that now every music student has to learn from, it's called a minor chord. What a mana chord is is a string pasted on to a piece of wood that has a ruler. If you cut the string in half, you get an octave. If you cut the string in thirds In three pieces, you get a fifth. So if you cut the string in a whole number ratio, you get different notes. If you pile them on one after another, but then octave reduce them into the same octave, you get some something like a scale. So that's a phenomena of physics. That if you cut a string in half, if you cut a string in the third, if you cut a string in a fourth, if you cut a string in the fifth, something happens. Now here's what's interesting historically. Why did the Greeks cut things into whole number ratios? That's because they were primitive mathematicians. And they didn't know decimals. So they cut things into whole number ratios. Because that's the word mathematics. They knew. It If you're going to tune a piano, then the ratios got a little funny, but that gets us into a whole other thing. So the question is, is the fact that music is 12 notes, is the fact that when we play later and play Jewish traditional music, we're playing the same three chords that every rock and roll band plays that every folk music plays. We plan tonics, the bass chord, dominant the chord that leads to the tonic and the sub dominant the chord that the tonic leads to. Why does own music has that? That's one of the mysteries of music theory theory. Is it something about the human brain? Is it something about the human ear? Is it something that shows that God in her wisdom has made the whole world comprehensible. And so when we listen to music, it makes sense to us. Because the very structure of our ears and our brain resonate with the basic structures of sound. That's metaphysics. That's mysticism. But the fact is that every society with the exception of societies that just have percussion instruments like Indonesia, uses some version, some similar version of the scale that you find just by going your finger with your thumb across a piano. Now, sophisticated societies have altered those scales slightly. And the scale of the piano is actually a compromise so that Bach could write something called the well tempered clavier here. Because if you do that per salary and sing with the string, an F sharp and a G flat are two different notes slightly. Now that gets really complicated, you have to be a music major. And I became a philosophy major, I became a philosopher, I was a music, I was a music major. I became a philosopher because compared to music philosophy courses were easy.
And I will, I will say, and I've said it for the record, when I started taking music classes at UMD, whatever was five years ago or so, hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
But the reason that basic music is hard is different than the reason why understanding why an F sharp and a G flatter are two different notes and how Bach resolves it so he can move more freely across the keyboard. Of course, the keys now jazz musicians That's what jazz musicians love to do. And I'd like you to play what you want to play. And I'll tell you what creativity in music is really about. Okay. All right,
so it's a promise. All right. Ashley, would you play john Coltrane's Giant Steps?
Okay, music has 12 notes 12 was interesting. Number, you can divide it by two, you can divide it by three, and you can divide it by four. Right? Okay. jazz musicians, everybody was divided into 12345678. That's the eighth version of the 12th. Okay, jazz musicians got sophisticated that's playing in one key, G major with the one shot. jazz musicians wanted to play all of the notes in between. and jazz musicians divided the scale in by four. So jazz musicians would play C, E flat, F sharp a C, divide the scale into four pieces that constitute what's called a diminished chord. And all of Bebop all of Beethoven can be explained in terms of using that diminish call as a pivot to fool around. Coltrane broke the octave into three parts,
just for those who don't know, an octave is when you're going up a scale, and you get to the same note, so C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, that's an octave.
All right, but here's the point. Everybody had broken down into four parts. He broke it into three. So he moved from a C to an E natural, to a G sharp to the sea. And that gave an entire generation of new jazz musicians. A whole new way of playing and that's why I told you that business about logic, because the beauty of creativity is to take something basic and fundamental, and explore it in new and different ways. And since music only has 12 notes, there aren't that many ways to cut it up. So creativity, and Coltrane made a revolution in jazz improvisation by saying you can change the way you cut through octave.
Okay, I want to throw a different piece of music at this conversation. It wasn't really I really I put it on the list because I love it and because it's meaningful for a variety of reasons and a family friend, Tony, who's who's passed away a long time ago. You Introduce me to this track. But I want us to talk about how we go from that kind of complexity to emotion and simplicity and how how the voice works with this system. So, Ashley, would you play Billy holidays? All of me?
Can't you see I'm no good with
So I almost didn't play this track because it breaks my heart every single time for personal reasons, but also because there's something about the way that Billy sings lips. That moment in the song cuts me. What, why? And I don't mean why because of my personal history. I mean, no one in my experience can do what Billy is doing and this is an alternative track this this this track took me a long time to track down. I used to have this track we shared a house for a while with with a guy named Tony, who I was Sort of growing up with and I shared a room with for a while because we were very poor. And when he died part of my inheritance was this a collection of vinyl Smithsonian classic jazz albums. And and this was on it and until the internet became the internet and until Apple Music became Apple Music. I couldn't find this version. I've heard Billy sing all of me in 10 different versions, at least. I love them all. But this why it's not about cutting up the scale. It's not about ratios.
What's she doing?
Okay, two things. The first thing it is about cutting up the scale is about ratios because it's a beautiful Melody because it does something very interesting. It goes to
changes key on the second chord.
And then it goes back. It goes, if you play in the key of C, it goes to C to A D major chord that has an F sharp, but then it goes back to C. So the very first statement of the melody takes a little detour and it's a detour that every other Duke Ellington song takes. It's an interesting musical detour, because it has a kind of poignancy. It moves away from the key, and then it comes back. So the song that she picked, had a kind of harmonic motion, that gives the the listener a sense of completion, because it's a tiny little like a little journey. And he's Haiku, that first phrase of that song, because that's where the harmony works. Billie Holiday, probably the greatest jazz singer that ever lived according to musicians, and by far the single worst singer in the entire history of music. She had a range of a little more than an octave. She couldn't do any of the things that Sarah Vaughn did. She couldn't do any of the things that Ella Fitzgerald did. She didn't have the chops, she couldn't improvise. She did do a single melody. And when she sang a melody, she never made it more complicated. She always made it was simple. If you listen to Lawrence won't play that melody. The melody he's going to play is going to have more different notes than the melody she sang. But as my uncle Irving the klezmer musician from Poland used to say she knew how to put over a song she She knew how to use the words and the inflection of her voice and a limited vibrato. Certainly not an operatic for Bravo to express something human. And she picked a song and all of me that had the harmonic basis to turn to make that movement possible. Now, notice what I'm doing.
I'm giving you a technical basis.
But what it is, is a human phenomena. The thing about music and this is what I said when I did my radio interview. The thing about music in general, is that people play it. And the thing about jazz is that people play it in a community of like minded individuals. who share a commitment to a very, very hard life in order to play this music, and Billie Holiday who had one of the hardest lives of all, epitomized for every musician she played with the integrity and emotional directness that every jazz musician strives for. And the emotional directness that every rock and roll musician achieves who has a successful record. Explain that. Rock and Roll speaks to people. That's why people make millions and millions of dollars. It's easy to express emotions, with an electric guitar with a wah wah pedal. But jazz musicians try to express that emotion in different ways. Billie Holiday did it was minimalism. I'ma Jamal, another great piano player did it with minimalism. Early Miles Davis did it with minimalism. Magnus did it with primitivism. Coltrane did it with some harmonic sophistication, and we cut off a solo. Now he's playing a million notes a minute. But it's all the attempt to try to take this social cultural phenomena. And I gotta say it this way, I'm sorry if I offend people, the social and cultural phenomena that jazz musicians created for themselves so that they could play jazz. And then use that as a way to express what they could contribute to that phenomena. And secondary jazz musicians like me.
Try As hard as they can
to make a contribution, and now that jazz is a university industry, and everybody is teaching everybody how to play jazz, everybody is aspiring to somehow get a piece of this is the same reason you're going to Venice. It's the same reason you go to the pyramids. It's you want to have a piece of something magnificent, and jazz is magnificent. And there is no greater joy in life than to struggle to get a piece of it. And every jazz musician does it a different way. Billy did it with no chops, no technique, but with tremendous heartfulness soul if you permit the expression
Alright, so then Guess I want to ask the question that Aristotle never got to ask unless you read the Name of the Rose, which is, where's the humor? I want to play another track, Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry song called mumbles
So first of all, for the record, we got a new puppy about five and a half months ago, and we discovered very early on that he loves So the song ears perk up and his name is Oscar so it works. This is not a sophisticated way to ask the question, so I hope you understand what I'm asking. It's not all serious, right? I mean, it's Billy has a hard life. Manga says a hard life. But there's room for levity.
It's serious, dead serious clock Terry's working musician and he wants to have a hit record. And it goes into the studio with Oscar Pettiford is one of the great piano players of all times, and they're messing around yes or no. And Louis played the blues and Mingus played gospel. And Oscar Peterson starts plays a gospel introduction and they play a gospel flavored blues
and Clark Taylor He
I don't know if this is a word that you can say if you're gonna have to bleep me out it's not a bad word. Clark Terry does a piss take on scat singing cuz scat singing is the thing that Louie Armstrong invented you know called Terry's a trumpet player just like Louie Armstrong. Louie Armstrong invented this singing without words. And it got him over his singing God him over his trumpet player. his trumpet playing made him a genius. revered among jazz musicians, but his singing is you know, it's a wonderful life. Everybody loves that song. Everybody loves Louis Armstrong. And so Clark Terry is taking gloom Strong's scat singing and taking it Absolutely to the furthest extreme of Bora Bora.
And he had a hit
He had a hit record. And musicians in order to live that lifestyle have to eat. So fooling around is dead serious if it's gonna give you a hit record. But the beauty of it is that he takes three basic things gospel, blues and scat, and in an absolutely masterful fulfillments blends them into something that even a dog can get off.
I was going to come up with another question, but I think we're done here. This has been a great pleasure. And I couldn't think of a better person to share 10 years with. Thanks, Dad. Thanks for joining us, someone.
I'm really proud of my son. I'm gonna be 79 years old. And I can think of nothing I wanted to do less than to freeze my whosits off in February. And I couldn't say no to jack. Because I think what he's done over these 10 years, and I'm a professional philosopher, I publish in this obscure field called the full Last week of chemistry, I mean, I teach teacher education. But I published in all this obscure fields. what he's done to philosophy is a miracle. He's made philosophy something that people can relate to. In the same way, that when you go to an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, they're playing john Coltrane.
Well, let's plan for another miracle in another 10 years. You've been listening. You've been listening to mark Weinstein, jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I will be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein. We have been talking with Mark Weinstein about the logic of jazz. Not surprising to me. The conversation didn't have that much to do with logic because That was a gimmick. It was a gimmick that got my father on the stage. It was a gimmick that connected the music with philosophy because jazz is hard to think about. It's hard to think about it cuz there's so much there's perceived snobbery. There's, in a sense, jazz is like wine. people drink it. But then they're the people who claim to know all about it. And they look down in some senses on the people who just drink it, because they like the taste. But that's not fair to the musicians. It's not fair to anybody. And it's certainly not fair to jazz. Jazz is the music of my life, even before I knew it. It's something that I grew into. I've been lucky enough that I developed over my lifetime a catalogue of jazz musicians and jazz tracks, including my own father, who I could listen to with curiosity, and with pleasure, with all with anger with frustration, with lost with every emotion, I experience with jazz, because it's about the people. It's about the musician and it's about the experience. So as someone who was an involuntary jazz listener, for someone who has been immersed in it without choice and is grateful,
to all of you who feel overwhelmed, just listen, pick some music, and listen. see where it takes you. You're listening to jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life It has been our 10th anniversary party at the Empire arts theatre and I ended the way I always do by tell you that it is my deepest honor to be with you. Thank you very much.
Why is funded by the Institute for philosophy and public life? Prairie Public Broadcasting in the University of North Dakota is College of Arts and Sciences and division of Research and Economic Development. Skip what is our studio engineer. The music is written and performed by Mark Weinstein and can be found on his album Louis Sol. For more of his music, visit jazz flute Weinstein comm or myspace.com slash Mark Weinstein. Philosophy is everywhere you make it and we hope we've inspired you with our discussion today. Remember, as we say at the Institute, there is no ivory tower.