Ae19. Why are great jazz musicians great?
Introduction to what the question is asking
One needs to understand what constitutes jazz greatness as posed in the topic question—otherwise, it could not be determined whether or not this or that jazz cat had greatness? What should be understood about greatness itself? Because greatness comes in both degrees and kinds those two categories require investigation.
Greatness has degrees
Another item needing to be resolved is what type of greatness since it can come in both degrees of greatness and types of greatness. An example using degrees of greatness could be where one person claims a particular tennis player is great because he has won five Grand Slam tennis tournaments (which includes Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open, and the United States Open) in his career where all are agreed when evaluating tennis greatness that any player who wins just one or two Grand Slams qualifies as a great tennis player since many players never even win one of them. Then someone else argues that "Yeah, someone is a great tennis player who wins five slams, but then compare that to actual tennis player Steffi Graff (Agassi) who won 22 Grand Slam championships." Here one can make a case because of the differences in degree of difficulty in winning 5 grand slams versus having to win 22, which is third best in women's tennis (behind Margaret Court's 24 and Serena William's 23 in 2020) world record, that Steffi is a greater tennis player than the man who 'only' won five Grand Slam tournaments.
CONCLUSION: Greatness has degrees.
Greatness has different kinds of greatness
Does greatness also have kinds? Yes it would appear this must be true because greatness at table tennis 🏓 is not the same as greatness at playing chess ♟. A person could be great at only one of them.
Is it also a separate point for investigation regarding the topic question if we are only talking in the question about person's greatness? Dogs can be great too, by being a great dog, but they can never play jazz, so the topic question presumes personhood for jazz musician's greatness this might be true.
Still, consider a non-person computer program that generates improvisations that seem like jazz and/or a program that plays like Stanley Clarke on "SchoolDays," or a computer interface that plays and responds to what it is hearing another musician is playing and the two interact musically in a jazz-like way. If you could say, "great jazz playing program," then maybe personhood is not required—perhaps just a great sense of rhythm for a drum machine if interactive and creative enough could count.
So, can a computer program play jazz even though it is not a person? If the reply is that person's originally programmed the computer so that's where the personhood enters into the causal chain for it being jazz music. Reply to this objection is that the computer was working autonomously and was making decisions about what to play because it had 'practiced' playing with neural network training that Wikipedia: "Neural Network" reports can cause self-learning: “Self-learning resulting from experience can occur within networks, which can derive conclusions from a complex and seemingly unrelated set of information” and had improved its jazz playing through these training sessions, as a practicing human jazz player might. The newly improved jazz playing and interacting computer program had improved its playing on its own and not from human programmer's direct input.
Applications of greatness features to jazz musicians
The section above establishes that greatness in the context of the topic question has determined that greatness can come in both kinds and degrees.
➢ What are the different degrees of greatness and kinds of greatness that can be found in jazz performers?
Barry Ulanov says we first look for quality in a jazz great.
Kinds of jazz greatness
What kinds of jazz greatness's are there? What feature of a jazz repertoire can qualify as properties of a great jazz musician?
There are at least two large categories falling under greatness properties in jazz that can be used to distinguish between them. The two overlapping categories may be called jazz roles and jazz functions.
In a jazz role one performs tasks appropriate for that category of music production of which there are many such categories. These tasks are often ones that can be done independently or prior in time to any actual performance. The tables below list such roles or functions, defines these categories and then tries to account for how it can be great.
Jazz Roles: Accompanist, soloist improviser, singer/vocalist, percussionist, drummer 🥁, bass player, expert on a musical instrument 🎸 instrument 🎻 instrument 🎺, band leader, composer, arranger, manager,
Jazz Functions: improviser, Blues player, Technically proficiency, Extreme techniques such as circular breathing or powerful high pitched trumpet blasts, Stays in the groove/pocket, imagination, creativity, supportive musically of other players in the band, great transitions, music problem solver who can figure a way out of a complex improvisation back into the lead melody and where the rest of band reenters into the performance, theatrical/dramatic/humorous techniques, such as growling, vocalizing (reminds one of human voice), whistling, glissandos, etc., scat singing, sensitive, great ears, listening and reacting, anticipating what will be played and leading/matching other musicians,
Tables of Jazz Greatnesses
|Jazz Role||Definition||What makes this great ?|
|Accompanist||plays a supportive role in aiding another musician such as a solo improviser or lead vocalist||some musicians are much better at this than others, even accomplished ones|
|Arranger||determines the sequencing and style and order of groups of musicians||arranging can make a huge difference between success and failure|
|Drummer 🥁||uses rhythmic techniques such as tapping sticks onto drumheads to produce a pulse/beat||must be in synch with other members of the rhythm section, generally speaking|
|Expert on a miscellaneous musical instrument|
|Jazz Function||Definition||What makes this great?|
|Improviser||simultaneously composes and performs music||needs imagination and knowledge and practice to think while performing|
|Accommodating & Cooperative||strives to work with and not antagonize other musicians||uncooperative fellow musicians are a drag|
|Extreme techniques such as circular breathing or powerful high pitched trumpet blasts|
|Stays in the groove/pocket|
|supportive musically of other players in the band|
|Music problem solver who can figure a way out of a complex improvisation back into the lead melody and where the rest of band reenters into the performance|
|Theatrical/dramatic/humorous techniques, such as growling, vocalizing (reminds one of human voice), whistling, glissandos, etc.|
|Listening and reacting|
|Anticipating what will be played and leading/matching other musicians|