Thursday, January 9, 2014

Post-Bop and Avant-Garde Jazz Saxophonist Keith Gamble: What Exactly Is A Jazz Suite?

Post-Bop and Avant-Garde Jazz Saxophonist Keith Gamble: What Exactly Is A Jazz Suite?:      If you get a chance, I urge you to check-out Lalo Schifrin & BBC Bigband Jazzwoche Burghausen 2006 performance on video. I discover...

What Exactly Is A Jazz Suite?

     If you get a chance, I urge you to check-out Lalo Schifrin & BBC Bigband Jazzwoche Burghausen 2006 performance on video. I discovered this concert on YouTube. Joining Lalo Schifrin and his big band are Jon Faddis on trumpet, David Sanchez on tenor saxophone, Ignacio Berroa on drums, and Martin Verdonk on percussion.

     The concert begins with Street Lights, but the video does not give credit to the composer, so I assume Lalo Schifrin composed this piece. This is a fine opening number which features exciting solos from almost every member of the band. Schifrin and his band ends with Mission Impossible from the 1960`s television series from which Lalo Schifrin composed. In between Street Lights and Mission Impossible is a massive six movement work called Latin Jazz Suite. The music is great; what else would you expect from Lalo Schifrin! But, what is a Suite? Especially a Jazz Suite?

     A Suite is defined as any work consisting of several movements of varying character drawn from a large work such as an opera, ballet, or incidental music to a play. It is a musical form consisting of a series of pieces all in the same key, mostly of various dance styles. Suites go back to the Baroque era, and was an important instrumental form consisting of movements to characterize dances in the same key. J.S. Bach used a scheme that follow an A-C-S-O-G structure:
A = Allemande
C = Courante
S = Saraband
O = Optional dance or optional group
G = Gigue

     Do we really have jazz suites? Duke Ellington composed four titled suites, and they are 1) The Queen`s Suite, 2) The Goutelas Suite, 3) The Uwis Suite, and 4) The Kiss. Michigan bassist Paul Keller composed The Michigan Jazz Suite, which has 15 pieces inspired by the people of Michigan, events in Michigan, and places visited in Michigan. I composed a work titled At The Hill, which is a four movement piece. Again, are these Jazz Suites? The definition of a suite has expanded from its original baroque meaning; not changed, but expanded. A jazz suite seems based upon central themes, than on dance inspired movements established by western art music during the baroque era. Duke Ellington`s The Queen`s Suite was dedicated and presented to Queen Elizabeth II with six episodes. Paul Keller`s The Michigan Jazz Suite has a Michigan theme. My composition At The Hill has its theme rooted in my teaching experience at a public charter school. Although I cannot fully explain Lalo Schifrin`s Latin Jazz Suite, there is an obvious Latin theme to his work.

     I really enjoyed listening to Lalo Schifrin`s Latin Jazz Suite, especially the tasteful percussion performances throughout the piece. Other great performances include Jon Faddis playing those clean high notes reminiscent of Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson. Lalo Schifrin beautifully laying-back on his piano solos without going over the top, and some exciting and spiritual playing from David Sanchez.

     With such great performances during the Latin Jazz Suite the audience kept bursting into applause between movements. I found this to be irritating, but understandable. Western art music audiences have-it correct; no applause between movements. We as jazz artist, composers, and producers need to educate our audience to what a jazz suite is, and when it is appropriate to applaud, and not to applaud. Think about it; if audiences are applauding between movements, then what is the purpose of presenting a jazz suite? Our musical colleagues in western art music symphonies and orchestras have it right, and we need to follow there lead. We want audiences to applaud between separate compositions, and not applaud between movements. We have to safeguard the integrity of composition and public performance.