14 June 2015


I must be honest: on very rare occasions I find the sound of a traditional jazz band to be a horrible din.
There are very good traditional jazz performances and very bad ones. I wonder whether you would agree with the following. (For the purpose of these examples, I am talking about the musical sounds produced by a six-piece or seven-piece band.)

LEVEL ONE - THE LOWEST - HORRIBLE DIN LEVEL: Most of the instruments are unnecessarily and excessively amplified. The drummer plays too loud and doesn't take much note of what the front line players are doing. The rhythm section sounds like one collective bass drum. The front line players - especially in full ensemble - take an 'every man for himself' approach and blast away, regardless of what notes the others are playing. It is sometimes impossible for a listener to pick out instruments individually (especially bad if there are four in the front line). The result is a horrible noise! A din!

LEVEL TEN - THE HIGHEST - TOP QUALITY LEVEL:  All instruments individually can be clearly heard. There is little or no amplification. The percussionist plays discreetly, never drowning out other instruments but always decorating and complementing what is going on. The rhythm section plays like one man, maintaining a steady, pulsing beat, never dragging and never speeding up (unless as part of an agreed special effect). The front line players listen carefully to each other, producing wonderful polyphony and syncopation by complementing and responding to what the others are doing and not trespassing on the same notes. The overall effect is like the best chamber music of the classical music world.

In practice, most traditional jazz performances fall somewhere around LEVEL EIGHT. Yes, most are closer to the top quality level than the horrible din level.