Musical depth…what does it mean?
And…. when will I get off this kick of starting each column with a question?
Anyway, what are we gonna talk about when we discuss ‘musical depth’? This means a divide of difference if you are a listener or a player – how ‘deep’ does your musical experience, knowledge, ability, and sensitivity go?
Here’s kind of a funny, but ultimately dumb story from my teen-aged years: early on, I start collecting music on cassette (simple, cheap – I didn’t own a turntable until I was going to high school). I had these turnstile type cassette holders – very ‘70’s with the fake wood veneer (they worked well against my bedroom décor, lemme tell ya….). One day, I looked at my section of progressive rock/jazz stuff – “Red Octopus” by Jefferson Starship, “Blow By Blow” by Jeff Beck, probably a Coltrane tape that I didn’t listen to much, but thought it would be hip to have one, and probably a blues tape (Chicago style, because most of my favorite players out of Chi-Town went with my “ Favorite Guitarists Because They Play Fender Stratocasters” rule…). I just admired my little collection and thought, “Wow, I’m getting into some progressive stuff, boy!” Yep, all of probably 15,16 years…”progressive stuff ”…. what a little DWEEB!!! But, a person has to start somewhere if you want to branch out musically – and this was the beginning of my “Jim Ryan Mile” in musical exploration…..
Trying to have some musical ‘depth’ means having a willingness to explore music styles that put you outside of your current listening comfort zone – sometimes it’s ain’t pretty, and it ain’t easy, but you never know what you might learn and enjoy from the situation. There are different approaches, such as the “There’s-Nothing-New-Under-The-Sun-So-Why-Should-I Listen” person. These people figure it’s all been done musically (and basically, it has from a theoretical standpoint), but the way I figure it is that every musician’s life experiences are different, so there will always be a slightly different take on even the same ‘three chords and the truth’. You could say the Black Crowes rip on the Stones, and everybody knows what’s coming when we hear those same open tuning guitar chords slamming away, but I like it (and part of it could be the air of familiarity that the music brings). Chuck Berry could be blamed for launching a million guitar styles since 1955, but would we have it any other way in the universe? Even when someone like avant-classicalist Arnold Schoenberg plays those twelve tone rows, some body has heard that, done it! But, do we just say, ”Ah, screw it” and give up on our explorations?
I say nope, because if you’re the ieensy weensy bit curious, you need to plow ahead and explore the terrain. Back in the mid to late 1990’s, I collected a boatload of electronica and DJ music – of course, that was a trend, and I was just curious about listening. Well, some of it was self-indulgent, while some of the artists put out some fascinating stuff. DJ Shadow is one guy that jumps out…..
“Endtroducing…” is a classic electronica / trip-hop / downtempo album from the 1990’s – the fact that it was re-released awhile back in expanded form says something about its stature in the genre. Moody atmospheres and soundscapes, drum n’ bass, trip-hop beats underlining it all – probably some of the smartest DJ programming that I've heard from that era. Every time I got back to re-visit that music, I learn something new….
Another ‘under-the-radar-guy’ is a fellow named Steve Tibbetts – an ECM - labeled guitarist who sounds like if Hendrix studied Indian, classical, and modal jazz, then got some really cool percussionists to jam out on tabla, kalimba, and congas with him. I found out about Steve in the mid 1980’s – he was so very left-o’-center, especially on a label as ECM.
“Yr’ and “The Fall Of Us All” are extremely interesting albums – I wouldn’t call them ‘jazz’ because people get these images stuck in their minds and ears – “Oh, Steve doesn’t play STANDARDS.” – yeah, well, to me, jazz goes way beyond that now anyway, so that’s why I hate using the phrase.
So, how do we get people to recognize artists like Steve? How do we get people to APPRECIATE these artists? Well, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, but I guess you COULD shove his head in there enough times to see if he likes the taste!!
I 'll have plenty more on methods to ‘introduce’ people to new artists in the next two installments, so I think the thrust here is where do you want to go in the music world, because depth can be a matter of perception, really. I mean, at 15, I thought I had a fairly good grasp of music styles and players – good gravy, Cheethahed, I was only BEGINNING!!!! A lot of people start, and stop that way – enough’s enough, they figure –how could I possibly listen to anything new under the sun?
There’s a fellow columnist who’s been ripping and burning songs from sites for quite awhile now – impressive library, a lot of tunes from every genre possible. What’s cool about this is age doesn’t matter (let’s say he is in his late 50’s…), but attitude and acceptance do – what’s out there that you’re willing to explore in the music world? ‘Cause it’s wide open at this point, kidlets!
One needs to be willing to step off the plank and jump in the waters, that’s all it takes, because there some fascinating musical fish out in that vast ocean that need to be studied and enjoyed!!!