The other evening, I was trying to convey to my daughter the infinite richness of Jazz music. So here is what I did: I decided to go step by step, using the composition “Spain” by Chick Corea.
I began with this superb rendition by Al Jarreau: (and Steve Gadd at the drums if I remember correctly)
The next step in my sequence was Chick Corea playing with Bobby McFerrin: (no real text, no distractions for the music itself)
Next, I suggested that she listen at this amazing interpretation by Chick Corea & Hiromi Uehara: (a big step up in terms of improvisation)
At this point, I decided to be blunt and show my daughter a version of “Spain” interpreted on the actual instrument Chick Corea was trying to imitate on the piano: (not want Chick Corea created, but what he meant – to paraphrase a song by Roger Waters)
But, of course, a finite composition can contain in itself an infinite number of emotions and feelings. Here is a much more recent and yet still powerful rendition of the same composition:
The composition itself is not very complicated, see for yourself:
and yet, as with all Jazz standards, this simplicity is deceptive because it invites and elicits an apparently infinite number of “mini-compositions”, which is what all improvisations are.
Many years ago, I was participating in a seminar of classical Indian music when the teacher (it was either one of the two Gosh brothers, Nayan or Nikhil) told me that the basic elements for an improvisation (in Indian music the ragas/modes and talas/rhythms) where like the “topic of the conversation” but instead of everybody parroting the same “words”, improvisation made it possible for each musician to contribute to what he/she had to say on that “topic”. And this is exactly the same pattern in modern Jazz (and in Baroque music, by the way): compositions (what Jazz musicians like to call “standards”) are just a “pretext” of sorts to say something unique and original not only to that one musician, but even to that moment (as no real improvisation can ever be really repeated).
Sometime in the near future, I will post here a number of version of another one of the most beautiful Jazz compositions ever written, “Goodbye” by Brian Jenkins, an absolutely amazing tune, also deceptively simple, which gave birth to an innumerable number of version including some which are amongst the most beautiful melodies every played, at least in my (admittedly totally biased) opinion.
But that is for the future. For the time being, I hope that you will discover (or re-visit) Chick Corea’s beautiful “Spain”.