Methodology of Jazz Archeology: The fundamentals of the Solography are two:
- The facts – identification of improvisations by the respective artists
- The fiction – critical evaluation of the identified improvisations
The system of solo identification was developed by myself many years ago, and many “old” readers will probably be familiar with it. A brief presentation however is necessary.
Every known recording session is listed with orchestra/leader, date, place, personnel and instrument information. For instruments, standard or at least self-evident abbreviations have been used and will not be elaborated here. For commercial 78 rpm. sessions, in order to reduce the book’s number of pages, “no solo” – items, that is items where the tenorsax player cannot be heard as an individual, are presented indirectly. Example: “Four titles were recorded for Victor, one has XX:”. This means that in order to know the identity of the three items without tenorsax, one must consult a discography. For private sessions, broadcasts, AFRS-programs etc., “no solo” – items will be shown in order to make it quite clear which items in fact have been analyzed.
Every item with solo has been presented in the following fictious format:
93234-1 She Ain’t Got Rhythm Solo 16 bars. (M)
Matrix number, take number as well as title should be evident. Note that the reference to the original 78 rpm. issue and catalogue number has been omitted now, for those interested in this, a discography can easily be consulted. Standard record company abbreviations have been used and will not be elaborated here. If discographical information should have been included, my work would never have been finished, and the purpose of the book would disappear in numbers. The Solography treats music, not records. You have to consult your record dealer to find out if an item is commercially available today.
The musician’s contribution on an item is mostly self-evident, but a few comments may be necessary:
The plural form of “soli” is a nice word, which I like to use! “Solo with orchestra” is used when the background arrangement is very prominent. A solo structure in which the bridge (the B in 32 bars AABA) is taken by another instrument, is always indicated, i.e. “Solo 16 + 8 bars, tb (trombone) on bridge”. Duet” indicates two musicians improvising together on equal terms. “In ens” indicates that the musician’s presence in the ensemble playing is clearly audible and his individuality recognizable. “Obbligato” indicates that the musician is improvising behind a vocalist. “Accompanies” is an analogue to “obbligato”, but with an instrumentalist instead of a vocalist, and this term is used instead of “duet” when one musician definitely is in charge.
The tempo notations are my own invention and require further explanation. Five different tempi are defined:
(F) Fast, more than 240 beats per minute
(FM) Fast Medium, between 184 and 240 beats per minute
(M) Medium, between 128 and 184 beats per minute
(SM) Slow Medium, between 92 and 128 beats per minute
(S) Slow, less than 92 beats per minute
This system was developed many years ago by playing records and dividing the tempi into five categories according to my own highly personal and subjective view. Today, I strongly wish I had designed additional categories, like (VF) Very Fast, or made the distinctions between categories more rational, but it was much too late to change it. The system serves probably its main purpose, to indicate the tempo.
All alternate takes, according to my knowledge, are listed. So are also all known airshots and jam sessions. In a few cases, an item is reported to exist, solo duration may even be known, but it has not been available to me. These items are identified with an “empty” tempo identification ( ), and they are not included in any statistics.
When the first solography project appeared, I am happy to say that it was very well received. The facts presented were obviously perceived as very useful. Some people however felt I should have stopped there.
My critical evaluations seemed to be controversial with some collectors; who was this guy who pretended to know and teach people what was good and what was bad in their record collections? A few comments should be made on this point.
First, you may easily adapt a relaxed view on my comments. They are not science, rather a sort of “advanced jazz consumer information”. You get some ideas on what possibly could be very interesting to listen to and eventually obtain. You get some stimulating remarks on your own old favourites. You get shocked on learning that not everybody consider your treasures as such. Your curiosity as well as insight will certainly be stimulated by what you read. If you feel I am far out on some matters, why not let me know?
Second, you may dislike the idea of segmenting art into individual components. Jazz is and has always been a highly cooperative art form. The music should preferrably be judged on its collective merits rather than as a sum of many parts. The argument is reasonable, sometimes a record is marvellous as a whole, although the soloing itself is quite ordinary. But often an excellent solo may not be recognized, because the surroundings are mediocre. My point is that the solography does what it pretends to do; evaluates exactly that part of a record which contains a solo by a certain individual. It does not pretend to evaluate complete jazz performances.
Third, and this is a critical line of argument: What kind of objectivity can really be achieved? Can a solography ever be more than a personal statement, of slight interest to anybody else? From one point of view this rejection has some merit; my critical evaluations do not tell anything about the music alone, they only describe the relation between one critic, with a particular personality, background and experience, and the music. Even so the evaluations can be useful, if used carefully, as a basis for the listener’s own evaluations.
However, I prefer to take a provocative stand and push my own opinion: My evaluations are not only subjective, they form the basis of objective understanding of the music. I really mean I am presenting something close to “the truth”, how the jazz tenor saxophone really was.
My argument is mainly one of sheer volume; when a person has used years of listening, going through all existing musical material by an artist, I believe it is likely that he achieves some real understanding of what it is all about. And when one has gone through the total production of two artists, one has the right to compare them and even rank them. Fairly enough, the evaluator may lack the necessary sensory apparatus or the knowledge to fathom the deepest parts of the art abyss, thus he may perhaps only understand a small part of what the artist has to say. Nevertheless, I believe that with a certain amount of self-confidence, combined with a certain part of modesty, the critic should be able to avoid the threshold of incompetence. The solography should speak strongly when the critic is sure of himself, but elaborate discussions on sophisticated, technical details should better be left to others.
Thus I believe this book and this research project can bring you “close” to the “real” history of jazz tenor saxophone, give you a reasonably “correct” view, but a view veiled by haze. Use your own ideas to look further!