Christian McBride’s popular tweet (above) has provoked this response from WALLY HOUSER, a friend of LondonJazz News, who was one of the Directors of Ronnie Scott’s from the 1960’s until the club was sold to Sally Greene in 2005. Wally writes:
Should jazz musicians start taking shorter solos?
Now there’s an interesting if somewhat meaningless question. It is rather like “is it hotter in Birmingham than it is in the summer?”
Jazz is an art form first and foremost. That it is also an entertainment in no way demeans its position as an art form. It merely complicates it. Does anyone ask whether artists should paint smaller pictures or carve smaller sculptures? Should novelists be obliged to restrict their works to fewer than 100 pages to accommodate readers with short attention spans? Back to music. Are Mahler’s symphonies too long? Prokofiev’s too short?
Artistic endeavour is not to be assessed by length.
I about 1964 In my early days as a director of Ronnie Scotts we were thrilled to welcome Sonny Rollins. I was talking to him in the tiny bandroom/office of the old club. He suddenly realised he had been announced. So very politely he excused himself, picked up his tenor and started to play How High The Moon at a medium tempo. This while still in the office which he exited and walked through the club playing. The rhythm section picked it up immediately of course and the tune went on for the whole of the set with Sonny resting now and then to allow Stan Tracey to solo. Sonny was at his magisterial best. Nobody was remotely bored. Sonny’s inventiveness saw to that. From time to time there would be a spontaneous outburst of applause which erupted into a massive standing ovation at the end of the set. It was magic. (ALBUM VERSION FROM 1958 HERE)
Charlie Parker’s tenor solo on Milestones (that is the early Milestones with a very complex set of harmonies not the later modal piece with the same name) consisted of eight bars. (FROM [01:15] HERE) It too is magic.
My late friend Tubby Hayes tended to play very long solos but when it was thought that he was overdoing it ,his brilliant pianist (the now almost forgotten Terry Shannon) would start to shout out the number of choruses played to try to rein him in. At the end of a long solo by Tubby, Ronnie Scott would applaud vigorously and say “ very, very long”
So length of solo is not the issue. It is content that counts. The difficulty is that many jazz players not quite from the top rank tend to try to disguise their deficiencies by pumping out chorus after chorus . If that is necessary for them Oh dear. A ten chorus mediocre solo is ten times worse than a single chorus turkey!
This country cannot boast many world class jazz soloists: Ronnie and Tubby, Peter King, Dick Morrissey, George Shearing, Victor Feldman come to mind. There are others . Please forgive any obvious omissions.
I could listen to them all night (and frequently have done) The length of their solos is irrelevant.