In his new book, The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music, New York Times’ jazz journalist Ben Ratliff recounts his intimate listening experience with jazz musicians including Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Wanye Shorter and Pat Metheny. By allowing the musicians to pick their own favorites (as long as they were not involved in the making of the music), he gets to see what kind of things they look for and their reactions to a particular piece.
The conversations are fascinating because Ratliff’s questions focus the musicians more on the emotional sense rather than theory. Joshua Redman’s response to Sonny Rollins’s “St. Thomas” is a perfect example. “Listening to an improvisation like this,” Redman referred to Rollins’s solo, “I’m stuck by the mastery and the seriousness of it, as this perfectly constructed, spontaneous narrative. And at the same time, there’s this quality in Sonny: he cautions you against taking anything too serious.”
In the conversation with Dianne Reeves, she made him lunch and explained to him the resemblances of her approach in both cooking and singing: “I work with my ear and try to make it feel right, or I just keep changing it until I like the way it tastes.”
I read The Jazz Ear during my train rides to work and it sure makes my commute much faster and more pleasant. The series is not only informative, but also enjoyable to read. Highly recommended it.