Jazz musicians have a way of communicating that is direct and clear. They have to if they want to make music on the fly as part of a group. They don’t have lengthy discussions before playing the next note, instead they depend on nods, glances and musical cues to let their pals know where they are going. When they are done with their tune they continue to use curt phases to talk to each other. This is called jazz talk.
Most families have inside jokes. All it takes is someone using a familiar word or phrase and the whole family cracks up. Tight groups of people sometimes create their own language, All musicians share a vocabulary, and jazz musicians have a language all their own. Many of their words have snuck into general usage, like gig. Now more and more of us are gigging. The words that they pick can be pretty efficient. Let’s take the words that they use to describe two good places to be: “in the groove” and “in the pocket”. How wonderfully descriptive these jazzy phrases are.
IN THE GROOVE
A groove is what your phonograph needle spends time in when it is working right. It can also be used when you get immersed in a task and are working smoothly and efficiently.
Those who study this stuff say that a groove is” an understanding of rhythmic patterning, feel, intuitive sense, or cycle in motion that emerges from carefully aligned concurrent rhythmic patterns that stimulate dancing or foot-tapping on the part of the listeners”. Guys who talk like this probably can’t actually play jazz. Jazz musicians would probably simply say that a groove is what a good drummer can create when he is playing solidly and has a great feel. When a drummer can do this for an extended time it is a deep groove. This is what makes even those who can’t dance want to dance.
Being in the groove means different things to different musicians. It can be what makes the music breathe or it can make it boring. It can be supportive with a back beat or drive the band with a front beat. It is generally accepted that it is a pretty good place to be.
All the stuff that finds its way into my pockets has a relatively safe warm place. In jazz being “in the pocket” sort of means the same thing, a comfy place to be. Jazz artist take a lot of risks, so it must be comforting to be tucked away with good friends. There are times I would like someone to put me in a safe place, but I can’t count on there being many folks interested in creating a comfortable place just for me. At those moments I listen to some piano jazz and envy the camaraderie of jazz artists.
I found this knowledgeable description of “the pocket” written by the All-About Jazz staff :
“The pocket isn’t a place where the musician holds something — it’s an intangible place that holds the musician. While this sounds a bit odd, the closest thing that I can think of to describe it is a spiritual experience that goes beyond playing the right notes, great timing, or being in tune. The experience of playing in the pocket is more like becoming a faucet through which the music flows. Being in the pocket is not just about “locking together or “syncing up as a band. It goes beyond this to the place where the musician allows the music to take control.Most listeners can tell when a band is in the pocket because there’s a little more electricity in the playing. Being in a room with a band that’s in the pocket is like taking an exhilarating ride. These are the most memorable concerts that I’ve attended or played. When it was time to go I didn’t want to leave, no matter how tired I felt — I just wanted to stay with the music.
The pocket is particularly important for jazz musicians because so much of what we play is improvised. Whether we’re in the studio recording or playing live, jazz musicians take a number of risks by improvising together. Jazz has more magic, more life, and more verve when the band is together in the pocket.One of my quirks as a musician is that I learn things through music and then later figure out life because of it. The pocket is no exception. I’m convinced that everything has a pocket. The pocket is a way of experiencing life so that you are in it to the fullest extent. Being in the pocket of life is about not isolating yourself. It’s also about listening to others, about not putting your own desires first, and about understanding that you’re part of something bigger. It’s not about what you can create or achieve, it’s about being part of the creative process.”
I was a shy student waiting for a great love to come along when Frank Sinatra’s hit song In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning came along, It sounded like my biography. Sinatra recorded David Mann and Bob Hilliard’s 1955 song at a time when it would have a considerably melancholy effect on my existence. Late at night, after studies, when I was feeling sorry for myself, I would listen to Frank sing ” you would be hers if only she would call…in the wee small hours of the morning that’s the time you miss her most of all”
One night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe Cliff Monear’s Trio were playing requests. A couple asked for In the Wee Small Hours. It was played without the poignant words but it still had the same effect on me. I was completely swept up in the music along with all the other patrons who had suffered with a lonely heart at some time in their lives. Bassist Jeff Pedraz bowed the story with feeling while Cliff’s piano took the group into some memories of unrequited love. Steve Boegehold was on drums keeping the pocket secure.
Before Cliff started the song, he said that he hadn’t heard it for twenty years. How then could the trio give a seven minute rendition of the song? I can understand one guy interpreting a tune as he goes along but several guys. How the heck? I asked the band after the set. I got shrugs. When I talked to Cliff after his set about his trio, he looked like a child opening his Easter basket. With Jeff on bass and Stephen on drums he could ride effortlessly in the comfort of the musical flow. They provide a pocket that gave him creative freedom. He was safe“in the pocket”.
I have always loved live jazz, I like being in the presence of people who make life easier for other people. Jazz has big pockets.
THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
October 16 – 19
This week, pianist Cliff Monear will bring his trio to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.
“Monear’s breathy ideas leave lots of space, girding the music with exquisite tension. What gives the music personality is Monear’s suave touch, relaxed swing, fresh melodic and harmonic turns and the unpretentious way he draws on familiar influences.”
Mark Stryker, Music Critic and author of the new book Jazz From Detroit
Get your reservations in early as Cliff has a following and they may fill the club this Wednesday through Saturday. Cliff is a piano player’s piano player. He will spend four days challenging his rhythm section to keep up. Having players like Cliff is the reason that the Dirty Dog spent big bucks for their great Steinway.
Here is Cliff.