Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-10-07 - 6:02 a.m.
I have been looking at John Mehegan’s course on jazz improvisation – especially volume 2, jazz rhythm and the improvised line. I have had this book for quite a few years – it includes a number of transcriptions of classic solos from Louis Armstrong, Bix, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell. I played through Just You Just Me by Lester Young - from sessions he did in the mid 40s. I bought an LP which included it some decades ago and indeed that was the first LY thing that I bought. The chord sequence to this tune is very very straightforward and relative to a lot of jazz the solo has few notes but still it’s a masterpiece – partly because of the use of space, partly because of the originality of phrasing but also because of the harmonic insight. For example he uses the chord, from the bottom, a flat b d g, which is also a feature of my latest Ravellian foray.
I have been wondering about using the LY line as the basis for a piece using my current suite of techniques. Listening to ‘flat surfaces’ and then ‘beach story’, I rather liked the surface character of the three/four flutes, relative to the chorused acoustic guitar and synth. The flute is an ‘impressionist’ instrument and this character is to the foreground when it is layered as a harmony. Ever since I heard Tasmin Little give a recital in a church at Leamington Hastings I have been taken over by the power and authenticity of the solo violin as the soprano voice. Then when I saw the Tchaikovsky concerto with the BSO perhaps this spell was broken?
We decided not to pitch for the barmy project which is a relief except that Steve and I could both do with the money. The submission for the mps was sent off and it seems to have gone quite well in the sense that various big companies have said that they would appear before the committee to be interviewed in support of it.
We have now moved onto a new collaboration on the current state of UK manufacturing which has been a bit of a hobby horse of mine. I have been saying for a while that this issue would be live in autumn 2006 and luckily it looks as if I am right.
I spent some of yesterday trying to track down a report by UNIDO which looks at manufacturing GDP per capita – an indicator of how heavily each country depends on manufacturing for its relative national wealth. The UK comes in at around 15 globally on this ranking whereas it is the fourth largest economy and it is around 5 in terms of world trade.
My other favourite dataset currently is the one published this week which looks at manufacturing investment and rates of return betweeb 1970 and 2006. If you are wondering why UK manufacturing output has plateaued this decade then it helps to look at the trends on these two series in the 1990s in my view.
I have been reading George McKay’s book on jazz in britain. It has a fair amount about Maggie Nichols who went out with Nick Sinclair-Brown in the early 1970s. GM writes from a contemporary cultural-studies perspective – it’s the subject he is a professor in at Salford. So he interested in how issues like gender surface in british jazz and to illustrate this he includes a hilairious poster for a gig under the title ‘bloke newington’. The poster offers a lot of male characteristic free music – with loud grainy electronic noises, long incomprehensible solos etc – and it guarantees that you can go home from the gig by yourself.
He also has a lot about womens’ big bands. When I was in the Sardana band in the 80s there were two other south london alternative big bands – one was Happy End which takes it name from Brecht and the other was what we called ‘the womens’ big band’. There was significant cross membership between the three and at one point the other flute player came from the women’s band.
He also looks at race – and the impact of ex-colonial territories on UK jazz. This is a good subject because the impact was so enormous esp with Chris Macgregor who plays on Bryter Later and Joe |Harriot. The first big gig I ever played in 1967 had Fairport and Chris Macgregor on the bill – if you’ve got to start somewhere etc.
Joe Harriot was very angry at his lack of recognition and when you listen to his music these days you can understand why – its stunning.
He starts by looking at leftwingness and the relationship between CND and trad. I have got more interested in this issue has time has gone by. This has been accelerated by the Folk Britannia series which looked at the marxist school of british folkies. When I was in Hungary I saw some folk dancing which made me wonder whether the mbfs were aiming for that kind of cultural positioning. T Dann has suggested that I might do a warm-up at one of his events on the topic of – was ND a folksinger?
Then there is american-ness and the question of how europe can participate in jazz. GM takes quite a hardline on this – that jazz was always part-european. I think this stands up pretty well when you think about the cultural mix in New Orleans. But there is also the thought in the minds of brits that they need to participate in american-ness if they want to do jazz and in the case of Leonard Feather and George Shearing they emigrate.
I must say I sympathize with this – amongst my personal jazz cred I put stock on the fact that I have jammed twice in Detroit – not much its true but in my mind it proves a point – like passing a bbc audition.
I only discovered this week a strange fact about US jazz – about the Berklee school in Boston. It was started by someone called Berk and there was always meant to be an ironic relationship with the californian HEI. Whats more it was started in supported of an algebraic theory of composition – by Schillinger – which the likes of Gershwin were quite keen on but which is danger of disappearing. I read somewhere that Fred Frith is making a name for himself as a jazz educator. Must ask Charlie Alexander.