By Dan Jonas
Some things in jazz are so ingrained in the jazz performance culture that they have become jazz canon, or unwritten rules. Their existence is basically taken for granted, but on a closer review, some of them don’t make a whole lot of sense. Here’s my list of the top 5 most annoying unwritten jazz rules – feel free to comment below and add your own!
5. On a medium swing tune, when the soloist plays an extended double time passage, the rhythm section switches to double time in response…and then never changes back. Why does this happen? I have never been soloing or heard a solo on medium or up swing tunes and felt like it needs double time from the rest of the rhythm section. This happens in ballads all the time, and is usually not a terrible thing. By when the tempo is 96-120, it just ends up distracting from the solo. And then when the soloist is done, it takes the rhythm section a few bars to react and go back to the original time. The whole thing sounds disjointed and weird.
4. We need a bass solo…let’s put it at the beginning of this slow ballad/latin tune, and then let’s fast forward/leave the room/play the hi-hat alone and nothing else. I dig that bass plays in a register that presents challenges to accompaniment, but it’s time for this era to end. Let’s have some exciting bass solos. Let’s get some energy and interaction. Please let us not always do the exact same thing for every bass solo ever.
3. Let’s play this tune with a “Latin” groove. That’s fine and good, except what groove are you talking about? This gets super weird with groups where everyone in the rhythm section is playing a different groove and none of it makes sense together – the piano player is suddenly playing a montuno, the bassist is play a cha-cha, and the drummer is playing salsa. To anyone who knows anything about the music, it’s a confusing mess. So not only are you making bad music, but you’re offending an entire culture.
2. Time for a trombone solo! Let’s go to half time/drums lay out/everyone play as soft as possible and allow this moment to develop! NO. A thousand times, NO! Just because a trombone is soloing doesn’t mean music dies. So many good songs are ruined by the predictable fact that a trombone solo starts and the band does any of these things basically by rote. Can’t a trombone player come in with screaming high energy if that’s where the song is going? Why must trombone always be relegated to this sad, lonely sound? The trombone can be an awesome instrument if it just got a little more jazz love.
1. That trumpet player just crushed his solo! Wow! Wait…where is he going…? By far the weirdest tradition in jazz is when a group plays together for the melody, the horn soloist takes a thrilling and engaging solo…and then leaves the stage. I understand wanting to give the audience a chance to see the bassist or drummer while they are soloing, but don’t walk away. Stick around! Listen to your fellow musicians! It seems disrespectful and weird to just…leave.