What is a Jazz Solography?
Jan Evensmo


Since this concept is due to the author, a definition is required.

A Jazz Solography contains:
1. A complete listing, in chronological order, for a certain period of time, of all known studiorecordings and all known preserved live recordings, by a particular musician, plus information about the duration and the tempo of his soli.
2. A critical assessment of this musical material, based upon relative criteria.

I will give a separate explanation of these two points, and consequently my motivation for bringing them together in one book.


On point 1.

To every person interested in recorded jazz, call him/her fan, addict, music lover, aficionado, researcher, collector, or whatever you like, one thing represents an indispensable aid. and that is the jazz discography. Many able and patient persons have spent enormous amounts of time to bring forward all kinds of information about the thousands of jazz records which have been made during the last 60 years. In a discography, everything we may need concerning recording dates, personnel, location, record labels, numbers, matrices etc. will be given. Only one special kind of information is lacking, however important and fundamental, and that is the information regarding the musical content. Most people concentrate their interests around certain favourite musicians, and information on how to find their music is most certainly very valuable. A jazz discography, however, does not tell us anything definite about this, but is limited to give possibilities. Any hint as to whether a particular musician is soloing or not is missing, and this will only be found out after the record in question has been acquired. Many disappointments could have been avoided providing soloistic information had been obtainable, and this is exactly my first purpose with a jazz solography.

Certain jazz researchers have made surveys of soloists on records by famous orchestras like Ellington, Lunceford, Basie and Calloway, which is a step in the right direction. However, it is my personal opinion that a Jazz Solography should be based upon the musicians, and that they should be treated individually, as a change in the personnel influences the musical contents profoundly. Another important thing is that the Solography tells whether a solo is of two bars or two choruses duration, something which certainly is of interest. Besides one may wish to know whether the tune is fast or slow or inbetween.

The reason why this has not been done except in a very few cases and in not quite satisfactory forms, may have nothing to do with this being considered a bad idea, but more probably because of the work involved. In order to complete a Solography one has to get hold of a large amount of records and airshots, some of them very rare, and every one of them has to be played several times.

I will explain how the different records are treated by giving a constructed example:

93234-1                    She Ain't Got Rhythm                    Solo 16 bars. (M)
                                 Br 9324

93234 is the matrix number,
-1 is the lake number,
Br is an abbreviation of the record label, Brunswick, of the original issue,
9324 is the record number,
Solo 16 bars explains the musician's contribution on the record,
(M) indicates Medium Tempo.

The usual label abbreviations have been used.

In this context I have felt it unnecessary to present all the information which belongs to the ordinary discography, and I have limited the lust of records to the original issue. Any reader of a Solography will certainly own a discography, which may be consulted if further information is needed on issues and reissues. In some Solographies LP's are mentioned. However, the main rule is: The Solography treats music, not records.

The musician's contribution on a record is mostly self-evident, but a few comments will be necessary.

I have included information about all items on which the presence of the musician is proved by aural evidence. Otherwise the term "No solo" is used.

The term "solo" is self-evident. The plural form "soli" is used because the author prefers it.

"Solo with orchestra" is used when the background arrangement is very prominent. A solo structure in which the bridge (middle eight) is taken by another instrument, is always indicated, i.e., "Solo 16+8 bars, tb on bridge".

Ordinary solo exchanges, i.e., four-four, is also explicitly indicated, while instances involving more complicated structures are listed giving only the duration of each.

"Duet" indicates two musicians improvising together on equal terms.

"In ensemble" indicates that the musician's presence is clearly audible and his individuality recognizable.

"Obbligato" indicates that the musician is improvising behind a vocalist.

"Accompanies" is an analogue to "obbligato", but with an instrumentalist instead of a vocalist, and this term if used instead of "duet" when one musician definitely is leading.

The tempo notations are inventions of my own and require further explanation. I have defined five different tempi:
(F) - Fast, more than 240 beats a minute
(FM)- Fast Medium, between 184 and 240 beats a minute
(M) - Medium, between 128 and 184 beats a minute
(SM)- Slow Medium, between 92 and 128 beats a minute
(S) - Slow, less than 92 beats a minute

This system was developed many years ago by playing the records and dividing the tempi into five categories according to my own highly personal and subjective view. Perhaps more than five categories should have been used, like for instance (VF) Very Fast, but I consider the chosen system sufficient for my purpose. Some of the records in question are in a tempo balancing on the border lines, but as I had to make a choice, I have been as careful as possible.

If an item never has been issued on 78 rpm., this is always indicated.

All alternative takes, according to my knowledge, are listed. So are also all known airshots and jam sessions.

"Matrix said to exist" refers to written information from the recording company in question, and I sincerely hope that these items are going to be released in a not too distant future.

Not every item is generally available, of course, there are several rare broadcasts and alternates listed. However, experience has proved that such items eventually will become known to larger groups of collectors. Consequently, I have chosen to include every information available, as I believe some of them very stimulating to the imagination of my readers.


On point 2.

In every art, the problem of evaluation arises because of the lack of a generally accepted basic standard of judgment. It is a well known fact that most forms of critical assessment are based upon what the critic wants the artist to do, rather than what the artist himself wants. Jazz seems to be in an especially awkward position because of its youth and rapid changes. The ordinary jazz critic often covers the whole field of jazz, even if he has a downright reluctant attitude towards a certain style or period. Reading the earliest comments on be-bop by reputed critics makes one wonder why they have not taken the consequences of their own writings and packed in because of lack of self-criticism.

The following two incompatible sentences are, however, stated over and over again, with only slight modifications: "I do not understand anything of this music". "This is bad music". Unfortunately these critics do not realise that trivial comments like these are of no interest whatsoever, to those who may gain something from the music. The only effect of such a mediocre form of criticism is of an objectionable and harmful nature, making people previously hostile even more so, i.e., "The critic agrees with me, this is worthless music. What an excellent critic!"

From a slightly different point of view, the endless discussions on who is the better of two musicians, X or Y, are even more futile. X probably never attempted to play like Y anyway, and would not have been able to, their background and experiences being different. The only valid conclusion must he that listener 1 prefers the music of X to the music of Y, while listener 2 likes Y belter. This is a subjective judgment, and quite permissible, but it tells much more about the listener than about the innocent musician and his playing.

Because of this way of reasoning and thinking, one might consider dismissing any evaluation of art, rejecting any possible means of communication between the critic and the listener, or between two fellow jazz fans. This is, however, according to my opinion, to go much too far. Instead I would like to put forward the question: "How can we establish a base for criticism upon objective criteria?".

I think there is a solution to this question. If we minimize the area to be judged, then the inherent subjectivity will gradually take on an objective aspect. This means explicitly, that if we compare two works with related qualities, the evaluation may be based upon the same criteria. In such a case, a relative preference is often obvious and easy to make.

This way of thinking is well suited to criticism of jazz records. Experience proves that although opinions on X related to Y are different, listener 1 and listener 2 are often in agreement on X's records. The reason for this being that the artistic importance of X is taken for granted and excluded from the discussion. This is the basis for the idea of relative criticism.

My starting point is the individual musician. I feel that through listening to the records of a certain musician again and again, one after a while absorbs certain aspects of his musical way of thinking, and may well obtain an impression of how well his intentions have been fulfilled on a particular record.

Obviously, some kind of disagreement will always appear between two individuals over a work of art. However, a relative criticism is believed to be highly useful to a person who basically is sympathetic towards the musician in question. It establishes a kind of reference structure, and by relating his own personal opinion to this structure, the reader of the Solography will be able to consider the differences of opinion. The differences may disappear, or they may assist him in forming his own detailed structure of reference, enabling him to achieve a quite precise feeling of how he will react to a record which is unknown to him.


On the relations between point I and point 2.

My simple purpose with a Jazz Solography should by now, I hope, be clear. It is meant as a guide to the recorded music of one's own personal favourites, where to find it, and what it sounds like.

Some readers may agree with me on the first part, but disagree on the second, and rather prefer the information without any comments on the value of the musical content. When I have chosen to combine these two aspects after all, it is because a list of the records is an essential prerequisite for the evaluations, and a chronological one in particular. I would like to point out that the comments also were written down chronologically, if not, I might have violated my own qualification of establishing a limited area for criticism. The treatment of a single recording session gives the most accurate evaluation, and by assessing neighbouring sessions within the same context, the continuity is kept.

I can predict some disagreement with my comments, which I am able to explain before I see them. As pointed out, I have only been judging the musician in question for the solography. If the surroundings sound very exciting, it may cause an overestimation of an inferior solo, and the other way, a solo may be quite good but an incoherent rhythm section may make it sound rather ordinary. A carefully repeated listening will in such cases reveal the nature and impact of the solo.


Further comments.

The above comments were made (with some slight modifications) in 1969 when the Jazz Solography was first presented with "The Tenor Saxophonists of the period 1930-1942" as the topic. It is necessary to add a few remarks.

The idea of a Solography seems as good today as then, otherwise you would not be reading this. The need for information about the music of one's favorites is equally great even if the music itself generally is more readily available due to the enormous production of LP-reissues and LP-issues of broadcasts, concerts a.o. the last years. The "point 1" above therefore needs no futher explanation.

The critical assessment is another and more controversial matter. The reactions to the tenor sax volume were mainly positive. Some critics were in my opinion too eager to point out where I was wrong, completely wrong, as if they were more interested in pointing out the author's vulnerability on the basis of a few debatable sessions, instead of discussing the general idea, and how it was expressed. But I suppose every author feels that way! Some friends of mine told me that they even could manage without my comments at all. Well, they don't hurt anybody, do they? If the critical assessments seem useful to you, use them, if not, skip them!

However, this brings me to an important point. A Solography does not treat music with aloftness and objectivity, but through participance. The Solography is the final stage in a communication process starting many years earlier. What is presented is therefore not the musician alone, but the musician and the author, together, inseparable.

What the reader really needs is the means to separate the author from his work and put himself in his place. This is of course impossible. The use he may have of the Solography is therefore dependent on his psychological insight. How will an unknown person react to my favorite music?

At this point the author may contribute by staling that he is male, born in 1939, teaching Operations Research at Oslo Institute of Business Administration, bachelor but not by principle, does not smoke but drinks moderately, and has no musicians in his family background. This may help, but the deeper emotional traits which influence the attitude towards music cannot be presented this way, nor in this context at all. The reader is therefore asked to try to understand that the critical assessments are objective but only to a certain point. However, I hope that they are useful also to people who feel that their personality and background are very different from mine.

Of course the reader is entitled to read a purchased book the way he wants, and nobody can stop him. However, a few hints may be appropriate. If one wants to pick up a single sentence, it is no great accomplishment to state that it is superficial, even makes no sense. No language can express music properly, and even English has a limited vocabulary. It may seem silly to read that a solo "is good" or "swings happily". But the basic connections are not that simple.

When you have read the Solography quickly through, it should be viewed as a literary painting of musical themes (!). It is meant to give you a map by which you can find your way. No single sentence is very important, but the total impression is supposed to be. When there are many words connected to a session, it is because many words seem natural, there is a lot to say, good or bad. Few words have a signinificance in itself, "good solo" implies neither genius nor disaster.

With these remarks I know some readers will feel that I try to stifle their rightful objections in an indecent way. However, this has not been my intention, only to try to put the Solography in its right framework. Maybe a fruitful debate will follow?

One last remark: I do not consider the Solography to be more than one station on the road toward the appraisal I believe my jazz favorites deserve. Nothing would be more pleasing to me than to see the idea develop further. Technical details might be included, keys and changes noted with more precise treatment of the improvisational processes, soli may be transcribed. Biographies and pictures may be included. The critical assessment parts may be extended on the basis of the different viewpoints. In fact, I have already in the revised editions of the tenor saxists shown how my own viewpoints have changed because of newly discovered alternate masters. I hope that I may have reactions, positive and negative, from all of you, hopefully also with suggestions for future works in the Jazz Solography Series.


Jan Evensmo
Huitfeldts g 9 B
N-0253 Oslo
NORWAY


Telephone number:
+47 22 55 43 06




www.robertnormann.no