Art, or Not

This column is not specifically about brass playing although jazz trumpeter Miles Davis figures prominently. The inspiration comes from the recent album release “Blue” by the cryptically named band Mostly Other People Do The Killing. It is a note-for-note recreation of Miles’ classic album “Kind of Blue.”

While the imitation is so accurate that it can fool—briefly— someone as familiar with the music as Jimmy Cobb, who played drums on the original session, the concept has generated quite a bit of discussion, which perhaps is the goal.

At the heart of the debate is this: When the original recording is available to all, why would anyone want to listen to an imitation, no matter how close it is? It’s amazing, but what’s the point?

Transcribing and playing the solos of great jazz musicians is an important part of the process of learning to improvise. Going so far as to recreate an entire performance can be considered an extension of this process, albeit extreme. If a student came to me with the idea, I’d be all for it as a learning experience. In fact, the concept arose when the leader of the band, Matthew “Moppa” Elliott, was a student at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

It would certainly be a revelation for the performers, who are highly accomplished in their own right, to see just how deep they could get into the souls of legendary jazz musicians. Elliot says the project was designed, in part, to show “what we could and couldn’t pull off.”

But what’s in it for the listener beyond curiosity? Does a recreation of music that was originally improvised strip the lifeblood from it? Will listening to the imitation produce any of the visceral reaction that one feels when listening to the original? Is a copy of art still art, or does changing the process from creation to imitation invalidate the end result?

In broader terms, what is art? Great minds have pondered this question for centuries. Google it, and then come to your own conclusions.

About the Author

Chase Sanborn is a jazz trumpet player based in Toronto. He is on the faculty at the University of Toronto and is the author of “Brass Tactics,” “Jazz Tactics,” “Tuning Tactics” and “Music Business Tactics.” Chase is a Yamaha Artist.

Visit his website at www.chasesanborn.com. Questions about all things brass-related can be sent to info@chasesanborn.com.

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