Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jazz "Covers"

In the current issue of Music Theory Online, René Rusch analyses Brad Mehldau's solo performance of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" from his album Deregulating Jazz

Rusch's discussion of "intertextuality" and "covers" in jazz neglects to point out that there is a categorical difference between an improvisatory jazz cover of a modern rock tune like "Paranoid Android" and the long tradition of jazz musicians interpreting American Songbook "standards" by Tin Pan Alley composers like Gershwin and Porter. The important distinction is that Broadway composers of the first half of the 20th century were strongly under the influence of jazz, the predominant popular music of the time, and that their compositions are therefore in a symbiotic relationship with the jazz performers that would use them as vehicles for improvisatory reinterpretation. Popular music of the past fifty years, including that of Radiohead, no longer bears this kind of relation to jazz. 

Perhaps it is this distance which intensifies the perceived feelings of anxiety and apprehension in Mehldau's performace of "Paranoid Android." These feelings should contrariwise be absent when the same artist approaches a standard like "All the Things You Are." 

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