As part of the Jazz Legacies series, the Graduate Center's Gary Giddins, acclaimed critic and author, speaks with jazz legends about their life and work.
This year's series begins with a conversation featuring bassist and cellist Ron Carter. Carter's appearances on over 2,500 albums make him one of the most-recorded bassists in jazz history. Carter is also an acclaimed cellist and has recorded numerous times on that instrument.
Ron Carter is among the most original, prolific, and influential bassists in jazz. With more than 2,000 albums to his credit, he has recorded with many of music's greats: Tommy Flanagan, Gil Evans, Lena Horne, Bill Evans, B.B. King, the Kronos Quartet, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery, and Bobby Timmons. In the early 1960s he performed throughout the United States in concert halls and nightclubs with Jaki Byard and Eric Dolphy. He later toured Europe with Cannonball Adderley. From 1963 to 1968, he was a member of the classic and acclaimed Miles Davis Quintet. He was named Outstanding Bassist of the Decade by the Detroit News, Jazz Bassist of the Year by Downbeat magazine, and Most Valuable Player by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Gary Giddins is a jazz critic, author, and director, best known for his longtime work with The Village Voice. Giddins has received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, and the Bell Atlantic Award for Visions of Jazz: The First Century in 1998. His other books include Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams—The Early Years, 1903–1940, which won the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award and the ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Sound Research; Weatherbird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century; Faces in the Crowd; Natural Selection; and biographies of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. He has won an unparalleled six ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Peabody Award in Broadcasting.
Musical form, often improvisational, developed by African Americans and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. Though its specific origins are not known, the music developed principally as an amalgam in the late-19th- and early 20th-century musical culture of New Orleans. Elements of the blues and ragtime in particular combined to form harmonic and rhythmic structures upon which to improvise. Social functions of music played a role in this convergence: whether for dancing or marching, celebration or ceremony, music was tailored to suit the occasion. Instrumental technique combined Western tonal values with emulation of the human voice. Emerging from the collective routines of New Orleans jazz (seeDixieland), trumpeter Louis Armstrong became the first great soloist in jazz; the music thereafter became primarily a vehicle for profoundly personal expression through improvisation and composition. Elaboration of the role of the soloist in both small and large ensembles occurred during the swing era (c. 193045), the music of pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington in particular demonstrating the combination of composed and improvised elements. In the mid-1940s saxophonist Charlie Parker pioneered the technical complexities of bebop as an outgrowth of the refinement of swing: his extremes of tempo and harmonic sophistication challenged both performer and listener. The trumpeter Miles Davis led groups that established the relaxed aesthetic and lyrical phrasing that came to be known as cool jazz in the 1950s, later incorporating modal and electronic elements. Saxophonist John Coltrane's music explored many of the directions jazz would take in the 1960s, including the extension of bebop's chord progressions and experimental free improvisation.