The Jazz Band & Indo Jazz Fusion


Because elements of jazz originated on the African continent, some intermingling of the idioms of India and the Moslem peoples of the Near East with those of the African American is inevitable. This ultimately developed into the Indo Jazz Fusion movement headed by John Mayer of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Whether the rhythms used in jazz are in our direct evolutionary line from other cultures, or whether the African American, being an improviser and a sensitive rhythm specialist, evolved, independently of the Southern Asiatics, a type of music that rests on similar structural principles. The same principle applies in biological evolution, where there is strong evidence that some features have evolved independently on several occasions through history. Evolution doesn't just occur in a linear sense, but if conditions are right, the same function but achieved in slightly different ways can be "reinvented". Even light sensitive areas such as the high seem to have been involved more than once.  

One indication of its independent evolution is that jazz, in its purely rhythmic aspects, is much more primitive and much more limited, than the art music of Southern Asia. As an example, the North India musical form known as gath, a music of Mohammedan origin, there's great complexity in the structural form. Here there is a "fundamental rhythm" whose pulses are always kept in mind by the player, though they may only be marked in the music itself at wide intervals. This "fundamental rhythm," though is not necessarily limited to four-quarter or two-quarter time as is the case in jazz, but may be measured in several different time signatures. On this basic rhythmical structure an instrumental musician such as a vina player, would improvises a type of composition that is somewhat similar to both the classical music's "rondo" (as in the classical Rondo Ein Madchen oder Weibchen) and our "variation" forms. The improvisation contains at least one melodic phrase, or group of notes, which tends to recur again and again, serving as a sort of melodic landmark and providing a unifying element of familiarity. This little musical phrase invariably appears on a beat of the fundamental rhythm and is the audiences and player's steppingstone through the music. Between these ordered musical phrases, the player plays what is equivalent to the jazz "break". The instrumentalist syncopates in very subtle and complicated ways, and are long enough to make even the average Western musician with a "good sense of rhythm" lose all track of fundamental bearings.  

Also, the polyrhythm forms a very important part of his technique. It is not, however, limited to three-over-four super-impositions (though these are popular). Superimposi-tions for the East Indian musician are virtually unlimited in variety. Seven over four, five over three, ten over two—cycles involving practically every number of rhythmic units are quite common. This is really quite amazing, as even the 7/8 of Greek music was something of the shock for my own ceilidh band when asked to play some Greek dancing. It's something you have to feel rather than think about intellectually. Certainly within the string quartet repertoire there is music written in 7/8 and in classical symphonic music, some of the more recent composer's will change time signature every few bars, but this is played intellectually the conductor guiding the orchestra through the music, it's not felt instinctively so that the resulting music is completely different in feeling. The rhythmic sense that permits the musician to keep a continuous and changing chain of such cycles perfectly oriented with regard to the fundamental pulse (which here is not stated musically as in jazz, but is merely borne in mind) require someone who is something of a mathematical genius. On the rhythmic side this sort of music is to jazz what integral calculus is to elementary arithmetics. So next time we play tangos with my string quartet, if they dare complain I will remind them that life could be a lot more complicated if they'd been born in India as a musician. At least the string quartet there is a drummer and brought, whereas in Indian music the syncopating instrumentalist is usually accompanied by a drummer who is creating an altogether different chain of complex "breaks" built on the same fundamental rhythm, but involving syncopations and polyrhythmic cycles that play against those of the melody. From time to time the two musicians join each other in a return to the fundamental pulse. And each time they deviate again, often testing their syncopatory skill by attempting to destroy each other's sense of the fundamental pulse while retaining their own. This is just the sort of battle that is so inspiring when it happens in a traditional jazz band. The East Indian gath is constructed in terms of not two, but three simultaneous and conflicting streams of rhythm, one of which (the fundamental rhythm) is not explicitly stated but merely held in the mind.


Although in theory this could all be worked out by a composer who is analysing and closely defining what is going on, the complexities of notation and of working it all out of such that it only really appears in the improvised form. Surprise and suspense are integral to the aesthetic scheme of the East Indian gath. Rehearsal or "interpretation" from written notes would immediately spoil it by introducing deliberate intention. The Hindu musician has a system of notation by means of which they can write their music down, but it is rarely used. The idea of composing things and writing them down so they can be played in the future, preserved posterity, is foreign to them Indian musician. After all, posterity will make its own gaths, and in any case anyway musician wouldn't want anybody copying his own particular style of gath creation, supposing anyone was as unimaginative as to want to imitate it. Furthermore, the Hindu ustad, or master musician, never plays a gath twice in exactly the same way (couldn't, because wouldn't be able to remember three has musical improvisation, and wouldn't anyway, it is just against the grain).


This is totally foreign as a concept of the string quartet player, who happily plays Haydn's 144 string quartets have been carefully written down, preserved and published so that they are the same now as they were when Hyden first written hundreds of years ago. Which is the best way? It would seem tragic from the point of view of the string quartet musician if Haydn's genius had been lost, than that of Beethoven, Brahms and all the other composers who have contributed to the library of Western European music. Presumably, the Hindu musician has no such feelings. The music came and went. At least recording technology has meant that improvisation is of Ravi Shankar and other great musicians will be saved in the same way as perhaps an original recording of a Haydn string Quartet could have been saved, if the technology had existed back then. But it doesn't allow another musician to repeat the performance, though I suppose that another musician could listen to the performance and learn from it and be inspired to new improvisation is which could also be recorded. The Indian musician would consider the suggestion that they copy someone else's improvisation as an insult to their powers of imagination and that the music must be "hot," or it is nothing. 

Superficially there is little resemblance between hot jazz and the music of India. Hot jazz has elements of harmony that are foreign to Indian music. Hot jazz is also very much more limited in the matter of scale, as well as in rhythm. But the psychological effect of the music, and in the form of rhythmic structure, there are definitely resemblances between the two. There is therefore a much closer relationship between the various sections of a jazz improvisation than would be made obvious by the simple formula of its phraseological structure. In the jazz performance there is a dynamic quality which comes from the "unrest-relief" ideas that I've already mentioned and this leads from phrase to phrase, giving a certain element of suspense to what is in reality simple type of "variation" form.


Compared with classical Western music, jazz has a rather elementary structure. The hot jazz band simply plays a theme, which may be improvised or taken from some popular melody, then goes on to make a series of rhythmic and melodic variations on it. The harmonic structure of the theme is not altered in the variations, a simple theme-and-variation type of structure. There are variations of this as in the popular Tin Pan Alley songs usually consisting of a "verse," or introductory stanza, and a "chorus," which constitutes the main melody. The structure of these songs usually follow the European principles of song form. In semi-improvisatory jazz performance the "chorus" and variations usually happen more frequently than the "verse" and its variations. There isn't a precise rule defining which precedes or follows which. The "verse" may even be omitted altogether, and the "chorus" may be used by itself as the theme for the variations. The phrasing structure is usually in units of four, eight or sixteen beats, except in the "blues" which are usually laid out in phrases of twelve beats. There are some more complicated forms that can be found in more sophisticated hot jazz bands. Some of these are forms in the "fantasy" or "rhapsody" style. They are not common and more often the hot ensemble usually sticks to a single key throughout an entire improvisation, rarely modulating.


The sweet jazz arranger has, of course, developed a more deliberate and more elaborate recipes for giving a jazz tune extended form, techniques for from classical Western music. Again the process is one of variation form, the completed orchestral version being known as a "routine." (Wonderful American descriptive word. I must try it with my string quartet next time we meet. I'm not sure whether I'll just get blank faces or expressions of disgust. Americans excel at inventing new words things, and of course in the computer business which itself is completely new, there is bootstrapping, the familiar mouse and a whole dictionary of new words that are brilliantly descriptive. This language invention characteristic has been applied to jazz, wearers in classical music, the same old Italian and German words appear on the string quartet school that have been used for hundreds of years. How dull).