J.S. Bach and John Coltrane …?


Two styles: jazz and classical. One way?

Take one lick John Coltrane lick. Apply a bit of J.S. Bach invention style to it. Marinate and bake–in a wood-burning brick oven at low heat.

What comes out with not a lot of effort isn’t perfect. But then again, why should it be? What’s important is the doing of it. The trying. The process is:

  • experiment
  • observe
  • repeat over and over again.

David Cope and mix and match

David Cope is easily the most prolific composer of styles mixed with styles. Because his way has been to write computer programs that do the work. His programs analyse the repertoire fed in to them to find rules. With rules in RAM so to speak they recompose, remix, and spew out new compositions in the style of whatever the input or inputs have been. This goes on literally until the off switch is pressed firmly and finally.

Composing reduced to finding and following rules? Which goes back to the previous example; two measures in which the style of a Bach Invention is applied to a lick by John Coltrane.

Anything done with intent and curiosity leads somewhere. We can observe the “somewhere”, modify it to taste, repeat as desired and so forth.

Bach explored–Bach experimented

Among other posts in the PolishookPiano hopper are a few on re-composing Bach Inventions. Of course re-composing anything from Bach is a great thing to do for composers and improvisers. Because exploring materials with which Bach worked and conjecturing how and why he made the choices that he did–what could be better?

That sort of conjecturing can be interesting for performers too. Because nothing’s written in stone. Or is Bach written in stone? The thing is, we don’t have to follow every choice that comes before us. But having a sense of some of them and being able to choose from amongst them–that’s a good thing. Because Bach didn’t “just” compose inventions–certainly he didn’t just compose inventions from beginning to end as we hear them now.

Rather his process, as scholars have reported, was non-linear. Bach tried and tested motifs and transformations, bits and pieces, and collections of “this” and “that.” The process, such as it was went from initial ideas to sketches to finished pieces and then on to the collections we know as 2-part Inventions and 3-part Sinfonias.

And back to John Coltrane and the model of David Cope: If we know the process of the one we can inject it into the fabric of other. Which is how the 2-measure excerpt above came to be.

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