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on 17 March 2017
brilliant and innpvative
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on 2 November 2012
Trumpet Intonation

Suffice to say I'm no expert on this subject - if you want to dig deeper, try these searches online: "Trumpet Intonation", "Spectral Composition Trumpet". Have you ever wondered why Don Cherry always sounds out of tune? - Read on.


Intonation - the subdivision of the octave, the notes

Just Intonation - a subdivision of the octave that uses whole number ratios, exclusively. Harmonies are perfectly in tune because many of the overtones that constitute each `note' are whole number ratios (these special overtones are called Partials)

Tempered Scale - the scale we actually use. It subdivides the octave into even steps, thus allowing us to play in more than one key. When compared with Just Intonation, notes are up to 6% out (in part, Vibrato helps to hide this fact; the microtonal bends in blues tend towards Just Intonation; an acoustic guitar sounds better tuned using harmonics, while a lead guitar sounds better tuned using frets, etc)

A trumpet is played using harmonics (the air inside vibrates according to different whole number ratios, depending on the player's embouchure - Just Intonation). These harmonics are in-turn subdivided using the valves: the result is in neither the Tempered Scale nor Just Intonation. However, the player can vary their embouchure to rectify the pitch to either the tempered scale or just intonation - online you can view orchestral trumpeters practicing against the root note of a given scale (ironically, the result is in Just Intonation and would be out of tune with an orchestra). Played straight, the notes of a trumpet are typically up to 8% out when compared with the Tempered Scale; some notes are sharp, others flat. A final weapon in the Trumpeter's arsenal is the use of different fingerings to achieve the `same' note, albeit with subtle nuances of intonation (there is also a sliding mechanism, to help rectify the pitch, but I'll skip that).

So what does this all mean?

It means that the Trumpet's intonation is very flexible: hence Miles Davis can state 'everything' with a single note precisely because it is the `wrong' note, and you are probably a life-long devotee of microtonal music!

Wadada Leo Smith - as with Bill Dixon - works with sound and measured silence rather than notes per-se. He wrests great expressivity from the Trumpet, which it is simply pointless for me to try and describe. What I will say is that the changing accompaniment between Jazz quartet and chamber ensemble (and all permutations in-between) casts his trumpet's intonation in a multitude of lights: the Tempered Scale intonation of the chamber ensemble makes his playing sound especially beautiful.

To give Don Cherry his due, maybe the finest use of the Trumpet's intonation can be found on Bengt Berger's, `Bitter Funeral Beer Band' (ECM 1981). Rare, but worth tracking down.Bitter Funeral Beer Band

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It is a branch of ethics that uses human experience as the ultimate arbiter of moral action. Confusingly, it operates on two scales simultaneously: the individual, and the `sum total of human experience'. Simply put: knowledge and experience are transmitted from one generation to the next, such that we don't need a `Newton' every generation. One outcome of this mechanism is that the consumption of narratives forms an integral part of being human - as evidenced by religious texts, soap operas, etc.

Who owns the Civil Rights movement and its narratives?

I recently attended a screening of the Angela Davis documentary, "Free Angela Davis and all political prisoners" (WLS, has a track titled "Angela Davis"). In the Q&A, the director talked about funding, and image rights: she couldn't get funding in America, the major funding coming from France. The footage of Angela Davis is now owned by large corporations, for which they typically charge a five figure sum per clip. Telling Angela's story was difficult.

The figurative titles on "Ten Freedom Summers" cut just as deep as the first time I read the back of a Charles Ives LP - they speak volumes, and are as vital as the air you breathe. Engage with them, find out more.

To get you started: The Jazz label ESP put out an album of Civil Rights recordings at the time, called "Movement Soul" (ESP 1964), which slightly eclipses the Smithsonian folkways recordings of the same period, by virtue of its implicit sense of necessity/reportage. It's well worth tracking down, to hear Fannie Lou Hamer (Track 17 on Ten Freedom Summers, shares her name), as a moment in her company is worth a thousand descriptions of the movement.
Movement Soul: Live recordings of songs and sayings from the Freedom Movement in the Deep South

NB: WLS also recorded for ESP - check out, "Clarity" by Michael Gregory Jackson. Clarity

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Ten Freedom Summers is as good as it gets, enjoy! Wadada Leo Smith plays the London Jazz Festival on 14 November 2012.
4 people found this helpful
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on 6 July 2012
This is WLS'magnum opus,a 4.5 hour series of pieces remembering the struggle for Civil Rights,and commemorating some of those involved.Some familiar names,some I'd not known before--after all,I'm British,not black,and not steeped in the American history of this period.I knew of Medgar Evers from Bob Dylan,Rosa Parks from news broadcasts of the day,MLK because he was an inspiration to all but the most prejudiced of people,etc.
It is a great jazz cd set,maybe that should be GREAT,as it is one of those that will live with you,and resonate for a long time.
I had thought David S Ware was the last hope for American jazz,but this is one of the outstanding releases of ALL TIME.
If you're open minded,open your wallet too,and get this.
I'd call it an essential.
10 people found this helpful
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