Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ben Webster at Ronnie Scott 1964: The Punch: über-Improvisation

He travelled alone, spurning a permanent touring band for financial reasons but managing to benefit creatively from this. House bands throughout Europe awaited his arrival wondering how they could adapt themselves to suit the great Ben Webster. But they needn't have worried: Ben Webster was there to adapt to them.

The audiences, too, changed wherever he went. In some parts of Europe they'd offer up the most ghostly rounds of applause; elsewhere the commotion would be such to cause the riot police to descend upon a basement bar. Nothing could prepare him for how the crowd would react. In America, they all used to dance to jazz, now they treat it like some intellectual experience; here they do whatever they please. There's an audience.

And as for Ben himself, he never ceased improvising either. Familiarity acts as a disincentive. How can a jazz musician be expected to improvise when they're playing the same old songs with the same old people in the same old towns to the same old audiences? And whatsmore, just how can a soloist be expected to be spontaneous when his private life remains tepid and dull and predictable? How can anything less than an imrpovised life suffice to suit an improvised medium?

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