Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Jazz of Madonna

I’m this close to rushing out and buying a book of Madonna sheet music.

Readers will already know that I’m not a big jazz guitar fan. But I have a sudden, call it “fuzzy” feeling that Bill Frisell has put me on the road to change that. I’ve been listening to Frisell’s Have a Little Faith for two days now, and it is growing on me. I don’t like everything on there, but I’m really starting to dig his takes of some “pop” standards, like Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman and Madonna’s Live to Tell. Last night, I woke my Madonna CD’s from their hibernation and listened to them, trying to see if I could tell what makes them viable jazz songs. They don’t sound particularly jazzy, after all. (Do they?) But I suppose the bridges and turnarounds she uses are closer to jazz chord progressions than pop chord progressions, if one breaks them down and analyzes them. For me, at this stage, it is hard to tell. But man, I’m telling you, Frisell does some really cool turns with the melody and harmonies in Live to Tell, and it is fascinating. He lets the percussionists get a little carried away in the middle of the song, but then he brings it all back together with his guitar. I’m not a guitarist – although I plucked one for a summer way back in grade school – so I’m not sure how he even gets his guitar to sound the way it sounds. Half the time, the string doesn’t sound like it was picked at all, just, like, he looks at it, or strokes it or twiddles his ear at it, and a smooth, round, full sound comes out. Mysterious, like.

I’m determined to explore what makes Madonna (and Dylan) more suitable to jazz than other music. I mean: The Real Book only has two Beatles songs in it, telling me that the Beatles’ music is not particularly suited to jazz. (Of course, we’ve all heard Beatles songs in movies, elevators, slide shows, merry-go-round calliopes, kazoo compendiums, and solo Jew’s harp performances, and even some esoteric things, so, maybe I shouldn’t conclude what they are or are not“suited” to – maybe they’re suited to everything and jazz musicians just don’t want to take that ball and run with it.) (And, yes, I know there aren’t any Madonna songs in The Real Book … yet.) Anyway, Bill Frisell had a reason for picking those songs, and I don’t have his phone number, so I’m going to have to figure out on my own what makes Madonna rock when her music is played by a jazz musician.

I don’t think it has anything to do with the clothes she wears (or doffs).

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