Jazz Birthday: Walter Bishop, Jr. (1927)

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Every jazz birthday presents a contrast between a creative (productive) world and an uninspired (unproductive) world. When I went to a web site this morning to look up a word, I was told that to proceed I had first to take a poll: Was I Democrat, Republican, or Independent? I refused. I went elsewhere, because I consider these political divisions all to lie in one realm, the realm of taking from others, not making for oneself or for others. Taking vs. making. Taking is unproductive. Making is productive.

Walter Bishop, Jr., pianist, became active starting in the late 1940s, recording with Milt Jackson in 1949 and at Birdland in May of 1950. Bishop’s father was a composer. Bishop taught music theory and thoroughly understood harmony. He invented and wrote on jazz improvisation using cycles of fourths and fifths (note intervals). I’ve selected a video in which he explains and demonstrates his harmonic ideas and plays a few tunes. This is material that only specialists can fully grasp, but it gives you some idea of the sophistication that is present in jazz. Because jazz solos are improvised, scores have to be transcribed afterwards. It is easy to find different experts and players who disagree about the chord structures that a musician has used. Musicians often alter a classic tune, even a jazz tune, from the composer’s original harmony.

3:55 am on October 4, 2012