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In a recent blog entry by Peter Hum, Peter asks the question “Why make CDs if they’re such a tough sell?” What place do CDs have in this increasingly diminishing marketplace? Peter poses the question to some Canadian jazz musicians who responded in various ways. You can read the full article here.

I responded to the article by writing the following:

I agree that nothing forces you to grow as an artist more than recording a CD. The process of creating the repertoire, deciding how to play it and who to play it with, the countless hours of practicing, gigging, rehearsing, arranging, writing and thinking about it all come together in the sacred space of the recording studio. It challenges you to face your own musical truth and gives you a place to move from. It’s crucial for me to have the goal of recording in order to dream up a project and see it through…

I now have further thoughts:

Jazz is an art form that exists in the moment. In the space of a musician’s studio there are often no witnesses to that moment unless it’s the family pet. Or it could be that a phrase of music briefly enters someone’s ears at a noisy club. At it’s best, music is a living dialog between the players and the audience. The ears of the listener may be the intangible ingredient needed to bring the music to a higher level. Most performances exist for a moment in time and vanish into the ether. However, truly inspired performances can stay with you for a long time. Years even. They can be transformative.

Making a studio recording is an attempt to capture a body of work. It gives a musician a goal to work toward and in the end it gives them something tangible. But the result is a particular performance on a particular day. If they had gone into the studio a day before or a week later you’d likely hear something very different.

But when I think about the iconic jazz records that I own and have listened to hundreds of times, I can’t help but think that the moment they were recorded defines the music. When I later recall those records I’m hearing the voicings, comping, solos, instrument timbres, phrasings and melodies played only as they were that day in the studio. I can’t think of Kind of Blue, for example, without hearing every tune in order complete with solos. And when I play those tunes, those sounds sometimes inform what I’m playing. It may just be a phrase or a voicing, but the impact of those recordings is very powerful.

I even find that once I’ve recorded a certain tune, I’ll often recall phrases that I’ve played! I then need to choose to go with that preexisting idea or to deliberately try to find something else.

So there is an interesting problem here. Jazz is improvised and needs to exist in the moment. It’s a living art form. Recordings give a certain definitive finality to a body of work.

Is this a dichotomy? I’m curious to know what other musicians think. Do you prefer one over the other?

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