A "Key Ingredients" Perspective
Jazz, It's All In The Ear
By Renowned Gospel Producer Steven Ford © 2009
All of my life I've had a wonderful musical journey. Being raised in the African American church brought both a unique cultural awareness of God, and a rich understanding of the expression of music. When I say raised in the church, I really mean that. My family's home in west Philadelphia was a duplex building and my family lived on the second and third floor, and our church was located on the first floor. So, I practically lived at church. I didn't have the opportunity to listen to Jazz musicians as a child, and I never formally studied Jazz music. Jazz records were not allowed in our home, and I remind you that I literally lived in the church.
My musical diet early on was unbalanced in regard to exposure because I didn't hear styles, as we call it. I just heard music. At 6 years old, I began playing the piano, and by the age of 9, I was placed as the head musician at church. When the church purchased a Hammond B3 Organ, I played it day and night, and soon I became the principle church organist. I learned to play by ear, and didn't learn to read music until I was 14 years old.
However, being the principle musician I had to know all of the songs and play for what we called "testimony service." That's the part of the service where someone would start singing a song in the congregation and I would have to hear it, immediately find the key and play the song on the spot, with no rehearsal, no sheet music, no chord charts, just improvise, and "Play It By Ear."
[The connection between the different genres, Jazz Music, Church Music, Classical Music, always amazed me...]
My love for the Hammond B3 Organ and passion for all types of music sometimes put me in quite a position growing up as a pastor's kid. First, the instrument that I loved was not embraced at first by the B lack church and certainly frowned upon by those who loved Classical music. Soon the Hammond B3 was dubbed as the club organ used by Jazz musicians such as Jimmy McG riff, Jack McDuff and Shirley Scott to name a few. I remember being called on stage to play with Shirley Scott years ago at the Robin Hood Dell in Philadelphia.
So Sunday mornings would be an improvisational smorgasbord, a little Jazz on this song, a little Classical on that song and a little "church" on the last song. I define Jazz as the application of Chord Substitutions, Reharmonization, Improvisation, Syncopated rhythms, key transpositions and voicing s.
But, studying theory and composition, reading the notes, learning the licks, studying the Jazz scales, and researching the history of the greatest Jazz musicians is fruitless if you can't hear it.
In the history of musicians and musical families, many of the songs of their culture were never documented; they were handed down from generation to generation. I learned that, just as with playing Gospel music, many elements and inflections of playing Jazz are handed down from ear to ear.
So what is music, what is really Jazz, what is Gospel Jazz? It's God's music, because music comes from God, with unique harmonies, chord progressions, and improvisation, as an expression to glorify Him. I must study to strive for excellence as a musician, but harmonies, the voicing, the improvisation; I have to hear it first with my ear. In learning to play, I had to listen first.
"The Most Important Part of the Lesson Is "The Listen."
"It's all In the Ear."
- Steven Ford