Flirting with Coherence
Jazz musicians love puns. Here’s an example: “Just You, Just Me” was a song from a 1929 film called “Marianne,” which was adopted by musicians as a jazz standard and reinterpreted over the years. In the 1940s, pianist Thelonious Monk composed a song with harmonies adapted directly from “Just You, Just Me” but with a new melody, which he titled “Justice.” This kind of oblique reference between “Just Me” and “Just Us” and “Justice” is commonplace, but Monk went a step further when he later renamed his composition “Evidence.” Of course, if you knew the tune had been called “Justice” before, the punning logic would need no explanation. These sorts of stacked associations, though, lead to some of the most interesting puns.
There are different flavors of puns, but one of the most common in jazz is what might be called a “recursive pun,” which Wikipedia defines as “one in which the second aspect of a pun relies on the understanding of an element in the first.” This describes not only the multistep logic behind “Evidence,” but also the rationale for a host of other classic compositions titles: Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” was followed by Sonny Rollins’s “I Know,” Miles Davis’s “Tune Up” preceded John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” “How High the Moon” was reimagined as Coltrane’s “Satellite,” and so forth.
On a hazy afternoon last summer, I sat listening to John Coltrane with a friend in Brooklyn. This friend, who is a drummer, and I had gotten together to play some duets and before we played he put on a 1958 Coltrane record called “Soultrane.” Aside from being a very swinging record, the album is significant because in its liner notes, the critic Ira Gitler coined the term “sheets of sound.” The phrase is tossed around here and there in jazz history classes, but in practical terms it refers to Coltrane’s rapid-fire sequences of notes, which cascaded in groups of regularly ascending or descending tones.
I was a junior in high school when it started.
Every Saturday morning, I would leave my house in suburban New Jersey and take a train into Manhattan, transfer to the subway, and make my way over to the Manhattan School of Music on the Upper West Side. It was there that I became a musical glutton.
Can you remember the last time somebody trolled you?
If not, perhaps you’re not familiar with the word “troll,” as in the slang verb form “to troll.” This usage derives from another, narrower meaning of “troll” that emerged out of the proliferation of online chat rooms and web forums circa the ’90s, which Wikipedia defines as “Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”