Here’s a taste for what’s been going on around the Chicago music scene the last few years: Pocket Radio is a Chicago-based band known for energetic live shows and music that combines jazz, funk, hip-hop, and soul and gets audiences on their feet. This original tune, written by tenor saxophonist, S. Hudgens, is a perfect example of Pocket Radio’s style.
At Stitely Entertainment, music is our business and our lifeblood. Not only do we love using music to ramp up the energy at a wedding or other event, but we also love it in our lives. We had a chance to have a conversation with Jeff Stitely to talk about his knowledge of music and go in-depth about how he and the other Stitely musicians use musical nuances to create different feels for different moments. The key, to start, is a solid rhythm section. The following posts stems from our conversation about how different styles of music elicit different responses:
In a live band, the rhythm section is the backbone. Whether you notice it or not, every band has a core rhythm section, often consisting of bass, keys, drums and guitar. Different styles of music also have different focuses and feels. In jazz, the quarter note is king. The main focus is the bass, playing a walking quarter note bass line. The drummer adds the ride cymbal, also focusing on that quarter note base. The bass and drums have to match up for the groove to come alive. Really, a jazz rhythm section is like a great conversation. You pick a theme, someone makes a statement, and everyone will respond accordingly, adding their own flair to the conversation. When there’s an openness to what’s being discussed and the conversation is flowing, there’s almost a pleasant hum that occurs. In the same way, a jazz rhythm section will flow and hum in a comfortable yet ever-evolving way. The nuances and variations on this key conversation are what make each tune special.
For dance music, that conversation looks totally different. While the rhythm section is still present and important, they definitely have a more scripted part. This is especially true when they are recreating music that’s been played before. For example, the bands that make up Stitely Entertainment are largely playing dance music that is recognizable to the general public. Because of this, they want to make sure they include every lick and detail that the audience is expecting when they hear that song. When playing older jazz tunes, getting a carbon copy isn’t as important—it’s the style and the essence that you want to extract and recreate. You can play variations on the original while still upholding the integrity of the genre and the song itself. But with dance music, you want to follow the song like it’s a map written out before you.
To successfully follow that map, each musician has an important role. They are each responsible for studying their specific part and recreating it to the best of their ability. The meticulous process of writing out an exact drumbeat or strumming pattern that the original artist used can be tedious, but necessary to recreate what the original artist produced. By writing everything out specifically, the musicians are respecting the artist’s original sound and work.
This process can be challenging with contemporary music because much of it is produced in the studio with layers and layers of synthesizers, keyboards, and strings. This can be very hard to replicate in a live setting, and the keyboard player often has the biggest responsibility: to try to recreate the sounds that all the synthesizers in the studio make, prioritizing the layers that are most important to the structure of the song, as well as what will meet the listeners expectations of the what the song is “supposed to sound like.”
Just as both traditional and contemporary styles are structured slightly differently, they also make you want to move differently as a listener. Motown, Classic Rock, Top 40 Pop, and Jazz are all distinctly different in terms of feel and general response from the audience. Knowing the difference in how and when to play all the styles is important, especially at events like weddings when each portion of the night demands a different feel. The differences really come down to the way that the rhythm section structures itself and how successfully them blend into that “conversation” we mentioned earlier.
In summation, music is an emotion, and that musical emotion is expressed differently for each person in the way they move on the dance floor. So whether or not you realize it when you’re cutting a rug on the dance floor, the rhythm section is playing a huge part in manipulating that raw emotion in a way that grooves with the rest of the atmosphere and creates a memorable and energy-filled space that you won’t want to leave.
This week’s Music Monday shall be known as “Tunes Tuesday.” Because it’s Tuesday. Sometimes you gotta shake things up a bit, keep ‘em guessing. Yeah, that’s why it’s a day late… on purpose.
This week’s pick comes to us courtesy of Jeff Stitely himself: it’s the jazz trio The Bad Plus.
He saw them in Chicago at the Jazz Showcase 3-4 weeks ago, after his interest was piqued through his 11 year old daughter. Jeff’s daughter is in a billion dance classes, and is currently doing a modern dance choreographed to the CD version of the song “Flim.”
The Bad Plus consists of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King. Their music combines elements of modern avant-garde jazz with rock and pop influences. They have recorded killer versions of songs by Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Rush, Neil Young, David Bowie, Queen, Radiohead, and Tears For Fears.
Check out their version of “Everybody Wants To Rule the World.” This was recorded live at The Basement Night Club in Sydney, Australia.
And here is the song that started it all: “Flim.”
If you feel like road-tripping, the trio will be back in Illinois in March at The University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, in Champaign-Urbana, IL. Watch them combine forces with the Mark Morris Dance Group.
Today Jeff shared with us one of his favorite albums: Timeless by John Abercrombie. Recorded in June of 1974 with John on guitar, Jan Hammer on piano and organ, and Jack DeJohnette on drums, it was a lovely, peaceful soundtrack to the snow falling outside our office window.
When naming the album “Timeless” Mr. Abercrombie really hit the nail on the head; nearly 40 years later it more than holds up. We particularly enjoyed “Love Song, a beautiful and soulful, improvised tune. Check it out below.