Two ways to play “old” musical genres

When you play an older musical genre, what approach do you take? Do you simply “wing it,” or do you think about the possibilities you can use?

It’s a good question and whether we realize it or not, almost all interpretations of historical musical styles take one of two approaches to interpretation.

One approach is to basically play the way you like to play, and “flavor” it with some elements of the older style. Paul McCartney did this with his song “When I’m Sixty-Four,” for example. It doesn’t really sound like something from the 1920s, but it has a little bit of the flavor of 20s music. And it’s delightful.

McCartney took the other approach with his recording of “Bye, Bye, Blackbird,” however, which was actually composed during the 1920s. He sings in an old-fashioned way, and the orchestration is very close to some of the music from that time period. At the same time, the musicians throw in some personal ways of phrasing that tell us that yes, it’s a 20s song, but it’s being playing “now,” not back in the 1920s themselves.

In the jazz world, much of the New Orleans jazz performed by the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra uses the first approach, while Charles Mingus preferred the second way.

With Baroque music, clavichordist Richard Troeger prefers the first way while pianist Glenn Gould took the latter approach.

Each way can sound great; it all depends on who each of us is as a musician and what relation we have with the great music of the past.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

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