by Ron Davis
There are two kinds of “jazz standard”. The first is the tune every player knows or is expected to know. You can show up, say, to a Ronnie Scott’s jam session, sit down with a half-dozen musicians you’ve never met in your life, call “Pennies From Heaven,” no lead sheet before you, and voila - great music out of thin air. My own playing has been less focused on these kinds of standards, although I’ve recorded a few - “You Make Me Feel So Young,” the sublime “Moon River,” and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” for example.
The second kind of standard is the tune that may not be of great renown, but is begging for the full-on jazz treatment: rhythmic exploration, interesting harmonization and, of course, improvisation. Examples: John Coltrane’s tragic and transcendent “Alabama,” or Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” which Miles Davis did such a beautiful job with.
My music tends to fall in the second category of jazz standard. Fully composed tunes that are taken far beyond my original conception in the execution. On my most recent record, Instrumental Music Liberation Front, I’ve adapted some classical pieces to fit this mold. For example, I took a movement of a Brahms symphony (working with ace arranger Louis Simao), turned it into a jazz tune, and called it “Brahms.” It’s a real mind bender, because I’m taking a “classical standard”, as it were, and changing it into a jazz standard. One kind of jazz standard, that is. But why not? How great would it be if, one day in the near future, I could walk into the Ronnie Scott’s jam, sit down, call “Brahms” and voila - a jazz standard is born.