Slipping at Slow Speeds

Nothing FD-worthy is happening, and I have a day gig, a book, and an impending wedding to worry about. So feast upon this clip of Kareem playing congos on one of my favorite modal beginner's standards, and try and decide what this means for BASKETBALL IS NOT JAZZ.

Speaking of which, earlier today Ziller and I got bored and tried to figure out which positions would correspond to which instrument if basketball WERE jazz. You'd think that soloing would equate roughly to scoring, because of style and voice and improvisation and all that. But we agreed that, in a conventional quintet, the piano comes closest to approximating the role of the point guard. Things got really screwed up when I suggested that scoring might actually equal drums, since both are alternately propulsive, matter-of-fact, jarring, and still. That would make the big men . . . the horn section?

So basketball still isn't jazz, but does offer a interesting inversion of the usual listening hierarchy, and maybe some compositional cues. Please tell me what you think, and damn, I wish I could get this video to play.

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At 8/13/2009 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basketball could be jazz.

The center is definitely the drums, being the instrument that generally requires the least amount of technical skill. Kareem himself admits he only really had three jobs on the low post: drop step toward the baseline, sky hook toward the lane, or pass out. Similarly, the drummer never has to worry about hitting more than four or five different circles in front of him.

The four is the bass guitar, who you can easily forget about for half an hour (as they make everyone else look better by diligently running the prepared sets) but will always prove their worth with a surprisingly entertaining solo, which I think should equate more to a player's tendency to be "in the zone" (see Shane Battier's high school three point contest victory to find out what "in the zone" means) than just general scoring.

The small forward is the piano, capable of hitting both the highs and lows, playing inside and outside. Rarely taking the spotlight but always relevant, the piano constantly adjusts in order to bring together the consistency of the bass and percussion in the lower register with the flaring horns, bombastic in the higher notes.

The horn section is definitely the guards, playing the primary melody and setting the tone. While the trumpet with saxophone combination is typical (Fisher, Bryant), other combos have shown signs of success, including the dual trumpet (Jack, Ford), and even the rarely seen trombone, saxophone, and instrument-to-be-named combo (Billups, Anthony, Smith).

At 8/13/2009 9:25 AM, Blogger Michael said...

I love this tune. The thing about this simple modal standards is that it's really easy to play the head, but really hard to play a good, interesting solo.

At 8/13/2009 10:27 AM, Blogger Paul said...

No, point is the drummer--he sets everybody up and keep things moving forward.

Wings are horns. They handle the crowd-pleasing stuff (scoring=melody, cross-overs=solos) you can't help but notice.

Bigs are piano and bass. They fill out the tune, keep the form, stretch and improvise in a way that requires deeper attention to appreciate. Off-ball movement, footwork in the post, call-and-response comping, reharmonization, pedal points, turnarounds, etc.

Everybody solos, nobody plays defense.

At 8/13/2009 1:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

NT, that's the conventional wisdom I was trying to get past here. No offense intended, but I'm wondering if there's more to it than that.

P, it's weird to think of the horns as chattery, non-structural, almost ornamental.

At 8/13/2009 2:00 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Perhaps it is weird, but that's how I (a bass player, fwiw) listen to jazz and increasingly how I watch basketball. And sure the horns are ornamental--take 'em away and you're left with a perfectly serviceable piano trio.

But for horns-no-rhythm you're listening to Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Lacy, Julius Hemphill, the Art Ensemble, etc. Definitely good stuff, but good in a D'Antoni Euroball kind of way.

Anyway, I'm off to make a Z-chart of Miles' first quintet.

At 8/13/2009 2:02 PM, Blogger Paul said...

p.s. Rashied Ali memorial going on at WKCR.org right now.

At 8/13/2009 3:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/13/2009 3:42 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

This comes from my friend "Daddy Sang Bass," who is so thorough a jazz musician he can't get his Blogger account to work.

this is going to get stupid, because there are as many ways to argue this as there are ball/jazzers with opinions. nevertheless (using a classic jazz rhythm section with some horns as the example):

PG: bass the most unselfish position. everyone else can be doing anything, while the bass/point dictates/directs the true elements of the form/play to keep it moving (pace/tempo, harmony, overall dynamics). follow the bass player and you won't get lost.

SG: horns the flashy ones that the supporting cast gets to make look/sound good while they take all the credit. if creating shots (and making them) are the equivalent of taking melodic/harmonic/rhythmic chances (in the right places), this works.

SF/PF: piano/guitar i'm grouping them together because i'm lazy AND either could work for both. once upon a time, these were simply rhythm section instruments, accompanists, but since have grown into the weirdest, hardest to categorize, do-it-all-weapons on the floor/stage. role players who can also dominate when needed.

C: drumsssssssah the drums (and center) are the largest, most obvious and threatening presence in the ensemble. the best centers and jazz drummers are the ones who can finish others' phrases (finish alley-oops?) and explode without warning.

i can think of about a million examples that disprove my arguments above, and honestly, it's the players that blur the lines between their assumed roles that turn me on most. THE BOTTOM LINE is that it's the cooperation between the positions that makes the magic happen. and DEFENSE IS BORING.

At 8/13/2009 4:17 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...


At 8/13/2009 4:28 PM, Blogger Teach said...

The instrument to position would differ by team. Udrih is not the same instrument as a Baron Davis. Houston's Brooks is not the same instrument as Rafer Alston. Brooks is a jazz flute.

At 8/13/2009 4:28 PM, Blogger Kellen said...

If the bass is PG then Allen Iverson is Dave Holland.

At 8/13/2009 4:41 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Shoals/DSB: THE BOTTOM LINE is that it's the cooperation between the positions that makes the magic happen.

Teach: The instrument to position would differ by team.

Yeah, thinking about it some more, I see more and better affinities not between positions/instruments but rather among all the stuff that happens on the court/bandstand:

An alley-oop is when one guy starts his solo with the same phrase the last guy ended his with. Pick & roll is the drummer and/or pianist feeding the soloist a phrase. Pick & pop is the drummer and/or pianist echoing the soloist's phrase. When the piano drops out behind a soloist, he's clearing out the paint for a drive. Building tension with a pedal point and then getting back into the changes is making the extra pass for the open three. Pressing is going into double time. Zone defense is some kind of suspended time, or maybe just going into a Latin groove for the bridge.

But I'm afraid I MUST INSIST that the drummer is the point guard.

At 8/13/2009 4:48 PM, Blogger Teach said...

PAUL: that's some good stuff

Does the point guard as the drums work with less traditional scoring point guards?

At 8/13/2009 5:41 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Teach: thanks for the kind word.

I swear I had a well-reasoned answer to your question, but Blogger ate it. Anyway, the gist was that bringing the ball into the offense is like setting up the groove for a soloist. That, and shoot-first PG = overt bombast, while "pure" PG = tasteful restraint.

But of course, all the best PGs/drummers know when to let things simmer and when to bring them to a boil.

At 8/17/2009 2:00 AM, Blogger will said...

It may not be Jazz, but I think maybe a string quintet. I mean, tell me Amar'e isn't the Yo Yo Ma of the paint, and that Yao isn't like your buddy's stand up bass that every time he finally gets it in tune, one of the strings breaks.


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