Jazz Democracy | Dimitri Vassilakis | TEDxAthens

Translator: Maria Pericleous
Reviewer: Denise RQ (Band playing) (Applause) All right, thank you so much. That was “Take the A train”
by Billy Strayhorn, and made known by the Duke Ellington band,
the great jazz icon, and we are going to be riding
this train of jazz democracy tonight we are going to be doing
this with George, Manos and Manos. Long time collaborators and friends. We are going to do this here, in Athens
at the birthplace of democracy. Together with this and other ideas,
words, and concepts that we have given to the world, and sometimes we have forgotten
the real meaning of. So, talking about jazz democracy. Jazz has become a universal art form and it doesn’t matter where you come from race, ethnicity, color, background,
economic background or anything. And also, it’s not about one person. Like, I might be leader of this band, but while I am soloing,
you must have noticed– every guy will tell you that,
every jazz guy, that while I’m doing this, the other guys
are commenting behind me. So whenever I’m taking a solo we are in a kind of conversation together. And after we do that, after I do that, then they will take the solo on their own
when their turn comes in. It’s a power of communication, conversation, mutual respect,
and understanding, that is very basic for what we do. Another very basic thing is improvisation. Which is, you know, the key element. But that doesn’t mean
that we do whatever we like. OK, we do that too. We have a good time. We are having a ball when we play, but we do that by respecting the form. And respecting the form means that we are going to be taking this train that has those four wagons and those are, you know– there’s A section… Actually, there is a intro
– Manos played the intro – this is maybe the driver’s wagon, then there’s the A section, second day, B, the bridge as we call it,
and the last day. And the bridge might be the place
where you know, get your coffee. But while we do that I want to tell you that
there’s no first class wagon or I might add that [all wagons
should be VIP ones then.] So let me just state
the main themes that I want to say. Differences from other kinds of music? [What’s different] from the classical
music is that we compose instantly. In a certain framework we do that. And it’s like me talking to you now. Jazz is like a language. It’s me not reading a speech,
but talking to you like that. And a difference from the ethnic music
is that jazz has become an ocean. An ocean that can absorb many styles. Many ethnic musics and styles. We are coming now to uncharted waters. We are taking chances when we play. Every time. It’s like finding new ground, and while we do that
we create on the spot. Although I’m doing this talk, I’m sure that any other jazz musician will be able to tell you
roughly the same stuff. I’m going to tell you
just a very quick story that has moved me
because, through my travels, once I’ve been to Africa
specifically in South Africa, and I had this experience
of teaching young kids, and being out there
in the ghettos, in the townships. And after I did whatever
I had to do there, I was out with my guide walking back and while we were going
through a football ground – not a football ground,
it was nothing like that, but you know, kids were playing there – and he said: “Why don’t you pick up
your saxophone and play a few notes?” And I said: “You must be joking,
these guys are playing football.” He said: “Do it.” So I did it. I started playing something, and suddenly all those kids
playing football, they stopped doing that,
and came around me, and started hugging me and dancing. Wow! That was
the best audience I ever had! That was one of the most spiritual
experiences I ever had. Of course, if you’ve been down there
you understand how people are, and how they feel the rhythm
in the music with their bodies. It’s a different experience. So, don’t try to understand jazz, I’m not going to be talking
that much any more, but we’re going to give you some examples. It’s better if you go there
and feel the music. One of the key elements
of that music is rhythm. And the basic thing is swing. The great Duke Ellington has said: “It don’t mean a thing
if it ain’t got that swing.” We’re not going to be doing
anything complicated here, but I want your collaboration. Can you do that?
I think you can do that, yeah? You can snap or clap your fingers. We’re going to be riding the same train,
the same wagons again, A, A, B, A. With you, OK? So, you’re going to be doing that. It goes one, two, one, two, again. One, two, again. So let’s go: one, two, you’re good! Keep that, one, two. Let’s go, one, two, three, four. (Jazz music) That’s it. All right! You’ve done it! (Applause) You’re very good, yeah! Actually those kids down in South Africa were really good on rhythm. They didn’t have anything to eat,
or even electricity or anything… I’m not going to go back to that story
that changed how I look at life. But let me now do something else. Another example for you. Democracy and the world–
We don’t live in a perfect world. So even we jazz players,
although I stated all the good stuff, and the good way
of communicating that we’ve got, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Especially when everybody
wants to do his own thing. “You might be right,
but I want to do my own thing, and I’m going to stick to it, and these other guys
are going to do the same.” So let’s try and see how this sounds. If that produces a good result. Same train, and everybody
is doing his own thing, not listening to the other. (Jazz music) I don’t know, how did that sound? Good? Not that good, yeah? Not that good, bravo! Let me check it out, though,
let me check it out. So Manos, this Manos.
What have you been playing, man? (Bass playing) Manos sounds OK, yeah?
He is right, yeah? Is he right? (Audience) Yes.
Yeah, Manos is right. OK, George, excuse me,
what have you been playing, man? (Drums playing) He is right, yeah? He’s good, George is good,
he sounds great. OK, what happens with Manos?
Hey man, what’s happening? (Piano playing) He sounds good, yes? OK. But you know, the result
wasn’t that good, because– that reminds me of politicians, really, have you seen them talking
on TV or anywhere else? I mean, if you listen to each one
of them individually, you say OK. You might not know the subject very well, so this guy is telling you
about something, maybe the economic policy or whatever. “Yes, this guy is… he’s got it!
Yeah, that’s it, he’s right!” And then he stops talking.
And then you see the other guy. He goes on and on, you say: “What?
No, this guy, this guy is right. Aha, this guy is right!” And it goes on and on,
everybody is right. I don’t think that that’s the case.
Being right is not always the case. Maybe being together is the case,
and listening to each other. We are going to try that. So, although we have all those differences that you’ve seen, like style,
and approach to the same train, to those wagons. Imagine those wagons that we just visited: it’s like one wagon
wants to run with electricity, the other one wants
to run with petrol, whatever, the other one wants
to run with nuclear power, and a couple of donkeys
are carrying the other one. So, we are going to bridge that, OK? We are going to try to give you
another version of the A train, not the swing version,
like, the classical one, but something that can bridge
all those differences. (Band playing) All right! (Scat singing) (Applause) All right, I think
we’ve done something, yes? Jazz is also like a language.
Thank you so much! We’re talking some scatting here. (He scats) All right, let’s move to something else. As I said, it’s an ocean
that absorbs many elements. OK, so this next example
is going to show you how different styles got into jazz,
and we respect them, and we try to create
more beauty with them. So guys, let’s start. And if you know what’s happening,
what’s that groove? Do you know that? That’s Bossa Nova. Bossa Nova is a cross from
the Brazilian samba and swing. That’s it – next style coming on. You have to guess. What’s happening now? What’s that? That’s Latin. That’s a songo drum,
real Latin stuff. Now? That’s kind of funky,
backbeat rock groove. Some Greek stuff here. (Applause) OK. So, all those elements. OK. Now, some of the great icons, the great players and composers in jazz
like Duke Ellington, like Miles Davis, like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, they took all those elements in there,
and also some from the pop world. We are going to end
this talk and performance with one song and it has this… John Coltrane, this amazing
Jazz legend and his quartet, whatever they have done
to “My favourite things”, that was back in the 60s, when they took this old, for them too,
pop tune from the movies, we are going to do something similar
with a pop tune, rock tune: turn it into jazz. ♪ There is a house in New Orleans ♪ ♪ They call it the Rising Sun ♪ ♪ And it’s been the ruin of many a boy
God knows I am one ♪ ♪ My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans ♪ ♪ My father was a gambling man
Down in New Orleans ♪ ♪ There is a house in New Orleans♪ ♪ They call it the Rising Sun ♪ ♪ And it’s been the ruin of many a boy
God knows I am one ♪ ♪ God knows I am
God knows I am ♪ ♪ God knows I am
God knows I am ♪ George Polychronakos on the drums. (Applause) Manos Loutas on the double bass. (Applause) Manos Saridakis on the piano. (Applause) They are long-time collaborators
and friends, and great musicians. And we have been taking this jazz train
for many, many years now. And hopefully, will continue to do that. Thank you so much,
thank you TED for having us. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

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