Jazz/blues theremin?

Posted: 1/16/2009 10:35:06 AM

From: Boston, MA

Joined: 1/13/2009

Theremins have crossed a lot of genre boundaries, but has anyone made good use of one in jazz or blues music?
Posted: 1/16/2009 11:24:29 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Robby Virus of Project:Pimento (http://www.projectpimento.com/) springs to mind first, bit poppy, bit loungy, bit jazzy. Mmmm. Nice.

Also, Pamelia Kurstin comes from a jazz background, playing bass - check out her take on Lush Life (lushhhhhhh livelihood) on her other myspace site.

link (http://www.myspace.com/ithinkyoudroppedthisonthefloor)

Barbara Buchholz is also a jazz bassist, and there's a lot of jazz influence in what she does too.

And there there's Summertime opening Clara Rockmore's Lost Theremin Album.

And so on...
Posted: 1/16/2009 11:27:28 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

...and one can argue whether Jon Spencer's wailing couts as blues theremin, once one's hearing returns, of course ;)
Posted: 1/16/2009 4:28:40 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I hate to be the proverbial fly in the ointment here, a real stick-in-the-mud, but I think the key word in the original question about the use of the theremin in jazz and the blues is "GOOD".

"...has anyone made good use of one in jazz or blues music?"

Of course, the answer to this is going to be a matter of personal opinion. Mine is NO.

The theremin has been used quite successfully to play some standard ballads (Summertime, Autumn Leaves, etc.) but these could hardly be called "jazz".

The theremin can play jazz like Marian Anderson, but it ain't no Billie Holiday.

There are certain musical idioms where the theremin just does not seem to have a place: jazz, blues, and country/western being three of them.

Pamelia Kurstin's trademark "walking bass" is wonderful, and she does it beautifully, but it is a sort of novelty act and does not compare to a real bass which is far more accurate and much easier to do.

I have never felt that thereminists are doing the their instrument a favor by pushing it into areas of music where its shortcomings get in its way and it is bound to fail.

There are things that a theremin can do that are not possible on any other instrument. In these things it stands alone as a unique and totally magical instrument.

"We already have the moon. Let's not ask for the stars." Bette Davis in NOW VOYAGER

Posted: 1/16/2009 5:09:56 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

To be fair, not many jazz singers are Billie Holiday either.

Mind you, it would go some way to explain why both Barbara and Pamelia are moving away from their musical background.

I'd also add that Pamelia's "walking bass" (she calls it staccato) is perhaps better considered as part of a musical palette than as an interesting attempt to sound like some other instrument. Last time I saw her play live the staccato was no longer limited to bass notes, and was used in combination with other "envelope shaping" usage of the volume loop - for instance her slow attack, fast delay which is reminiscent of a reversed tape, as well as gating the signal at times - kinda like an automatic articulation regulator.
Posted: 1/16/2009 5:44:47 PM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

it kind of depends on where you draw te line on what jazz is. Barbara Buchholz does some fine jazz on a couple tracks of her Russia With love album and the players she has on her latest labum are the top guys around Arve Hendriksen, & Jan Bang.
Pamelia's improv on the Moog video with jazz pianist Mokoto Ozone, best known for his work with Gary Burton is cool - she does agreat Lush Life too. There's much more to her jazz playing than the bass trick.

My own taste in jazz has always been toward the European/Scandinavian scene Terje Rypdal, Palle Mikkelborg, Markus & Simon Stockhausen, Arild Andersen etc - so my own trio veers toward this area and I think the theremin fits nicely into this jazz scene - for example the opening track Way Back Out on my Continuum Trio's Yttrium album - the theremin comes in around the 1 minute mark
link (http://www.btinternet.com/~unclechristo/cd_continuum3.html)
No Cause For Concern also has an ECM label style touch to it. (OK - enough plugs already!)

Then there's free jazz/improvised music - the theremin is a dream instrumet for that with or without effects as the UKs excellent Beatrix Ward-Fernandez has shown amongst others.

Jazz is where you find it - I havn't heard many blues thereminists but I probably haven't looked.

So my answer is yes - whatever the genre - the theremin has something to offer in it;s own way.

Posted: 1/16/2009 9:09:20 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

unclechristo wrote:

.....so my own trio veers toward this area and I think the theremin fits nicely into this jazz scene - for example the opening track Way Back Out on my Continuum Trio's Yttrium album - the theremin comes in around the 1 minute mark

link (http://www.btinternet.com/~unclechristo/cd_continuum3.html)


I would not have called that music jazz - and I certainly wouldn't classify the theremin part as anything even close to a jazz performance.

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying I didn't like it, and I'm not trying to set myself up as the arbiter of what IS and what IS NOT jazz.

I'm just saying that *for me* that ain't jazz.

[i]fixed links - TW-Staff[/i]
Posted: 1/16/2009 10:18:40 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Hi all, Over the last 6 months, I've been working on some jazz type pieces of my own composition. They're based on "dixie Land Jazz" styling, as well as some more modern stuff.

I think in addition to "has anyone made good use of theremin in jazz?", the next question should be, "which theremin is "good" for jazz?"

I have found that the etherwave standards, and waveftonts are excelent for some types jazz because of their brass like tonal charactors, and their loudness capabilities.

But here, aagain, the type of jazz will also dictate which theremin is best. dixie land works best with the wavefronts, and etherwaves, but modern jazz, or new age (especially light easy listening) call for a more subdued tone of the B3, PAiA, Tvox, or Etherwave pro.

I tend to agree that the term "good" is subjective, and totally depends on each person's tastes, be they thereminists, or audience.

So, is what I'm doing a "good" use of theremin in jazz? That remains to be seen, and heard.
Posted: 1/17/2009 8:01:41 AM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

coalport -
I understand where you're coming from and appreciate your reply.
I play a lot of different kinds of jazz and once or twice a week I play and sing piano jazz in bars for a living and am aware what the broadly publicly perceived idea of jazz is - and yes I dip into Ray Charles & early Miles Davis and I admit I've only added theremin in modal jazz a la Pharoah Sanders. I tend to think of this 50s 60s era style of jazz as cocktail jazz or cabaret and agree I haven't heard much theremin in this genre outside of playing a ballad melody - certainly not much improvising. Pamelia's "bass" solo (and brief hi solo after) on Autumn Leaves at the 3.28m mark here tho is an example
link (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=X-ywH1Vj8_U)

I think Rob Schwimmers Theremin Noir album with Uri Caine has some great improvised theremin in amongst the Hitchock themes.

There's no imrpvising but the piece with Carolina Eyck is certainly jazzy link (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=8XKJWFmFuz4)

However the jazz I was brought up on has been around a while and to me is still jazz, and ECM is a jazz label - the 1st jazz albums i bought were Eberhard Weber, early Steve Kuhn, Terje Rypdal, plus more jazz fusionists John McLaughlin, Chick Corea etc and I would agree that perhaps the theremin fits in better with more modern styles where the forms are more open. I like my jazz quite outer-spacey anyway. Here is some footage of the main influence on the Continuum track I pointed out and one of the 1st jazz artists I got into in a big way - the classic Rypdal Waves album band of 1978 - (how did that get to be 31 years ago!!?)
link (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=V4npYoNL8pk&fmt=18)

The theremin is good at doing some things and not so good at others - eg flight of the bumblebee (link (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=2zXIS8Z2QvA&NR=1) :-) and Charlie Parkerish solos. The same is true of the Uillian bagpipes (tho Davey Spillane can do some neat blues licks on it.) The piano is lousy at doing long sustained bending notes.

But jazz is a broad church.
My main point in all this rambling is that I think there is jazz out there that can suit the theremin doing what it is good at.
Posted: 1/17/2009 11:32:04 AM

From: new haven ct.

Joined: 7/8/2005

One problem, well they're plenty of problems, of playing jazz on the theremin is most good jazz musicians are very intolerant of sloopy, out of tune playing, as it should be with all musicians.

If your going to play a ballad, you better be able to play it in tune. Many jazz (and classically trained musicians, etc..) are not accepting of the concept of intonation as irrelevent.

Of course playing in something a kin to Sun Ra's Arkchestra, or some Pharoh Sanders, you can get away with it, but your only really adding color to an already rich texture.

BTW, a nice jazz ballad to do is Mingus's "Goodbye Porkpie Hat'
It's got some jumps, but if you can learn it can impress jazz gus. It's slow enough to take your time with and has plenty of space to "solo".


You must be logged in to post a reply. Please log in or register for a new account.