T Nation

The Paradox Of The Musical Innovator

On a recent thread about rock guitarist, I remember someone commenting about not understanding why people make such a big fuss over how great Jimi Hendrix was. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the argument was that the poster felt that he didn’t see anything “special” about what Hendrix did.

I remember in College someone making a similar “argument” about Theolonius Monk and his Jazz Keyboard playing. He stated that he had heard this type of playing a million times and it all sounded like the score of a “Charlie Brown” cartoon (or something like that).


That’s the point. Some people are such innovators, and take their instrument in such different directions and/or higher levels, that they almost become a “base” standard by which their instrument (and style) is played. So much so, that when listened to years later, the technical expertise of many others after them appears to be greater.

I think that Tyler said it best on a recent thread when he said the following:

“ What made Hendrix so good? Perhaps the fact that he was doing what no one else ever did before and he’s influenced nearly every guitar player out there.” The same could be said about Monk…

Your thoughts?

NICE! Seeing Monk mentioned on a bodybuilding forum really just brightened my day. That is an excellent point that you make Mufasa, and urges one to explore the roots of whatever kind of music they may be into and not just latch onto whatever the flavor of the month happens to be.

Another point about innovative musicians that should be made is the conditions under which they worked and lived (this refers specifically to the great jazz musicians, I’m not sure if it applies to Hendrix and the like). Such a drastic change to the very structure of music such as those brought about by Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker ect… is often met with GREAT resistance (from their peers, public, employers…). These men, some of the finest musical minds ever to perform, lived in poverty for much of their lives and often had a hard time finding work. Additionaly, they were often berated by the previous generation of musicians. It took years for their ideas to eventually be accepted by the “jazz establishment”, and by that time a new crop of innovators was coming up and were met with the same resistance. It’s an ongoing process and very likely one that will never change. However it’s fascinating to look back and see how, through personal sacrifice, these innovators have enriched the vocabulary of the music that is played today.

I agree 100%. This reminds me of those stupid people who look at modern art and say it isn’t art because it’s not technically challenging the way, say, Rembrandt’s work was. To this I say the redeeming qualities of art include the creativity that went into it, dipshits. Yeah, anybody could cover a canvas with white paint now and say he was making a statement about what constitutes art, but the first guy who did that was exceedingly clever.

On a related note, Lion, if you feel like innovation is running thin in music these days you should check out Dillinger Escape Plan, Candiria, and everything Mike Patton’s involved in (Tomahawk, Fantomas, and Mr. Bungle). Mike Patton – Now THERE’S a modern-day musical innovator. The guy does things with vocals the likes of which have never been done before.

I think that it all has to be taken with a 5lb jug of salt. Speaking as an appreciator, I can see where people may find certain things to not qualify into whatever their schema of art allows. there were times in undergraduate school where I would get really pissed off about having to play “fuckin atonal bullshit” in Orchestra, but now I guess I am a little closer to appreciating it.
Speaking as a Musician - innovation is both exciting and terrifying, going all the way back to early early music, there is so much innnovation and manipulation of things it is still confounding to most scholars - yet to the medieval musician’s aesthetic, that stuff was great. Fast forward to today - a lot of people find John Zorn awful or offensive, a lot of people dig it.

I don’t think what made hendrix great has much to do with his influence on other guitarists, but more on what he did against the backdrop of where he was at the time in history. Same with Miles to an extent…
extending it, some people think Milton Babbitt (middle 20th century pan-serialist) was a brilliant composer and theoretician. I think he had some interesting ideas, but mostly extenuations of Schoenberg, which extended from Wagner, which extended from Beethoven - who in my mind was a musical innovator of the first order. Mozart, on the other hand, represented more of a brilliant synthesis and culmination of music around him than true musical innovation. testosterone dripping from my calloused bass playing fingers

Mufasa, reading your post was a deja vu of a conversation I had with my father as a kid. He was a huge jazz nut with an unbelievable record collection. I remember my dad playing Monk’s records now and again and me mentioning that I did’nt see what was so special about him. His response was that, it was nothing special at the present time, but in the context of the time it was recorded, it was absolutely innovative and ground breaking. Herbie Hancock might be the most recognizable jazz keyboardist now, but would he have even existed as an artist if there had been no Theoloneous Monk. There are so many examples of this. Someone else mentioned Charlie parker, which is a great example. How about Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday as examples of female singers who have influenced so many female singers today. There’s nothing special about listening to Muddy Waters today, but if he had never plugged in an electric guitar, would there have even been a Jimi Hendrix, or any other number of great blues guitarists. Great post Mufasa, glad to see there are some others who appreciate jazz music on this forum.

This is not fully relevant to the topic, but since Thelonious has come up in this thread, I recently came across a humorous anecdote regarding the pianist and his original style that some of you might enjoy. This is from Fracis Paudras’ story of his life with Bud Powell: (someone comments how Monk sucks in his cheeks during his greatest moments) “I’ll bet Thelonious was sucking in his cheeks plenty during all the years when certain listeners with tin ears mistook his daring harmonies for wrong notes! … One day, when he played a harmonic inversion that was just too obvious (conventional) for his taste, he blurted out, with his typical dry humor, 'Oh no, not that. That was a bad mistake!”

Right on Mufasa! It’s a lot easier to copy than invent. Ones a doctor, the other is purely technician.
i don’t know a lot of jazz, but I like hearing it anrd the blues. I love Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Eva Cassidy, Coltrane, etc.
By the way, Ithink i remeber you live around philly. I live up north about 2 1/2 hours. I 've been downtown to the Zanzibar Blue on Broad street a few tomes. Great food and some top shelf jazz.

Jimmy Page was a great innovater of the guitar, it takes something special to be capable of such innovation. Some of you might be aware that Jimmy Page has an assiciation with magic and was even accused of cursing Robert Plant’s son for some reason. Make of it what you will but I agree that these individuals had a little something extra that set them out from the rest(magic or not) that made them innovaters. Hendrix had it too, a special gift that gave him talent way out of the reach to the average Joe. Todays musictions follow these guy’s and nobody has yet suppassed them. It’s like the Star Wars films, nothing they do today no matter how brilliant they look will suppass the originals, you just don’t get the raw creative flair.