Joseph Carson samizdata at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Apr 24 14:06:48 UTC 2000

Thanks for the illuminating responses that everybody has added to the thread on
musical riffs, runs, fills, ornamentations, licks, chops, motifs, etc. in the
last several days, and in particular for the answer to the nagging question of
the "ABC Song's" origin, which I've always wondered about but never even
considered asking about, since I assumed its answer would lost in the mists of
primordial folk music prehistory. So thanks again to Bruce and the Straight
Dope's/Cecil's editorial staff's backgrounder capsule on the Alphabet Song.  A
related question to the discussion of "riffs" in particular that Chuck's
definition brought to mind is the issue of whether the sort of
"call-and-response" interplay that blues, fusion and jazz solists will make off
one another's phrases during extended exchanges over the basic progression that
trade on the original melody of the tune the band is interpreting counts as
"riffing" or "running;" that is, if their two-to-four-bar trade-offs are to be
analysed according to each individual player's "spot" or their entire "chain" of
interwoven pieces.  What I'm thinking of specifically are bands who play
standard ragtime arrangements like they're soloing from the eighth bar on, or
the agile vocalists fronting gospel acts whose incessant fills and overlays
almost make the melody irrelevant after the first verse is sung ... are they all
just "riffing" in the aggregate, or does "daisy-chaining" over the course of a
whole verse and chorus qualify as more than the sum of its component "fills" to
become a coherent series of "runs" in a "ride?"  I realize this calls for
something of an "angels on the pin" analysis, but as a musician who has had to
spend an inordinate amount of time over the years trying to sort out what
musicians' understandings of these concepts meant in practice, with usually
frustrating results for all concerned, it will be useful in a far more than
theoretical way to have an uncomplicated, straightforward means of
differentiating between these slang terms that would be as specific (yet open to
individual interpretation) as the accepted Italianate terms used in conventional
notation on published music. Thanks a lot for your input - With warm regards,
Joseph Carson

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