At the start of this research, this journey through Arabic music, I asked the question “How can I implement elements like maqam, quartertones and rhythms from the Arabic musical tradition, with a focus on the region of Syria, into my repertoire as a jazz bass player?”
I started answering this question by understanding the theory behind the maqam system. I looked at the melodic material that forms the basis of traditional Arabic music. I learnt about the most commonly used ajnas, how they can be used to form maqamat and how they form the basis of Arabic musical structures. I practiced the concept of sayr and how to move systematically through different maqamat using the visualisation of the flowcharts, most specifically for the maqamat hijaz, rast and sikah. This was a valuable asset in learning the melodic material and the development. Furthermore, analysing traditional compositions helped me understand the melodic development on a deeper level. The same methods can be used to gain more familiarity with other maqamat I did not have time to study yet. Additionally I developed a technique to play quartertones on the double bass, making all melodic material available to me on the instrument.
Next I studied rhythmic material. I looked at different rhythmic patterns and took a specific interest in the jurjina rhythm. I worked on my flexibility in this challenging rhythmic structure by writing exercises in it for the double bass. I also featured it in an arrangement and a composition. By executing this process I became much more comfortable playing this rhythm. This method of studying (creating exercises and writing with the material) turned out to work very well and can be executed for other rhythms as well.
For the usage of harmonic material within Arabic traditional music I analysed a musical performance, and arranged a piece myself. By doing this, I found many ways to deal with accompanying traditional Arabic music on the bass. Examples include following the most important notes of the melody, creating a countermovement, using a pedal note to function as a drone, and find chords within a certain mode to support the melody on top.
I combined all these findings in writing some musical material of my own in the form of arrangements and a composition. I arranged Ya Fajar, a traditional Arabic song, and Nardis, a jazz standard. Both arrangements gave me an insight on how elements of both Arabic music and jazz can be combined into one arrangement. Next to this I composed the song Doodling, which was mostly an exploration of the jurjina rhythm. Writing these arrangements and this composition helped me realise that this method is invaluable to developing my own stylistic identity. Because I am the creative force behind the music, and I’m writing what I want to hear, it becomes something that truly reflects me as a musician. This is a very important lesson, and I want to further develop my voice by doing this in the future.
I also want to mention some things that I planned on doing, but ultimately could not complete during the time span of my Master studies. The main reason for this is because if the Covid-19 outbreak, which made it much harder to meet up with people, and had me set back in time dramatically. First of all, I feel that of the three maqamat I set out to study, maqam sikah has not gotten as much attention as hijaz and rast have had. The reason for this is that the process of studying the other two maqamat was already very time-consuming, and maybe the goal of fully analysing three maqamat was too ambitious. I also wanted to leave room for rhythm, and other subjects.
I would have liked to conduct some interviews with some of the bass players that played on the records that I mentioned, like Dave Holland and Larry Grenadier. Apart from them being some of my biggest inspirations, I think they could have given me a lot of information on how they approached to play on these records, and what information they were given by the artist leading the project. Similarly I wanted to have more insights on how traditional Arabic musicians would deal with playing with jazz musicians. This is something I still want to pursue in the future.
I want to thank some people without whom this research and thesis would not have been possible. First of all I would like to thank Nadia Marak for awakening my interest in Arabic music and setting me up for participation in that first project week, and the formation of NAJWA. Secondly I would like to thank all other members of NAJWA, Nawras Altaky, Jawa Manla, Modar Salama, Christian Palmier and Kim Jaeger, for making me fall in love even more with this music.
A very big thanks goes to Nizar Rohana. Thank you for helping me with all my questions, explaining various aspects of maqam to me for hours and patiently listening to my attempts of recreating the music. I could not have done this without you.
I also want to tremendously thank my bass teacher Tony Overwater. Thank you for sticking by me the last three years. For your guidance and your wisdom, and for helping me move forward at times I was stuck. You have been a very big inspiration for me.
Lastly I want to thank all other teachers at the Royal Conservatoire who helped me on my journey through this research: Roelof Meijer, Loes Rusch, Wim Vos, Graham Flett, Jonás Bisquert, Kathryn Cok, Bart Suèr, Renee Jonker and Ramon Verberne.