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Small Changes Make Big Differences Essay

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A living jazz legend once exclaimed “jazz has borrowed from other genres of music and also has lent itself to other genres of music.” Herbie Hancock makes it clear that jazz has been an evolving form of art. And just as simple as the notion that music can change the world, music changes in itself. Jazz once evolved into something we call swing. Back in the roaring twenties people got up and danced to this kind of music. However, these simple and playful melodies that everyone were accustomed to transformed into intricate music with a different basis.

When jazz was over everyone’s head and people stopped dancing, we call this period bop. Inevitably, new ideas emerged and jazz musicians decided to take a step back, leading into the cool period. Although it is hard to find the exact beginnings and ends to these distinct eras, I will show how musicians utilized different styles to express themselves.

It all began running in the early 1940s when bebop started emerging.

Superseding the swing era, bop switched its focus from a melodic improvisational style to one more harmonically based. This unique style of improvisation stemmed from the man with the nickname “Bird,” Charlie Parker. As Crow describes, “one of the delightful features of Parker’s improvised choruses was his ability to extract quotes from various musical sources and artfully weave them into his own lines, always imaginatively to the chord structure of the tune he was improvising” (Crow 1990: 301).

Essentially, Charlie Parker advanced improvisation many levels by looking past the tune everyone can normally hear and basing his solos off of the harmonies these melodies come from. It was actually a goal of bebop to make music more challenging through means of reharmanization, where a musician added and changed the chord progression throughout a song to increase its difficulty.

This new focus on the harmony eventually led to easier arrangements with the typical outline of a short melody, focus on the improvisation section, and repeat of the short melody.

Although Bird helped define improvisation, it is hard to overlook the contributions of Thelonius Monk and John Burkes Gillespie. Monk was a self-taught pianist that played with flat fingers, yet had incredible control and improvisation skills. Gillespie was a genius musician trumpet player that had a great deal of fun with his sense of humor and comedic skits, nicknamed Dizzy. “Dizzy developed bunny routines as fast as he developed original music. With them he attracted and held audiences that might not have understood everything he was playing” (Crow 1990: 331). As Crow shows, Dizzy had a silly side but knew when to buckle down and be serious.

The combination of Bird, Dizzy and Monk, meant endless hours soloing at Minton’s and Monroe’s. They explored their individual sides of soloing and created unison soloing between trumpet and saxophone when improvising. The only problem was, even when Dizzy was serious, his style of music was not adored by everyone. The very fast tempos and blur through notes made it hard to dance to like in the swing period, which made it hard to be popular. It was this lack of an audience that started the transition over to the cool era.

The reason it’s probably called cool jazz is because it brought the energy down a level compared to bop. “In a macro sense, it describes a jazz musician whose performance style is restrained subdued, or understated when compared with “hot” taken in bebop” (Meadows 2003: 262). Some people consider cool jazz a reaction to bop, yet some consider it a completely new genre. This is why it’s hard to draw those definite lines. The roots of cool span back to the School of Cool Jazz on the West Coast. Miles popularized cool through his album, Birth of the Cool, but this is only mistakenly believed to be the start of cool, as it was already being played.

“He had a style like the players from St. Louis, singing sound, and he didn’t play too many notes or play those real fast tempos” (Davis 1989: 62). From Miles Davis’ autobiography, it is clear that he heard a style that was much slower than the bop he was playing alongside Bird and Dizzy. He much rather preferred this style which became known as cool. Talking to his father about dropping Julliard, he was given invaluable advice to never be like a mockingbird and to have originality in whatever he does in life. Miles Davis is one of the defining giants in the cool era.

David Brubeck and Stan Getz also influenced this new style of jazz. Brubeck explored and borrowed ideas from other parts of the world. He integrated new meters, melodic ideas, creating many jazz standards, and one of the top selling jazz albums, Time-Out. Getz popularized bossa nova, yet another jazz genre with many ties with cool. Getz brought in Latin ideas mixed with the more relaxed cool music. Brubeck and Getz epitomize what Herbie Hancock was talking about, borrowing ideas, creating new ones, and sharing.

The differences in ideas can be more clearly seen by a side-by-side comparison. Cool is identified as an easier to follow genre that avoided the loud and aggressive bop style. In essence, cool was more accessible to its audience. A variety of new instruments joined the jazz artillery from flute to the tuba to the French horn. This allowed more emphasis for the arrangements of the pieces with an increase in the variety of instruments. As opposed to a simple tune with the main focus on the solo, the main pieces were the focus, with a solo section that was played with a new style. In bop, the saxophone and trumpet unison soloing from Bird and Dizzy was replaced with a more team worked solo style in cool.

The end goal was to feel more emotional solo’s that even resembled a singer’s style, going as far as breathing and pausing like a singer would. Aside from the music, cool had some unusual differences in race and region. It just so happened to be that bop was started in the East and played mainly by African Americans, while cool was started in the West and primarily played by Caucasians. Not to say that the music wasn’t played by all races and eventually joined by both regions.

The differences seem many between the two styles, but there is one unifying person between the two genres. Lester Young was a one of those individuals that come around once in a while. “His solos on Lady be Good and Shoe Shine Boy were immediately regarded by musicians, many of whom learned them note for note” (PBS 2000).

This great tenor saxophone of the swing era had a very light and delicate style, preferred by cool musicians. The bop musicians liked his defiance and non-conformity, as he is the first to start improvising, the main tool in bop. The unorthodox usage of accents and playing outside of chord changes was mixed in both bop and cool periods. Musicians had similar influences and took what they learned to create different styles of music. The different genres were ways to give musicians diverse ways of expressing themselves.

Like Hancock implied, the evolution of music was heavily influenced by genres of the current and past to create the future. Miles Davis hinted that he was just tired of hearing notes racing through scales and wanted to slow it down. This led to two unique styles were individuals felt free in their own musical realm. Whether it is expression through rapid bop or relaxed cool, music is still music. Musicians are just trying to say what they have to say, the way they want too.

Crow, Bill. Jazz Anecdotes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print. Davis, Miles. Miles, The Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. Print. Jazz, A Film By Ken Burns: Biographies. PBS, 2000. Web. 23 Jan 2013. Meadow, Eddie. Bebop To Cool: Context, Ideologoy, and Musical Identity. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003. Print.

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