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The room is quiet as the players get on stage. The company is filled with a pianist, horn, drums, upright base, and saxophone. They start to play, the horn taking the head improvising as the rest of the company played supporting the horn. It then the sax takes over the solo as the rest of players backed them up. This repeats throughout the piece, the musicians putting a little bit of themselves into the solos. This is jazz, the style of music where players weave melodies and harmonies.
A style where improvising is an important part and is the father of some of the most listen to styles today. This paper will dive into the history of jazz starting with its birth to now, and how it effected the players and events around it. Jazz’s birth place was New Orleans, a town with a rich history of its own. Jazz was able to take hold of city because of its history of immigrants, from the African American slaves to the Moorish setters they each had a hand in making the style of jazz.
According to the book The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, “The dances in Congo Square were a nexus where opposites collided.”
This means that jazz would be created not just from the slave dances that occurred there but by other influences that were happening in the city, like the Latin style and church songs that many artists took to their own pieces. One of the first of these artist was Buddy Bolden, who has been thought of as the founder of jazz.
He created jazz using inspiration from the church he went to called, Holly Roller church and used their songs to help create his own music. This music was described as, “…that he was loud, and, second, that his music opened the door to improvisation. ‘His combination of charisma and playing style is what put it over,’ he said.” (Cieply, 2007) In other words, Bolden used his own skills to make sure that his new creation jazz would be a hit for listeners. It was his ideas and way of thinking which led to the first style of jazz. The first type of Jazz is called New Orleans Jazz and Dixie land which had their share of bands one of which was the King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.
The band would play in the style of Dixie land which meant that the pieces would focus more on ensemble work then the soloists in their pieces. Also, Dixie jazz would have a raw sound to it and a linear style according to the History of Jazz. This all changed though when Lewis Armstrong’s Hot fives and Sevens records came out. The first difference was that instead of a jazz band recording a track, Armstrong found different people who play jazz music who were not in a steady band. Armstrong also chose to highlight soloist instead of the ensemble like the Dixie Land jazz did. The solo’s in his pieces were usually on his horn and he created a new type of singing called scatt. (Gioia, 2011) In the vein of Armstrong’s success in changing on how Jazz was played, came Duke Ellington’s band. Ellington’s band was composed of artist who were known for the special styles. In some cases, he considered how an artist would play into writing music his band, “an alto solo was not just for any alto, but for the particularly breathless play of Johnny Hodges.” (Epstein, 1999).
This gives his music a different sound then other jazz bands because of uniqueness of the sound. Ellington using this idea and his complex melodies to raise both his band and the style of swing in jazz. Speaking of swing, there was one artist who was given the title of the “King of Swing”, and his name was Benny Goodman. Goodman rose to power because of his personality and his great ability to play music. Yet his rise of fame came to a head during 1935 where, “Goodman’s eventual triumph— signaled by his breakthrough performance at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles.” (Gioia, 2011) During this performance Goodman had given birth to the swing era. After Swing a new underground movement was taken place. A style that focused more on the brass and was a product of the time it was formed in. This style name was Bebop and it was step away from swing. It had more complex melodies with small combos with the base and piano.
The solos in the Bebop were longer and stretched more the jazz solos that came before it. It was these solos and fast tempos that made bebop not as popular as swing that came before it, and so the ones who played bebop were called rebels. Charlie Parker was one of these rebels who had a comeback story to start off his carrier. The first jam session he played at went very badly and he was laughed out of the rehearsal room. He did come back years later and got a job with Buster Smith’s band as a 2nd alto according to book The History of Jazz. Yet even if his solos were a great and very creative there was a dark side to his because he used cocaine. Parker did not do every well in New York, so he had to move back home and become a rebel and help create bebop. It was not just the makeup and solos in bebop that were different, it was the piano playing too. The style was created in the mid 1940’s and focused more on a pure type sound, instead of the muddled tones of Tatum and Elton used during their hay day.
Also, the right hand was given the spotlight over the left and was given chromic overtones and rhythmic fumes while the left just played a simple chord or melody underneath it, which caused bebop to have the kick it need according to the History of Jazz. One of the artist who took the bebop piano was Bud Powell, who was described as the soul of bebop movement. His playing reconstructed the way that jazz players would play the piano forever. His influence may have been a whisper, but it still holds today. Yet like many players before him he got into the drug crazy and his playing became muddy and filled with chaos which was not present in his first works. Thelonious Monk was another bebopper whose carrier was the mirror to Powell. Monk started out in 1940’s and 50’s as a forgotten player but found his footing in the 1950’s when he became the voice of bebop. In an article by Sean Spence described the pianist playing as, “…instantly recognizable, sounding as if the modernist Schoenberg had inherited the jazz tradition of Fats Waller: angular music, jangling with discordant note clusters, set over jerking rhythms which nevertheless seem to ‘swing.”” (Spence, 1998)
In other words, Thelonious Monk’s playing was a great example of how bebop music went which caused many to judge him when the modern jazz age started to come about. Also, during this time, a record called ‘Take Five” by Paul Desmond came around. It was different from many songs that came before it because it was created with unusual time signatures and blended jazz with classical music. The piece also had thick harmonies and thanks to Desmond’s playing had a smooth jazz pianist playing over it. Dave Brubeck was also another pianist during the bebop era. His playing was described according to The History of Jazz, playful, and he was always experimenting with it. He was always looking for a way to broaden the scope of jazz music. In talking about broadening the scope of jazz, this might have led to the idea of Fragmentation. Fragmentation means separating into different groups, for jazz that meant dividing up into hard bop, West coast Jazz, soul Jazz, Modern Jazz, third stream jazz and Free jazz.
This idea was brought to the front with the album: Birth of Cool, which explored the style of cool Jazz. This idea of cool jazz was almost like bebop in its rise starting off as underground movement in jazz, but speared headed by the younger generation with artists like Miles Davis, along with many others like, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond and Art Pepper (Gioia, 2011). Along with cool jazz another type of jazz came out combining the Latin beats of samba with cool smooth notes of jazz. This craze was called bossa nova and it can be described as, “’It comes from a kind of silence. … It comes from beautiful silence and beautiful meditation. You listen, and you feel like you are watching the sea,’ adds Donato…” (Reich, 2008) This description is accurate because Bossa Nova had a subdue tone with challenging harmonies and fine solos according to the article by Berry Kernfeld. “Bossa nova probably began in Brazil with João Gilberto’s recording of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s composition Chega da saudade.” (Kernfeld, 2008). It was this sound that caused both Charlie Byrd and with Stan Getz to bring the sound over to the Untied States.
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