Roots of Jazz:
It had blend elements of several cultures. First, West African emphasis on improvisation, percussion and call-and –response techniques. Second, American brass band influence on instrumentation. Third, European harmonic and structural practice. Blues and Ragtime were immediate source.
Ragtime piano music is generally in duple meter and is performed at a moderate march tempo. The pianist’s right hand plays a highly syncopated melody, while the left hand steadily maintains the beat with and “oom-pah” accompaniment. A ragtime piece usually consists of several melodies that are similar in character. The forms of ragtime are derived from European marches and dances, its rhythms are rooted in African American folk music. Early jazz musicians often used ragtime melodies as a springboard for their improvisations. The syncopations, steady beat, and piano style of ragtime were and important legacy for jazz
Blues refers both to a form of vocal and instrumental music and to a style of performance. Blues grew out of African American folk music, such as work songs, spirituals, and the field hollers of slaves. The original “country blues,” performed with guitar accompaniment, was not standardized in form or style. Vocal blues is intensely personal, often containing sexual references and dealing with the pain of betrayal, desertion, and unrequited love. The lyrics consist of several 3-line stanzas, each in the same poetic and musical form. The first line is sung and then repeated to roughly the same melodic phrase; the third line has a different melodic phrase and text. A blues stanza is set to a harmonic framework that is 12 bars in length. This harmonic pattern, known as 12-bar blues, involves only three basic chords: tonic, subdominant, and dominant. Each stanza of the text is sung to the same series of chords, although other chords may be inserted between the primary chords of the 12-bar blues form outlines above. Singers either repeat the same basic melody for each stanza or improvise new melodies to reflect the changing moods of the lyrics. The music is almost always in quadruple meter, and so each bar contains 4 beats.
1900-1917: New Orleans Style
Jazz was played by a small group of five to eight performers. The melodic instruments or front line, included the cornet or trumpet, clarinet, and trombone. The front-line players would improvise several contrasting melodic lines at once, producing a kind of polyphonic texture. The cornet was the leader, playing variations of the main melody. Above the cornet, the clarinet wove a countermelody, usually in a faster rhythm. The trombone played a bass line that was simpler than the upper lines, but melodically interesting nevertheless. The syncopations and rhythmic independence of the melodic instruments created a marvelous sense of excitement. The front line instruments were supported by a rhythm section, which marked the beat and provided a harmonic foundation over which the soloists could improvise. This section included drums, chordal instruments (piano, guitar, banjo), and a single line low instrument. In that period, jazz was based on a march or church melody, a ragtime piece, a popular song, or 12-bar blues. One or more choruses of collective improvisation occurred at the beginning and end of a piece. In between, individual players were featured in improvised solos, accompanied by the rhythm section or by the whole band. Sometimes there were brief unaccompanied solos (breaks). The band’s performance might begin with an introduction and end with a brief coda (tag).
Swing was played by big bands, whose powerful sound could fill the large dance halls and ballrooms that mushroomed across the country particularly after the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Some bands included leading musicians such as saxophonists or singers. During 1930s-1940s, big bands were as important as rock groups have been since the 1950s. The swing band had about fourteen or fifteen musicians grouped into three sections: saxophones (three to five players, some doubling on clarinet), brass instruments (three or four each of trumpet and trombone), and rhythm (piano, percussion, guitar, and bass). A band of this size needed music that was more composed than improvised and was also arranged, or notated in written-out parts for each musician to read. In a swing band, entire sections, either in unison or in harmony, often performed melodies. In ensemble playing, it was necessary to rely on arrangements instead of improvising. What solo improvisations there were tended to be restricted in length. The main melody was accompanied by saxophones playing sustained chords, or by saxophones and brass instruments playing short, repeated phrases (riffs). Arrangers often used a rapid alternation of brass and sax riffs to create tension and excitement.
Early 1940s: Bebop
Bebop is a complex style of music for small jazz groups consisting of four to six players. Bebop was a rebellion by creative improvisers against the commercialism and written arrangements of swing bands. It was meant for attentive listening, not dancing, and its sophisticated harmonies and unpredictable rhythms bewildered many listeners. A typical bebop group includes a saxophone and a trumpet supported by a rhythm section of piano, bass, and percussion. The role of rhythm instruments in bebop was different from that in earlier jazz. The beat, often extremely fast, was marked not by the snare drum or bass drum, but mainly by the pizzicato bass and ride cymbal (a large suspended cymbal). The drummer also supplied irregular accents, sometimes played with such power that they are called bombs. The pianist’s left hand no longer helped emphasize the basic pulse but joined with the right hand to play complex chords at irregular intervals. Rhythms in bop melodies were more varied and unpredictable than those in earlier jazz. The melodic phrases themselves were often varied and irregular in length. A two or three note fragment would be complex as its rhythms. Performers often built melodies on chords consisting of five to seven notes rather than on the three- or four note chords used in earlier jazz. A bop performance began and ended with a statement of the main theme by one soloist, or by two soloists in unison.
Important composers and performers:
In New Orleans:
1. Louis Armstrong (Known as Hot Five: Clarinet, trombone, banjo, and piano): Hotter Than That 2. King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: Dippermouth Blues
1. Duke Ellington: C-Jam Blues (1942)
2. Jimmie Lunceford: In Dat Mornin/Sweet Rhythm
3. Benny Moten
1. Charlie Parker: KoKo (1945)
2. Dizzy Gillespie: Trumpet and piano player
3. Curly Russell: bass player