The Similarities Between Classical Music and Ellington's Jazz

Topics: Jazz, Classical music, Rhythm Pages: 6 (2444 words) Published: August 14, 2002
One of the greatest tragedies in the 20th century can be seen in the debasing of the Jazz genre as a unworthy equal to it's predecessor, European Classical music. This can be seen in various statements about Jazz, such as Boris Gibalin commit, "The "Jazz Mania" has taken on the character of a lingering illness and must be cured by means of forceful intervention."1 This conflict can be traced through out the history of Jazz, as Classical composers have relatively disregarded this new type of music. Before Duke Ellington's Cotton Club performances, Jazz play on the radio was delegated for late night audience only. This sub-culture treatment has led many critics to disregard the Jazz movement as a dance craze, or unsuccessful recreations of Classical pieces. This slandering of Jazz has not only created a false image of the music, but it has also lead to a full disconnection between the two genres. It is for this reason that I propose in my paper to show the relationship between these two musical categories. My hopes in demonstrating these similarities is to disassemble the schism of ignorance built between the two, and place both Jazz and Classical music on equal footing.

Critics of Jazz have always perpetuated this schism by utilizing the reasoning behind Jazz, that of it being a free form interpretation, to question the legitimacy of calling a Jazz leader a composer. For how can one be styled as a proper composer and still remain true to the Traditional Jazz concepts? The classic composer has at their disposal highly skilled musicians who are trained to work within professional bodies, such as a symphony orchestra or string quartet, and who then relies on the efficiency of these professionally trained bodies to interpret his scores as he sees fit. On the surface this appears to run contradictory to the Jazz composer whom, "Has to write for specific combinations which do not exist until he brings them into being, and to rely on highly individual executants whose personal style must be blended together to give expression to his own ideas without…losing their individuality".2 Yet to interpret this blending of highly individualistic sounds as proof of a schism between this and the rigidly structured Classical composer is a false impression. This fallacy can be attributed to overemphasizing the sporadic and improvisational aspects of Jazz and refusing to address the simplistic question of how much room is there for personal interpretation within the context of composed writing? Complete artistic improvisational is only accomplished by the single performer, but "Yet the moment a group or a collective improvisational steps in some relatively simple and more or less inflexible convention becomes essential if mere chaos is to be kept at bay."3 This is why Duke Ellington's Orchestra played such an integrate role in his development of musical scores. It is here that we see the originality of Duke Ellington, for in his tailoring a piece around the performer, he created the impression of pure interpretations within the framework of structure. As Duke once said, "Another theory they hold is that there is such thing as a unadulterated improvisation without any preparation or anticipation. It is my firm belief that there has never been anyone who has blown even two bars worth listening to who didn't have some idea what he was going to play, before he started"4 This is an important aspect to bear in mind for this argument, for the mistake that Classical critics make is this distortion of the improvisational aspect to such extremes that one would believe that no compositional writing takes place. While obviously some improvisation happens in Jazz assembles, it is not that extreme, and in Ellington's case this improvisation of certain musicians was actually written in the piece. "Ellington work is centered on the interplay between written and improvised music."5 As one can see both types of composers utilize their...
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