Reed Gratz ~ Professor, Pianist, Composer

Reed Gratz ~ pianist/keyboardist/composer/professor

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Diversity through Music

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (1)

Because I am married to a NetherlandsIndies woman, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in theNetherlands during the past, several years. As I am in a mixed marriage, I knowsomething about cultural differences, language interpretation andmisinterpretation; I have first hand knowledge, from several viewpoints, howeasily hand and facial expressions, and nuance and the melody of each language,can be misunderstood.

 

I’m talking about what Jamake Highwaterreferred to when he wrote, “the biggest space between people is culture, notdistance.” The title for one of my blog missives gradually became: “AfricanAmerican Music: Entryway to a Culture” - but as I share some history, ideas,and experiences perhaps you’ll understand something more about the Power ofMusic. Becoming a musician in America is an extremely personalized adventure.

 

Studies in music therapy and the psychologyof music have described an emotional, physical, possibly rhythmic response tosound that can begin in the womb. The connection to sound from outer and orinner stimuli is one written about for centuries and remains as part of theworld’s written history, from ancient Greece, later, early Christiandom, fromtwenty-five hundred years old Sanskrit musical treatises in India, nearly asold Chinese musical discussion; and sung and told in the ages old West Africanoral traditions of songs, ritual, rhythm and dance. The different studies ofmusic can easily be a life long search, encompassing the music and its’ historyin various centuries, from various cultures; the performance traditions ofthose different music; the countless instruments, written and oral traditionsof remembering music and history; music’s integration with human celebrationand ritual.

 

As people it is in the lullabies of ourinfancy, our children’s play songs, our birthdays, it accompanies ourmarriages, our funerals, we express our thoughts in language with itsaccompaniment, we find our spiritual side with it, we move, eat, study, pray ormeditate, dance and romance with its accompaniment. It brings us great joy, itcan make some people angry, aggressive, and militant; it can inspire loyalty,and courage. In some cultures, such as the African American musical culture,music was integrated into traditional and contemporary society in a way thatexpands traditional Western definitions of music.

 

Many of the newly arrived West Africansin America would not have known a separate word for music. It is not somethingone “goes to see” or hear, or something apart from daily life. It is notsomething done only by the few. Instead it is wedded with work, love andsorrow, with spirituality, with creative thought and action. Music is a part ofhealing, and interlaced with the history of a people, and in the way theyremember and tell that history. It tells it in a way that is connected to aculture’s literature, it’s story telling, poetry, dance, and theater, to it’sart.

 

Music can be the primary focus; it canbe as natural as taking a breath. An example from George Sijon, a Nez PerceNative American, is the idea that through a “Circle of Song” a person isconnected to “my father and my mother’s grandmother” and “to my children’schildren, and their children,” through the circle of songs of a family and atribe. That tradition of songs connects him and his family to nature, spirit,traditional values and ritual. The Circle of Song connects them to a sense ofcommunity, from which they can draw strength and peace from collection of songsto meet the challenges and activities throughout one’s daily life.

 

In the Netherlands, I have been askedon several occasions whether I see myself as a university music professor, oras a musician - more specifically, a teacher, or a piano player. I don’t everremember being asked such a question in the United States. My view of thenature of a musician in America is that of a person who plays music; writes it,if one has the skills and desire to; teaches it; and studies it by listening,talking about it with other musicians, reading, and practicing. It is a study, thatby its very nature, needs to be passed on, to be taught. For me, and manymusicians, to do one without the other, is unfulfilling, less than a completemusical life. Teaching might take the form of private lessons to a number ofstudents, playing in an ensemble and sharing one’s musical ideas about a phraseor rhythm, showing an avid fan how to play a chord on the guitar, or in what isa very European way - at the conservatory.

 

Some musicians concentrate more at onetime or another on one of those aspects - sometimes governed by economics,sometimes by opportunity, oftentimes by the motivation to be expressive in acreative, non-verbal way - to play great music with great musicians.

 

Jazz Singers

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Jazz singers have been an unruly lot.They defy voice teachers; connect to and inspire their fans; infuriate, amuse,and stimulate the musicians who accompany them; take the popular songs we knowand redesign, reshape, sometimes disfigure, reinvent, and improvise upon them.Jazz singers sometimes imitate trumpets, saxophones, guitars, and trombones,and sometimes are imitated by the musicians who play those instruments. Theyscat, slide, warble, yodel, sing in falsetto and with ranges that cover thewidest of intervals. They interpret, compose, spontaneously divert and react,remember countless lyrics to countless numbers of songs, traditionally havesmoked too much, stayed up too late, and told the stories of our Americansong-writing story tellers who have explained our romances, our dreams, ourfears, and our culture to us and millions worldwide who know the songs ofGeorge and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein,Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and dozens more of our culture’s musicalpoets.

 

In order to understand the nature ofthe jazz singer it is important to begin with the people who helped to inventthe genre - the innovators of the style. As jazz music has reached and passedits 100th anniversary as the vital and artistic expression of America, we canlook at how it has changed and adapted, integrated and influenced other stylesof music, and who those major proponents of the styles have been. We can,through the history of recording which developed simultaneously with jazz,compare and contrast the improvisation, phrasing, intonation, timbre or soundcolor, musicality and emotion, and effectiveness of performances of masterssuch as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, andFrank Sinatra. As musicians, we learn from them, copy and steal from them,emulate their stances, expression, and dress.

 

Jazz singing is derived from the soundsof the American Slave culture - the songs of the fields and enforced labor, anddreams of freedom. This is a culture who relied on its music for strength,communication, and unifying confirmation of life during 244 years of legalslavery in America and another 140 years since of effort to become equal,educated, and accepted in an oftentimes unfriendly and historically violentsociety. For many generations of that culture, music was the only way to find abreath of freedom, the only way to survive a horrible ordeal. And it is a musicthat for the past several decades can be heard across the Americas, in Europeancafes and conservatories, in the African market places, and in concert inJapan. It has become a world wide music.

 

It would be an omission if I did notdiscuss for a moment, the tremendous input Black music has had on the mentalityof Americans, how we view one another, how the African American has traveledthe path between shackled slave and secretary of state, supreme court justice,and silver screen star. Musicianship and the ability to deliver its powerfulmessage of hope, joy, dance, and spirit, was consistently the way in which theAfrican American made inroads into the rigid, steel wall of racism.

 

Jazz singers are musical children ofthe post Civil War Blues singers who sang for the first time of the freedom ofmobility, losing a job or a woman or both, and about the hope for arelationship dependent on one’s own fortunes and not the possible sale of thelovers involved. It comes from the embellished hymns of the late 19th and early20th century African American church; from the weekly New Orleans street parades,brothels, and saloons; and from the instrumental music that took America, thenEurope by storm, called Ragtime, with it’s steady, relentless beat and dancingsyncopated melodies. Jazz emerged as the party and dance music of pre-World WarI America, and quickly migrated throughout the country, from New Orleans toChicago, New York to Los Angeles. The music, at its best, was a mixture of thedance rhythms of a country that, while spitefully racist at best, had an openear to the music of the Black culture, Iberian and West African tinged music ofthe Caribbean, the form and sophistication of the very popular wind andpercussion marches of John Philip Sousa, the syncopated melodies of Ragtime,and the harmonic language of Protestant hymns, French opera, and British folkmusic; all embellished and ornamented by the improvisations of performers whotwisted it to suit their immediate state of mind.

 

Any art form, to unfold, to evolve,succeed in a culture, and become an expression that describes that culture,needs a messenger, the one who integrates, amalgamates, shapes, and coalescesthe diverse characteristics of that form. In jazz that person was LouisArmstrong (1901-71). His unique voice is doubly extraordinary because he notonly was the defining factor for instrumentalists, but for singers as well. Hispowerful, perfect rhythm and pitch; his seemingly limitless sense of nuance;inventiveness; and technique have served to inspire musicians and listenerssince his first recordings 80 years ago. In many ways Armstrong invented theway that American music is performed - syncopated, stretching and jerkingrhythms over rhythm sections that move in a steady, unchanging, dance-orientedpulse. His passionate storytelling and ultimate musical timing have served as amodel directly to Billie Holiday, to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, toElvis Presley, to Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, to Nora Jones andAni DeFranco, and countless other singers and performers.

 

It was Armstrong who, in the words ofStanley Crouch,” ... bent and twisted popular songs with his horn and his voiceuntil they were shorn of sentimentality and elevated to serious art.” His“herky-jerky” placement of the lyric, dangerously and effortlessly in betweenthe already syncopated beats of jazz-oriented melodies has become the “way wedo it.”

 

Louis Armstrong had a great love forchildren, was always willing to help out fellow musicians, enjoyed partaking incannabis, and passed out laxatives to royalty and heads of state. His infectiousstyle is heard in the voice of Billie Holiday (1915-59), the defining balladand Blues singer of the 30’s and 40’s. She not only has left her indelible markon the music as a singer but her contributions to the Civil Rights movementthrough her persona, musical accomplishments, and recording of the eerie andfrightening ballad Strange Fruit mark her as one of the most important jazzmusicians. Her strange and tragic life has been chronicled extensively over thepast 50 years through research and recordings. The status she attained amongthe most innovative musicians of the 30’s and 40’s is unparalleled amongsingers in the history of jazz and her recordings, particularly with mastertenor saxophonist Lester Young and other members of the Count Basie Orchestraare legendary.  

 

Billie Holiday is heard at her bluesybest with members of the Count Basie Orchestra and others, including BenWebster, a young Gerry Mulligan, and the inimitable Lester Young in “Fine andMellow” ...and a bit of the two masters - Armstrong and Holiday together in YouCan’t Lose a Broken Heart Armstrong and Holiday.

 

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), ranksamong the best and most popular singers in jazz history. She became known forher pure and beautiful tone, extended range, flawless intonation, and strongsense of jazz feeling. She is famous for her ability to improvise through scatsinging. In this style, rhythmic wordless syllables are sung instead of lyrics.Fitzgerald defied the image of the pretty girl singer and won over the masseswith her elegant performance sense and wonderful voice.

 

In 1935, she won an amateur talentcontest at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. This led to an engagement with the bigband of drummer Chick Webb. She became the band's featured vocalist and recordedher first hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," with the band in 1938. Upon theswinging power of the band, Webb’s dynamic playing and leadership, andFitzgerald’s superior singing, the band became one of the most popular bands ofthe late 1930’s scoring hit after hit with light, uplifting novelty songsfeaturing Ella Fitzgerald.

 

Upon Webb's death in 1939, and at theincredibly young age of 22, Fitzgerald took over the band, the first of itskind to be led by a woman, leading the Ella Fitzgerald Orchestra until 1942,when she began a career as a soloist and with various vocal groups. Sheincreased her fame while working with the "Jazz at the Philharmonic"touring group beginning in 1948.

 

For the next 45 years Ella Fitzgeraldsolidified her position in jazz as one of the most innovative and identifiablescat singers, a woman of impeccable musical taste and enviable musicianship,and an innovative and honored musical master of jazz.  

 

While many do not think of FrankSinatra as a jazz singer, those who are involved with jazz as performers oravid listeners, list Sinatra as an extremely important member of this list ofmost noteworthy in the music. And though Sinatra had many popular hits thatmost listeners would not think of as jazz, one of the biggest sellers of thatcollection, My Way, describes what jazz writer Gary Giddens was saying when hewrote, “Jazz is the ultimate in rugged individualism. It’s going out there onthat stage and saying: It doesn’t matter how anybody else did it. This is theway I’m going to do it.”

 

In many ways, Sinatra was theembodiment of the jazz musician in his musical self-confidence, the priority hegave to telling the story at hand, and in his individual approach toperformance. He surrounded himself with jazz musicians, recorded and performedwith them, employed them and idolized them. Sinatra used arrangements writtenby the best of the jazz writers and left plenty of space for the improvisationsof great instrumentalists, edited out of the next example.

 

Jazz singers continue to thrill, cajole,and entertain us. Contemporary singers like Nora Jones, Diana Krall, KurtElling, Peter Cincotti, Michelle N’Degeocello, Dianne Reeves, Barbara Morrison,Sunny Wilkinson, and Cassandra Wilson keep the music alive and growing throughtheir connection to the traditional and explorations of the modern. Theirperformances continue the lineage of singers from the aforementioned Armstrongand Billie Holiday, through Jimmy Rushing, Ivy Anderson, Nat King Cole, andAnita O’Day, to Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, AlJarreau, and Bobby McFerren.

 

I’ve thought several times during mylife why these musicians have had such an impact on me and I think that it wasthe unspoken interaction between the musicians, the sheer joy that they seemed tohave, and the ability to communicate that feeling through a tradition andpractice of improvisation with roots in the oral tradition of black people inAmerica. What I think I connected to was the possibility of someone performinga music artistically, deeply, and communicatively, always on the verge oftrying something new, taking musical risks.

 

As I studied the music and the musicians who make it, I began to hear and then understand something abouttheir individuality, their musical personalities, and the level of personalcommitment to disciplined study and practice required to do what these peoplewere doing, stepping through the music gracefully and self-expressively,sometimes in very robust ways, sometimes beautifully reserved, cool, like a sparseMiles Davis solo, like a Billie Holiday and Lester Young duet. I am alsoinspired by their musically spiritual messages, its deeply integrated oraltradition, and its life affirming resiliency. I began to understand how thesemusicians touch us, help us connect to our spirituality and sometimes, to oneanother.

 

Jazz continues to defy and avoid themany predictions of its demise. Its hungry musical essence swallows, digests,and integrates music of every genre from the Blues and Bluegrass , to Classicaland Country, from Ragtime to Rap to Reggae. The music continues to attract someof the most talented, tantalizes the intellect and prods the emotions,perplexes the occasional listener, captivates and uniquely embodies aspectsthat make American culture what it, at its best, is - individual selfexpression; the absorption and integration of diverse, and sometimes, seeminglyconflicting ideas; development and expansion through cohesive ensemble whileallowing for the individuality of its members; self-expression throughimprovisation and experimentation; the juxtaposition and elision of differentethnic/cultural expressions; and a pronounced connection to rhythm of life.Jazz can show us creativity at its highest level; the ability to expressourselves in verbal and nonverbal ways; and skills needed for a successful andhappy life in whatever life endeavor one chooses. 

 

Jazz Singers

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (8)

Jazz singers have been an unruly lot.They defy voice teachers; connect to and inspire their fans; infuriate, amuse,and stimulate the musicians who accompany them; take the popular songs we knowand redesign, reshape, sometimes disfigure, reinvent, and improvise upon them.Jazz singers sometimes imitate trumpets, saxophones, guitars, and trombones,and sometimes are imitated by the musicians who play those instruments. Theyscat, slide, warble, yodel, sing in falsetto and with ranges that cover thewidest of intervals. They interpret, compose, spontaneously divert and react,remember countless lyrics to countless numbers of songs, traditionally havesmoked too much, stayed up too late, and told the stories of our Americansong-writing story tellers who have explained our romances, our dreams, ourfears, and our culture to us and millions worldwide who know the songs ofGeorge and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein,Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and dozens more of our culture’s musicalpoets.

 

In order to understand the nature ofthe jazz singer it is important to begin with the people who helped to inventthe genre - the innovators of the style. As jazz music has reached and passedits 100th anniversary as the vital and artistic expression of America, we canlook at how it has changed and adapted, integrated and influenced other stylesof music, and who those major proponents of the styles have been. We can,through the history of recording which developed simultaneously with jazz,compare and contrast the improvisation, phrasing, intonation, timbre or soundcolor, musicality and emotion, and effectiveness of performances of masterssuch as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, andFrank Sinatra. As musicians, we learn from them, copy and steal from them,emulate their stances, expression, and dress.

 

Jazz singing is derived from the soundsof the American Slave culture - the songs of the fields and enforced labor, anddreams of freedom. This is a culture who relied on its music for strength,communication, and unifying confirmation of life during 244 years of legalslavery in America and another 140 years since of effort to become equal,educated, and accepted in an oftentimes unfriendly and historically violentsociety. For many generations of that culture, music was the only way to find abreath of freedom, the only way to survive a horrible ordeal. And it is a musicthat for the past several decades can be heard across the Americas, in Europeancafes and conservatories, in the African market places, and in concert inJapan. It has become a world wide music.

 

It would be an omission if I did notdiscuss for a moment, the tremendous input Black music has had on the mentalityof Americans, how we view one another, how the African American has traveledthe path between shackled slave and secretary of state, supreme court justice,and silver screen star. Musicianship and the ability to deliver its powerfulmessage of hope, joy, dance, and spirit, was consistently the way in which theAfrican American made inroads into the rigid, steel wall of racism.

 

Jazz singers are musical children ofthe post Civil War Blues singers who sang for the first time of the freedom ofmobility, losing a job or a woman or both, and about the hope for arelationship dependent on one’s own fortunes and not the possible sale of thelovers involved. It comes from the embellished hymns of the late 19th and early20th century African American church; from the weekly New Orleans street parades,brothels, and saloons; and from the instrumental music that took America, thenEurope by storm, called Ragtime, with it’s steady, relentless beat and dancingsyncopated melodies. Jazz emerged as the party and dance music of pre-World WarI America, and quickly migrated throughout the country, from New Orleans toChicago, New York to Los Angeles. The music, at its best, was a mixture of thedance rhythms of a country that, while spitefully racist at best, had an openear to the music of the Black culture, Iberian and West African tinged music ofthe Caribbean, the form and sophistication of the very popular wind andpercussion marches of John Philip Sousa, the syncopated melodies of Ragtime,and the harmonic language of Protestant hymns, French opera, and British folkmusic; all embellished and ornamented by the improvisations of performers whotwisted it to suit their immediate state of mind.

 

Any art form, to unfold, to evolve,succeed in a culture, and become an expression that describes that culture,needs a messenger, the one who integrates, amalgamates, shapes, and coalescesthe diverse characteristics of that form. In jazz that person was LouisArmstrong (1901-71). His unique voice is doubly extraordinary because he notonly was the defining factor for instrumentalists, but for singers as well. Hispowerful, perfect rhythm and pitch; his seemingly limitless sense of nuance;inventiveness; and technique have served to inspire musicians and listenerssince his first recordings 80 years ago. In many ways Armstrong invented theway that American music is performed - syncopated, stretching and jerkingrhythms over rhythm sections that move in a steady, unchanging, dance-orientedpulse. His passionate storytelling and ultimate musical timing have served as amodel directly to Billie Holiday, to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, toElvis Presley, to Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, to Nora Jones andAni DeFranco, and countless other singers and performers.

 

It was Armstrong who, in the words ofStanley Crouch,” ... bent and twisted popular songs with his horn and his voiceuntil they were shorn of sentimentality and elevated to serious art.” His“herky-jerky” placement of the lyric, dangerously and effortlessly in betweenthe already syncopated beats of jazz-oriented melodies has become the “way wedo it.”

 

Louis Armstrong had a great love forchildren, was always willing to help out fellow musicians, enjoyed partaking incannabis, and passed out laxatives to royalty and heads of state. His infectiousstyle is heard in the voice of Billie Holiday (1915-59), the defining balladand Blues singer of the 30’s and 40’s. She not only has left her indelible markon the music as a singer but her contributions to the Civil Rights movementthrough her persona, musical accomplishments, and recording of the eerie andfrightening ballad Strange Fruit mark her as one of the most important jazzmusicians. Her strange and tragic life has been chronicled extensively over thepast 50 years through research and recordings. The status she attained amongthe most innovative musicians of the 30’s and 40’s is unparalleled amongsingers in the history of jazz and her recordings, particularly with mastertenor saxophonist Lester Young and other members of the Count Basie Orchestraare legendary.  

 

Billie Holiday is heard at her bluesybest with members of the Count Basie Orchestra and others, including BenWebster, a young Gerry Mulligan, and the inimitable Lester Young in “Fine andMellow” ...and a bit of the two masters - Armstrong and Holiday together in YouCan’t Lose a Broken Heart Armstrong and Holiday.

 

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), ranksamong the best and most popular singers in jazz history. She became known forher pure and beautiful tone, extended range, flawless intonation, and strongsense of jazz feeling. She is famous for her ability to improvise through scatsinging. In this style, rhythmic wordless syllables are sung instead of lyrics.Fitzgerald defied the image of the pretty girl singer and won over the masseswith her elegant performance sense and wonderful voice.

 

In 1935, she won an amateur talentcontest at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. This led to an engagement with the bigband of drummer Chick Webb. She became the band's featured vocalist and recordedher first hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," with the band in 1938. Upon theswinging power of the band, Webb’s dynamic playing and leadership, andFitzgerald’s superior singing, the band became one of the most popular bands ofthe late 1930’s scoring hit after hit with light, uplifting novelty songsfeaturing Ella Fitzgerald.

 

Upon Webb's death in 1939, and at theincredibly young age of 22, Fitzgerald took over the band, the first of itskind to be led by a woman, leading the Ella Fitzgerald Orchestra until 1942,when she began a career as a soloist and with various vocal groups. Sheincreased her fame while working with the "Jazz at the Philharmonic"touring group beginning in 1948.

 

For the next 45 years Ella Fitzgeraldsolidified her position in jazz as one of the most innovative and identifiablescat singers, a woman of impeccable musical taste and enviable musicianship,and an innovative and honored musical master of jazz.  

 

While many do not think of FrankSinatra as a jazz singer, those who are involved with jazz as performers oravid listeners, list Sinatra as an extremely important member of this list ofmost noteworthy in the music. And though Sinatra had many popular hits thatmost listeners would not think of as jazz, one of the biggest sellers of thatcollection, My Way, describes what jazz writer Gary Giddens was saying when hewrote, “Jazz is the ultimate in rugged individualism. It’s going out there onthat stage and saying: It doesn’t matter how anybody else did it. This is theway I’m going to do it.”

 

In many ways, Sinatra was theembodiment of the jazz musician in his musical self-confidence, the priority hegave to telling the story at hand, and in his individual approach toperformance. He surrounded himself with jazz musicians, recorded and performedwith them, employed them and idolized them. Sinatra used arrangements writtenby the best of the jazz writers and left plenty of space for the improvisationsof great instrumentalists, edited out of the next example.

 

Jazz singers continue to thrill, cajole,and entertain us. Contemporary singers like Nora Jones, Diana Krall, KurtElling, Peter Cincotti, Michelle N’Degeocello, Dianne Reeves, Barbara Morrison,Sunny Wilkinson, and Cassandra Wilson keep the music alive and growing throughtheir connection to the traditional and explorations of the modern. Theirperformances continue the lineage of singers from the aforementioned Armstrongand Billie Holiday, through Jimmy Rushing, Ivy Anderson, Nat King Cole, andAnita O’Day, to Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, AlJarreau, and Bobby McFerren.

 

I’ve thought several times during mylife why these musicians have had such an impact on me and I think that it wasthe unspoken interaction between the musicians, the sheer joy that they seemed tohave, and the ability to communicate that feeling through a tradition andpractice of improvisation with roots in the oral tradition of black people inAmerica. What I think I connected to was the possibility of someone performinga music artistically, deeply, and communicatively, always on the verge oftrying something new, taking musical risks.

 

As I studied the music and the musicians who make it, I began to hear and then understand something abouttheir individuality, their musical personalities, and the level of personalcommitment to disciplined study and practice required to do what these peoplewere doing, stepping through the music gracefully and self-expressively,sometimes in very robust ways, sometimes beautifully reserved, cool, like a sparseMiles Davis solo, like a Billie Holiday and Lester Young duet. I am alsoinspired by their musically spiritual messages, its deeply integrated oraltradition, and its life affirming resiliency. I began to understand how thesemusicians touch us, help us connect to our spirituality and sometimes, to oneanother.

 

Jazz continues to defy and avoid themany predictions of its demise. Its hungry musical essence swallows, digests,and integrates music of every genre from the Blues and Bluegrass , to Classicaland Country, from Ragtime to Rap to Reggae. The music continues to attract someof the most talented, tantalizes the intellect and prods the emotions,perplexes the occasional listener, captivates and uniquely embodies aspectsthat make American culture what it, at its best, is - individual selfexpression; the absorption and integration of diverse, and sometimes, seeminglyconflicting ideas; development and expansion through cohesive ensemble whileallowing for the individuality of its members; self-expression throughimprovisation and experimentation; the juxtaposition and elision of differentethnic/cultural expressions; and a pronounced connection to rhythm of life.Jazz can show us creativity at its highest level; the ability to expressourselves in verbal and nonverbal ways; and skills needed for a successful andhappy life in whatever life endeavor one chooses. 

 

Tadd Dameron Turnaround

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Tadd Dameron Turnaround

Posted on May 28, 2010 at 9:28 AM

 Guitarist and teacher Pebber Brown asked for some comments about the Tadd Dameron "turnaround" found in the Bebop standard, Lady Bird.  Here goes:

 C Maj7 -  Eb Maj7 – Ab Maj7 – DbMaj 7

 is the turnaround (the last bar of thetune – turning around to the first bar for solos) one sees in most versions of Tadd Dameron’s Lady Bird (Real Book, 5th edition, maybe better known as the“regular” Real Book). 

Tadd used the chord root relationships that composers have been using since equal-temperament, particularly since J.S. Bach – that is,secondary V chords.  Tadd made the chords major 7thsrather than V7 but the roots work the same way – down by perfect 5th. 

The turnaround is a good opportunity to improvise vertically, that is, play in C, then think in Eb major or Lydian,then Ab major or Lydian, then Db major or Lydian.  In each case the raised fourth (if you’re thinking in Lydian) adds some nice spice because it is ‘replaced’ in the next chord when it moves down by ½ step to thenew root. (ex. #4 = A in the Eb chord, moves down by ½ step to become the root of the Abchord).

 From the early 20th century American song writers were using the major 7 chord extensively (then adding 9th, 11th,and 13th as the decades went by), but still thinking in the root relationships that Bach (and others) had established.  In 19th century music one analyzea progression like this (probably using just the triad or adding the dominant 7to the chord) as:

 I  – V7/bVI(remember, the bVI is the normal root for the Augmented 6th chord!) – V7/bII(remember, the bII is the normal root for Neapolitan chord) – Neapolitan – then to the I chord in the first bar.

C Maj7 -  Eb Maj7 – Ab Maj7 – DbMaj 7

 The version recorded by Miles Davis goes: C Maj7 -  Eb7 – Ab Maj7 – G7(#5)

                                                                (Bbmin7 on repeat for C Maj7)

                                       is the version recorded by Miles Davis.  See the New Real Book I for that.  It’s pretty much the samebut uses thatV7/bVI (the Eb7) instead of Eb Maj 7. One can think major orLydian b7 over that chord.  It ends with G7(#5) – a tri-tone substitution for the Db Maj 7 chord. Everything behaves the same way and resolves tothe C at the top of the tune.

I’ve mentioned the vertical approachthere, playing over each chord, but one can also blow over them in a horizontal fashion – that is, just stay in C and play, letting the nice chord changes color that with chromatic tone.  In other word, let the harmony do the work while you play in the “home” key.

Keep in mind the beboppers were still,for the most part, using all of the harmonic language that Bach, Chopin, Debussy and others before them had put together, but now were adding extensions to the chords and improvising more chromatically over those chords. 

 

 

Lydian Chromatic Concept, George Russell ~ Historical Perspective

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

As stated in RobertCogan and Pozzi Escot's enlightening book, SonicDesign: "The European tonal system . . . has been regarded by itstheorists, from Rameau to Hindemith, as a natural order. Certain of themproclaimed the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the 'common-practice'period, an astonishing conception when one compares its two centuries of commonideals, with the proceeding thousand years of the European modal system, not tomention the several millennia of the Indian raga systems. Since it ignoredthese, as well as the music of other cultures, and cannot apply to thetwentieth-century music of the entire world, how common can it be?"1

 

Constructing aseven-note scale by using a series of successive intervals of a fifth, iscommon in the history of music. It has been the basis for scaler structure frombefore Pythagorean times (c. 550 B.C.E.) to the present (The Lydian ChromaticConcept). Examples of this can be found in the music of Eastern civilizations.Slabs of stones, used as instruments tuned in sets, are still found in China,Korea, and Samoa. The Chinese sets were originally tuned by a Pythagorean-likesystem several hundred years before the "Pythagorean school"developed in Greece.

 

Chinese musicaltreatises from the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries were consistent indescribing the use of a cycle of fifths for scale construction. Theeleventh-century Chinese (Sonq Dynasty) treatise, Twujih, by Roan Yih and Hwa Yuan, explains in detailed terms theuse of a fundamental tone, over which a scale of twelve semitones is producedby a cycle of fifths. It was this same process that was used by Prince Ju TzayYeh (1596) in an early form of the equal-tempered scale.

 

Two hundred yearsafter Twujih, Chern Yuanjing includeda circular diagram in his ShyhlinGoangjih, (c.1270), assembling the twelve semitones of a chromatic scale bymeans of a succession of fifths. He explained that by doing so, the basicscale, "gong-diaw" (C,D,E,F#,G,A,B) was obtained. According to the Shyhlin Goangjih, any note of the scalecould serve as the "tonic" of a melody, and a mode was defined bythis tonic pitch on which the scale was constructed. Because there were twelvepitches in that chromatic scale and seven notes in each basic scale,eighty-four modes were theoretically possible.

 

Both the traditionalmusic of Japan and Hindusthani music are based on scales derived from a seriesof fifths. The two basic scales in Japanese music are the Ryo (D,E,F#,G#,A,B,C#) and the Ritsu(D,E,F,G,A,B,C). They coincide with a D Lydian scale and its"parallel" Lydian minor scale (on the sixth degree of F). In the bookHindusthani Music, An Outline of ItsPhysics and Aesthetics, author, G.H. Ranade states that, ". . . eversince the days of the sage Bharata (prior to 300 B.C.) it was a wellestablished practice to obtain the various notes of the scale by a chain ofsuccessive fifths."2

 

The question arisesthen; if these ancient and advanced cultures derived scales from successions offifths to arrive at what we refer to as Lydian scales, why did Westernmusicians move so predominantly toward the major-minor scale system?

 

Leonard Meyer in hisbook Music, The Arts, And Ideas,discusses the idea of teleology inmusic.3  Teleological music, in thissense, refers to "goal-oriented” music (comparable in part, to Russell’sidea of Horizontal Tonal Gravity) that represents the large majority of Westernmusic (referring to European and European-influenced music). By reflecting thebasic philosophy of goal-orientation, the major-minor scale system (a resolvingor Horizontal idea) is manifested. It seems logical then, that Zen and otherEastern philosophies, which refer more often to a vertical, a blending, non, orat least less, goal-oriented idea, should originate in cultures reflecting thisthought in musical scale choice.

 

The choice of themajor-minor scale system is completely consistent with the teleology, andtechnologically-oriented Western mind. It is a mind set of the Written Tradition.  The phenomenon of tension and release,goal-oriented organized Western religion and philosophies, climbing the socialladder, getting ahead, planning for tomorrow; all fit easily with WesternEuropean music, the music of the commonpractice era.  Would music based uponthe idea of modality structured on the scale derived from a series ofsuccessive perfect fifths, assuming the lowest of that series as tonal or modalcenter, the fundamental, have a different sound? Would a music coming from amore vertically-oriented philosophy and culture lead to a different musicalphilosophy?

 

William Thomson, inhis in-depth article Emergent‘Dissonance’ and the Resolution of a Paradox, discusses and questionsnumerous ideas regarding the perfect fourth as it has been perceived throughmusic history, from consonance to dissonance.4 He points to the Grove’s Dictionary definition of Dissonance. A discord, or any sound which, in the context of theprevailing harmonic system, is unstable, and must therefore be resolved to aconsonance.  Perhaps those changesare in direct relationship to the contrast of fundamental approach to scalerconstruction; the use of the subdominant, and, the continuing perfect fifthsabove a fundamental.

 

Examples of Westernmusical thought regarding the construction of the Pythagorean scale, resultingin the major scale, are discussed below. In both instances, the resultant(major scale) appears to have been reached by manipulated means. The methodsused in each example (varied from that used in the previous examples) seem tohave been guided toward the desired end the major scale.

 

John Backus explainsthe construction of the Pythagorean scale in his widely used (and certainlyauthoritative) book, The AcousticalFoundation of Music. Beginning on the pitch C, Mr. Backus progresses to aperfect fourth above (to F), moves back to C, then proceeds by fifths: G,D,A,E,and B to "...avoid black notes...”5   Black notes only come into play, of course, with keyboards.  The idea of subdominant is acceptable andwith great purpose in Western music.  Itcertainly proceeds the use of black and white notes on a keyboard.

 

A second example isfrom the Harvard Dictionary of Music,edited by Willi Apel in which the Pythagorean scale is described as a"diatonic" scale with one fifth below the fundamental (C to F),followed by five fifths above (C down to F, then C,G,D,A,E,B). This group ofpitches is combined to form a scale within one octave; the resultant scalebeing a major scale on C (C,D,E,F,G,A,B).

 

By examining thesetwo examples, one might ask the question; if a real construction of a series ofsuccessive fifths has occurred, is the pitch F not the true fundamental and theF Lydian Scale (F,G,A,B,C D,E,) the resultant as supported by the Easterntreatises?  The two differinginterpretations offer the possibilities of Horizontal (major and minor tonalsystem) and Vertical (Lydian and modal system).

 

Historically, thereis evidence describing sources of influence which led Western musicians in thedirection of the resolving major scale. Along with the idea of teleology wasthe powerful influence of the Christian Church. The Church influenced much ofthe music from well before the eleventh century to the eighteenth, when thatinfluence began to diminish. By the tenth century, after many centuries ofdevelopment, the Church recognized eight modes:

                       

                        AUTHENTIC MODES                           PLAGALMODES

                                                    and relative pitches

                        Dorian                                               Hypodorian

                        d, e, f, g, a, b, c                               a, b, c, d, e, f,g

                        Phrygian                                          Hypophrygian

                        e, f, g, a, b, c, d                               b, c, d, e, f, g,a

                        Lydian                                              Hypolydian

                        f, g, a, b, c, d, e                               c, d, e, f, g, a,b

                        Mixolydian                                      Hypomixolydian

                        g, a, b, c, d, e, f                               d, e, f, g, a, b,c

 

The final (similar to tonic) note for eachof the Plagal modes was that of the corresponding Authentic mode (example boththe Phrygian and Hypophrygian had finals of E.The Plagal mode was constructed on the pitch a perfect fourth below the finalnote of the Authentic mode and considered to be grouped in a pair with thecorresponding Authentic mode. Modes built upon notes equivalent to A, B, and C, while appearing in practice for centuries, were not recognizedby theoretical treatise until the middle of the sixteenth century (1547) whensystems of twelve modes containing the Ionian, Hypoionian, Aeolian, (later thenatural minor scale), and Hypoaeolian were described by Glareau. Previously,modes of this nature were used often and constructed when notes were altered atcadences and to avoid the tritone by means of "musica ficta"(accidentals added by performers). As the practice of avoiding the tritone(occasionally referred to as the Devil'sinterval) particularly in choral music, was common and offered associationwith the declaration of "impurity,” the use of modes containing theperfect fourth were given an added emphasis. Of course, this also was connected to the growing popularity of usingthe perfect fourth above the final/tonic in a decorative, passing way with theperfect fifth above, and later, to the Dominant 7th chord. 

This time period(1547) coincided with the formation of the Council of Trent. This body of high-ranking clergy within the Roman Catholic Church, met on an irregular basisbetween 1545 and 1563, and was responsible for the establishment of a reformedMass. The Council was formed out of a need for "purifying" and desecularizing the sacred service, as dissension was rising from England,Germany, The Netherlands, and other European areas within the realm of the Roman Catholic Church.

In exploring thefoundation upon which certain scales are founded,we discover, as Mr. Russellpoints out, that the Lydian Scale is based on a series of successive fifths andto a degree, on the overtone series. It is the product of a physically naturalacoustical phenomenon. The naturalness of the Lydian Scale is confirmed too, bythe symmetry of its construction. By including the sharped fourth, the exactcenter-point of the octave interval is present (C to F# is an interval of threewhole steps; from F# to C is also three whole steps).

Perhaps the logic of using the major and minor tonal system as so exclusive a foundation of ourtheoretical and compositional approach to music, is questionable. Evidence ofthe fact that advanced cultures took the circle of fifths as the basis forscaler structure, deriving differing and beautifully valid scale results, isnumerous and strong.  By inclusively attuningourselves to other cultures and musics; their origins and philosophies, webecome aware of the some of the associations between the Lydian Scale andnatural symmetry and order.

 

 

 

 

Music of Black People

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

The different studies of music can easily be a life long search, the performance traditions of those different musics; the countless instruments, written and oral traditions of remembering music and history; music’s integration with human celebration and ritual.  As people it is in the lullabies of ourinfancy, our children’s play songs, our birthdays, it accompanies our marriages, our funerals, we express our thoughts in language with its accompaniment, we find our spiritual side with it,  we move, eat, study, pray or meditate, dance and romance with its accompaniment.  It brings us great joy, it can make some people angry, agressive, and  militant; it can inspire loyalty and courage.    

In some cultures, such as the African American musical culture,  music was integrated into traditional and contemporary society in a way that expands traditional Western definitions of music. Many of the newly arrived West Africans in America would not have known a separate word for music. It is not something one “goes to see” or hear, or something apart from daily life.  It is not something done only by the few.  Instead it is wedded with work,love and sorrow, with spirituality, with creative thought and action.  Music is a part of healing, and interlaced with the history of a people, and in the way they remember and tell that history. It tells it in a way that is connected to a culture’s literature, it’s story telling, poetry, dance, and theater, to it’s art.  Music can be the primary focus; it can be as natural as taking a breath.

In my over 35 years of working with students of all musical levels, who were studying awide range of disciplines, of all different cultural backgrounds, I have learned certain things about Americans. The music in many of their ears, the music they have on in their rooms and ear buds, cd players, on their car radios, the music to which they know the lyrics, regardless of what part of America they come from, is to a great degree, music that is or has  a direct link to Black music.  Hip Hop, Rap, Soul, R&B - old and new school, Rock, Pop, classic Rock, Reggae, Ska, Gospel music, Blues, Jazz, Zydeco music, and Bluegrass; all have a deep-rooted link to the music of the African American culture, its deeply integrated oral tradition, and its life affirming resiliency. 

This is a culture who relied on its music for strength, communication, and unifying confirmation of life during 244 years of legal slavery in the U.S. and another 150 years since of effort tobecome equal, educated, and accepted in an oftentimes unfriendly and historically violent society.  For manygenerations of that culture, music was the only way to find a breath offreedom, the only way to survive a horrible ordeal. And it is a music that forthe past few decades can be heard across the Americas, in European cafes and conservatories, in the African market places, and in concert in Japan. It has become a world wide music.

But to get an idea about the path this music took, it is important to look at some of the details of its story.  Historian Philip Curtin estimates that the total slave trade from Africa to the Western Hemisphere amounted to 9,566,000 people, the largest forced migration in all history. The 4,700,000 taken to South America accounted for half of the entire trade. The 4,040,000 who went to the West Indies represented more than 40 percent. By comparison, the British colonies/UnitedStates received roughly 399,000. South America imported nearly 12 slaves and the West Indies imported more than 10 slaves for every slave who went to North America.

Musicianship and the ability  to deliver its powerful message of hope, joy, dance, and spirit, was consistently the way in which the African American made inroads into the rigid, steel wall of racism. From the beginnings of slavery in early North America in 1619, during nearly 200 years of the American colonial period andearly years of the United States there are many comments from a variety of sources regarding the musicianship of slaves, and how their performance skills were a highly valued commodity.  These extensive comments, describing the music, dance, costumes/fashion of the time,interaction of the musicians with the audience, guests, or patrons, is a fascinatingly close look at historic America.

Whites found black musical performances on the plantation and various social events fascinating and often went to the slave quarters to watch slaves sing and dance. There are many such accounts in books by whiteswho visited or lived on plantations. Black musical performances on theplantation are described in virtually all slave narratives, personal accountsof slavery written by fugitive slaves between 1830 and 1860 indicating eventhen how closely associated blacks were with singing and dancing. The most famous American novel of the 19th century, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), opens with a scene of a black boy dancing for two white men. Inplaces like Congo Square in New Orleans, whites would congregate to watch blacks perform songs and dances both during and after slavery.

In the 18th century, references to the musical talents of runaway slaves were regularly added to descriptive advertisements such as in the Boston Evening Post of October 24, 1743;

        Whereas Cambridge, a negro Man belonging to James Oliver of Boston doth absent himself sometimes from his Master: said Negro plays well upon a flute, and not so well on aviolin.  This is to desire all Mastersand heads of Families not to suffer said negro to come to their Houses to teachtheir Children or Servants to play, nor on any other Accounts.

and from the New York Gazette of July 18, 1748

       Run-away from his Master Eleazer Tying, Esq., at Dunstable, on the 26th May past, a Negro Man Servantcalled Robin, almost of the Complexion of an Indian...talks good English, can read and write, and plays on the Fiddle;...

         In his 1806 comments in Travels in America, Thomas Ashe observed a band of Blacks playing instruments in a Virginia inn.  “The music sounds ‘Ethiopian’ and the Whites in attendance danced in a manner appropriate to the kind of music beingplayed.”

         Charles Dickens described in American Notes for General Circulation, witnessing two Black musicians entertaining White patrons in a New York saloon in 1842,one playing fiddle while the other played tambourine.

As Ralph Ellison wrote, "It was the African's origin in cultures in which art was highly functional which gave him an edge in shaping the music and dance of this nation."

Characteristics of Black music

What are some of the general characteristics of this infectious music and what makes it unique? 

         Firstly, the history of this music is connected to motion - human motion.  It is connected to the motions of work, toplay, to ritual and celebration, it is integrated with dance.  It is a music that prioritizes rhythm and asteady, unrelenting, non-changing tempo and emphasized pulse.  This allows the musician to add syncopation,that is, playing notes that are accented, in between, those regularpulses.  Regularity of pulse is thefoundation in which an essential part of African American music is built -syncopation.

         As described by Tilford Brooks in America’s Black Musical Heritage, “The music of Blacks may be contrasted with music in the classical European tradition by stating that the former makes use ofuneven rhythm with a regular tempo while the latter imploys even rhythm withvarying tempi.  It must be pointed outthat this rhythmic difference is due in part to the fact that a great deal ofAmerican Black music is used for dancing while much music in the EuropeanClassical tradition is not.” 

         It has been a music that in contrast tothe Classical music tradition of Europe, usually emphasizes, accents; on whatmusicians often call “the backbeat.” Most Western music, certainly not all, relies on an organization ofrhythm into groupings of four primary beats. The music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven does this.  The music of Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix,and Tupac Shakur does this. 

         In the performance of the music of theEuropean masters, the first and third of these four beats are considered to bestrong ones.   The downbeat (the firstbeat), and its secondary strong accent (the third beat) are emphasized,consciously, eventually, subconsciously by a performer. 

        Mozart’s famous G minor symphony describes this ordinary stylistic trait of classicalmusic, so deeply integrated with the written tradition of Western society,prioritizing form, extended works, and harmony; relying on rhythms and accentsthat emphasize those primary beats. 

         I like the example of a “typical”American scene at a busy city intersection. One drives up to the red light to wait; a souped up Honda Civic pulls upin the next lane.  (boom, WHACK, ta-boom,WHACK) While waiting, one hears the backbeat, the accents on the second andfourth beats of the funk groove accompanying the latest Rap hit coming frominside the truck at such a volume that the vehicle is bouncing with empathetic vibrations...boom, WHACK, ta-boom, WHACK! Boom is, of course, one and three, the WHACK, the heavy backbeat ofbeats on two and four.  This phenomenon,to one volume degree or another, is a vital part of jazz, funk, reggae, etc.,and one that connects to the body and the feet.

          Secondly, these musics rely on improvisation, either as a identifyingcharacteristic as in jazz and blues; or as an essential parameter inreggae,  rhythm and blues, and funk, andother strongly related musics like country music, and rock.  Even in performances of black music whereimprovisation is not at the central core of the music, the performance styleis one that is improvisational in nature.  One of the resulting factors of this is that the music becomes SELFexpressive - as is true with the music of many Oral traditions.  This necessitates a very different musicalmentality than that required by performers of music from the written traditionof Classical music, who inject their personalities into their interpretation ofa composer’s work.

          Now it is absolutely essential to pointout that this is NOT a matter of  better or worse, good, best, or mediocre, ratingsof music, or even preference.   It is amatter of difference.  By difference, Imean, difference of a culture’s perception and definition of what is consideredbeauty, or art, or expression, story telling, entertainment, religion, or the recording of history (as maintainedstill today in the West African griot tradition - archiving a culture’shistory; an ancestor of blues and Rap). I mean the differences that identify and enrich a culturaltradition. 

         A third oft-found characteristic of Black music are a variety of call and responsepatterns.  This may occur between alead singer and the chorus (as in field songs and other work songs coming out ofthe slave culture). This is readily found in the blues between vocalist andaccompanying instrumentalist - a vocal phrase, answered by the guitarist,pianist, harmonica, or sax answering with an improvised melody.

         The call and response pattern of lead voice,either asking a melodic question and being answered by a chorus, or making astatement of improvised action and being edified, sanctified, or in some way,reaffirmed by a chorus that may be only one other singer, or two - The Supremes, or any number of fellowworkers,  other band members, the churchchoir, fellow prisoners, or just other people within hearing range.  One might hear call and response between thetrumpet section and the sax section of a Count Basie recording.

          An interesting phenomena occurs in the contrasting reaction to the rhythm ofAfrican American  or related pop musicbetween many Europeans and many Americans, is that the Euro listener who isclapping with the music will often clap on every beat, emphasizing all fourbeats; the American who has grown up hearing Black music as his or her own,claps on the 2nd and 4th beat, emphasizing primary accent in the rhythm.  It’s a fascinating and consistent difference.

         A fourth important characteristic is that most Black music requires audienceparticipation.  In many ways this isrelated to call and response patterns. Compare momentarily, the experience you had on your first visit toDisney Hall to  to hear the fabulous LosAngeles Philharmonic.  There iscertainly, in the written tradition of Classical music, a traditional etiquetteto be followed.  One is, as part of theaudience, an observer of art, and hopefully, receiver of the message of themusic.         

         Participation in the performance of Black music is an ancient old and integrated part of themusic.  One is expected to - participateby singing the chorus part, encouraging vocally, reacting with applause and cheering at any moment based upon the feeling created by the performer.  The participating audience becomes anintegrated part of the performance, dancing to and with the music, certainlyresponding in a physical way to the rhythm of the music by clapping hands,stomping feet, moving head and/or body.

         There were two types of slave music in the United States: a secular music that consisted of field hollers, shouts,and moans that used folk tales and folk motifs, and that made use of homemadeinstruments from the banjo (which became a standard American instrument in the19th century, largely through minstrelsy), tambourine, and gourds towashboards, pots, spoons, and the like. From the 1740s, many states had banned the use of drums in fear that Africans would use them to create a system ofcommunication in order to aid rebellion. Nonetheless, blacks managed togenerate percussion and percussive sounds, using other instruments or their ownbodies.  YouTube a Bobby McFerrin performance to see how this tradition has evolved.

        African Americans also used dances,stomps and hand games in their musical expression, all of which clearly camefrom Africa. The Cakewalk, for instance, a popular dance in post-bellumAmerica, had its roots in slavery. (It was a dance that actually made fun ofwhite people.)

        There was also a spiritual music —the spirituals — that became well known after the Civil War, (when the Fisk Jubilee Singers toured the nation and eventually the world, starting in 1871,to raise money for their school), and remains, in many circles, as the mosthighly regarded black musical expression ever invented in the United States,having almost become a kind of African-American lieder.

        Indeed, W. E. B. Du Bois, agraduate of Fisk, and highly influenced by German ideas of folk culture, wroteabout the "sorrow songs," as he called them in his seminal 1903 book,The Souls of Black Folk, as if they were America's lieder. (No major blackopera star from Roland Hayes to Kathleen Battle has ever refused to sing them).

        The point I make, in too brief a time,is that by 1860 and the beginning of America’s Civil War, a time when many free Black men, most of them youngboys, served as musicians for various Union regiments, the music of AfricanAmerican musicians was well known and integrated into the social life of manycommunities.  Ironically, the mostpopular theater and entertainment of the time (and from about 1840 into the 20thcentury) was the Minstrel show, a satirical variety show featuring songs,skits, dance, and humor based upon stereotyped images of slave culture.  Until the Civil War, they were performed mostlyby white performers in black face, andafter, by travelling groups of Black performers - also in the same black face makeup, applying white makeuparound the mouth and eyes in imitation of the earlier white groups.

        It has been suggested that several of the spirituals had double-meanings,and this is almost certainly true. It is unlikely, however, that these songswere codes for slave revolts. Slaves were simply watched too carefully to beable to get away with songs like that, which almost certainly would have beenrecognized by their masters and overseers. More reasonably, songs like StealAway, Come With Me to My Father's House, Let Us Break Bread Together on OurKnees, and One Morning Soon  were codesongs for secret meetings.  They may havealso been codes for slaves who were getting ready to run away. 

           But the strongest impact on the American dominant society began at the very end of the 19thcentury, when in 1899, Maple Leaf Rag, piano music written by a Black composer,Scott Joplin, and published and distributed by white music publisher, JonasStark, took the United States, then Europe, by storm, and before it could besquelched, was, along with many other Rags, by several composers, being dancedto in its improvised, early jazz band versions. Maple Leaf Rag sold 75,000copies in the first 6 months and eventually over 1 million copies, making itthe first song in history to do so. About 1 of every 70 Americans owned a copy of the sheet music.

       Under the entrepreneurship of W.C. Handy, blues became a regularized, formularized commercial music that cameinto its own in the 1920s with the rise of black women blues singers, whobecame so popular that the recording industry invented a new genre called RaceRecords, music made by blacks for blacks.

       This body of music was of great importance in the development of jazz. First, almost certainly, the fieldsecular music was the forerunner of the blues, which appeared in the 1890s andwas such an important aspect of jazz and the gutbucket feature of black dancemusic. The "unschooled" techniques from this music, the slurring andbending of notes, the falsetto cries and the like, became common features ofjazz as both an instrumental and vocal music, but in far more artful ways asjazz developed sophisticated principles for its performance.

         Throughout the 20’s (it has even been called the jazz age),Harlem renaissance writers and poets flourished, but it was Duke Ellington, arguably America’s greatest, most unique composer, who brought theintellectual, the illiterate,  the headand the feet, The Black, Brown, and Beige(Duke Ellington’s 1943 extended form composition, subtitled A Tone Parallel to the History of the Negroin America), and everything inbetween, together under his musical charm. 

        Meanwhile, radio and phonograph records — Americans bought more than 100 million of them in 1927 — werebringing jazz to locations so remote that no band could reach them. And themusic itself was beginning to change — an exuberant, collective music wascoming to place more and more emphasis on the innovations of supremely gifted individuals. Improvising soloists, struggling to find their own voices and totell their own stories, were about to take center stage.

         Beyond its disturbing sounds, itsfast pace, and its supposed impact on morals, jazz was condemned because of itsorigins. Many white older Americans were appalled to see their children dancingto music that was believed to have emerged from what the music critic of the NewYork Herald Tribune called "the Negro brothels of the South.""Jazz," said the editor of Etude, "is often associated with vilesurroundings, filthy words, unmentionable dances." It was originally"the accompaniment of the voodoo dancer," declared Mrs. MaxObendorfer, national music chairman of the General Federation of Women's Clubs,"stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds ... [It] hasalso been employed by other barbaric people to stimulate barbarity andsensuality." Blacks were not the sole sources of the jazz contagion. Thecritic Carl Engel also worried about the effects on Anglo-Saxon youth of whathe called "Semitic purveyors of Broadway melodies," while HenryFord's Dearborn Independent blamed what it called "the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes" on sinister Jews.

 

         There was nothing new in theseattitudes. Twenty years earlier, many whites had deplored ragtime in partbecause it was based on black songs and dances, just as their descendants wouldone day denounce rock 'n' roll because of its links to the African-Americanblues tradition. But something altogether new really was happening here andthere across the country. A few white youths — living in small towns andcomfortable suburbs as well as big-city slums — started to see more than merenovelty and excitement in this new primarily black music, began actually tohear their own feelings mirrored in the playing of African-Americans, and tolook for ways they might participate in it themselves. In a country in which bylaw and custom blacks and whites were forbidden to compete on anything like anequal basis in any arena — even boxing (the heavyweight title was thenoff-limits to black challengers) — these young men were willing to brave abrand new world created by black Americans and in which black musiciansremained the most admired figures.

           The Depression of the 1930’s meantthat millions of people all over America would now be able to hear music — all kinds of music — played by all kinds of people for free. And jazz, which had always thrived in adversity and come to symbolize a certain kind of Americanfreedom, would be called upon to lift the spirits and raise the morale of afrightened country. And in the process, it would begin to break down the barriers that had separated Americans from each other for centuries.

          In the mid-1930s, as the GreatDepression stubbornly refused to lift, jazz came as close as it has ever cometo being America's popular music. It had a new name now — Swing — and itsimpact was revolutionary. Swing rescued the recording industry. In 1932, just10 million records had been sold in the United States. By 1939, that number would grow to 50 million. Swing — which had grown up in the dance halls of Harlem — would become the defining music for an entire generation of Americans.

         Swing provided Hollywood with itstheme music and offered entertainment, elegance and escape for a people down ontheir luck. Radios and jukeboxes could be heard playing swing along every MainStreet in America, providing the accompaniment for a host of exhilarating newdances — the Big Apple and Little Peach, the Shag and Susy Q, and the dance thathad started it all — the Lindy Hop — now called jitter bugging. Hundreds ofbands were on the road — and young people followed the careers of the musicianswho played in them just as they followed their favorite baseball players.

          In March of 1939, Duke Ellingtonand his orchestra set sail for Europe for an extended concert tour. Even hecould not have foreseen the sort of impact it would have. In the United States,Ellington was often overshadowed by more commercial bands, but in Europe, hereigned supreme. Crowds met their ship at Le Havre with "such adorationand genuine joy," his trumpeter Rex Stewart remembered, "that for thefirst time in my life I had the feeling of being accepted as an artist, agentleman, and a member of the human race."

        Thousands turned out in Brussels, Antwerp, The Hague, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, where fans filled Ellington's hotel room with flowers for his 40th birthday. A Pariscritic proclaimed that Ellington's music revealed "the very secret of thecosmos" and the French poet Blaise Cendrars pronounced his music "notonly a new art form but a new reason for living." But that same spring,when the train carrying Ellington's band across northern Germany was delayed atHamburg, uniformed soldiers patrolled the platform and his men could not getoff even to stretch their legs. The Nazis had barred both black foreigners andjazz — which they called "Nigger-Jew Music."

         The country these men left behind was entering an era unlike any it had ever experienced before, a period ofselfless struggle and shameless self-indulgence; of unprecedented progress incivil rights and deepening divisions between the races; of calls for collectiveaction and relentless focus on the individual; and of the mushroom growth of ayouth culture powerful enough to begin to dictate America's tastes. Jazz musicwould struggle to deal with it all, and in the process would increasingly finditself divided into factions, so many factions, Duke Ellington said, he didn'tsee how "such great extremes as now exist can be contained under the oneheading." The debate over what was jazz and what was not raged as it neverhad before, and for a time, the real question would become whether this mostAmerican of art forms could survive in America at all.

         The 1960s had begun with the unshakable optimism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the conviction thatAmericans were fully capable of realizing the nation's promise of full equalitythat jazz embodied at its best — but they would end with the Black Panthers andthe all-too-pervasive belief that America's racial divisions could never bebridged, that black and white Americans were fated perpetually to live apart.Nineteen sixty-five marked a kind of turning point. The non-violent civilrights movement and the political skills of President Lyndon Johnson hadcombined to force Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act the previous year,empowering the attorney general to bring suit for discriminatory practices inpublic accommodations. But that victory had come at a fearful cost — civilrights workers murdered, marchers beaten and killed. Malcolm X was shot todeath in February 1965. In March, Alabama state troopers on horseback clubbedsome 70 citizens asking for the right to vote at Selma. In June, Dr. King led amarch for desegregated housing in Chicago that was met with mob violence as badas any he'd encountered in the South. In August,1965 the Watts section of LosAngeles exploded in riots. For many young black Americans, impatient forjustice, it was all taking far too long and amounting to far too little.Stokely Carmichael would not formally call for "Black Power" untilthe following summer, but despair and anger had already fueled the growth of akind of self-defensive nationalism, a growing conviction that if whites wereunwilling to share power, black people would have to wrest it from them.

         Black Music’s connection to so manyother cultural aspects of American society is noteworthy and clear. The studyof African American music leads its investigator to an inside view ofcontemporary American culture, its enshrining of sports, and its visibility inthe sports industry, fashion, pop and dance music, television, film, and themedia, relationships between different ethnicities, the enormous fast foodbusiness, advertising and promotion of business, religion, and more.  The study of this music, the soundtrack of America,offers its students an integrated view of society - one that makes“connections” between our cultural characteristics and our own life experience.

 

 

 

 

Composition ~ getting started

Posted on August 16, 2012 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

To compose music is to create an atmosphere of sound, a moodor series of moods established through the organization of sound andsilence.  Creating an atmosphere of anykind – aural, visual, aromatic, through the sense of touch, taste, or acombination of these – requires technique, craft, and intellect, anunderstanding of emotion, inspiration, hard work, and sometimes, luck. 

Like preparing a wonderful dinner (creating an atmosphereinvolving many parameters - aroma, taste, visual presentation of color andshape, proportion and balance of courses, and more), music composition requiresgreat planning.  Like the drawing of anarchitectural plan and blueprint, music composition requires the techniquesnecessary to put into written symbols the sometimes indefinite, fleeting, andoftentimes non-verbal aural (in music, visual in architecture) ideas that comefrom either an intellectual or a visceral (most often, some sort of combinationof the two) part of us.

So how does one begin to compose music?  Of course, it must be assumed that there is acertain technique and musicianship before beginning (we won’t “turn the stoveon” until we understand certain principles of cooking?).  I like to compare the development of a compositionidea with developing an architectural blueprint.  Before any notes are written on the stafflines, there is much preparation to do. 

If one sets out to develop a blueprint for, let’s say forthe moment, a house in Northern Arizona, situated on some desert rocks,overlooking an enormous view, there are many things to consider in order tocreate the most beautiful (whatever that might mean to each of us), intelligentand perhaps functional home, one that has balance of rooms, practicality, isinviting, with the best use of resources, and able to withstand intensive heatand desert cold.  Perhaps one would beginwith the general layout – continually asking questions like:

-       howbig is the house

-       howmany rooms are there

-       howlarge is each room

-       howmany bedrooms/bathrooms

-       whatwill the kitchen be like

-       whichdirection will the house face

-       whatsort of energy will heat and cool the house

-       onand on and on

Then the detailing begins. Eventually, one gets down to deciding on the carpet, the color of thepaint, the kitchen appliances, the handles on the cabinets, the tile, thewindow coverings, the sound of the doorbell. 

The end result is the creation of a living environment, anatmosphere of space, color, design.

A composer can use some of the same elements in creating asonic atmosphere.  What are the mostimportant contributing factors to creating a musical mood?  Certainly tempo and rhythm arevery important to establishing the emotional content/mood/atmosphere of a pieceof music.  What are the othercontributing musical parameters to the building of the musical atmosphere?

Rhythm and Tempo – related but individualparameters; changing, repetitive

Harmony – definable,non-definable, tonal, modal, vertical, horizontal

Melody – ingoing,outgoing, intervallic, serial

Form and Proportion – the relativelengths/importance/atmosphere of the          

            differentsections of the composition

Register – relativehighs and lows 

Dynamics –relativelouds and softs

Texture – notonly density of sound, but homophony/monophony/counterpoint

Timbre – relatedto orchestration; tradition orchestral non-traditional orchestral,    electronic, noise

Orchestration – choiceof sound, texture, timbre, dynamics, register

Tonal Gravity – apart of George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept; vertical or horizontalmotion, described both harmonically and melodically.

Medium wise is a hard question for me I guess as far as working goes I let thecomposition dictate where it goes.  I like and listen to a lot ofdifferent styles just about everything but rap and country and there are even afew compositions in these styles I like.  I'm a big fan of Pat Metheny,Ottmar Liebert, Elvis, The Beatles, Bach, Fernando Sor,  Paco de Lucia andmy latest addiction is Badin Powell if that helps.  As far as what I'vealways wanted to compose  I'm a big fan of trying to combined traditionalwestern theory, with the sounds and styles of world music and then usingtechnology to enhance the material.  I must admit since meeting you, I'vebeen really pushing to improve my skill set as far as Jazz goes and wouldn'tmind working along those lines.  I just don't know that my abilities areat a level to write the kind of Jazz I would like to? Not sure if this helps togive you an idea of where I want to go with composition or not?  Iremember having a theory teacher list the below as the principles ofcomposition and variation a long time ago, I very glad to have that list againit will help me a lot when working with an idea to develop it.  I thinknowadays lyric content should probably be added to that list with pop musicbeing what it is, what do you think?

Let me set some structure for you.  You'lldo it for the next one.  Let’s skip thelyrics for now.  We’ll get to settingtext.

Piece 1…

No category/genre - don't think "jazz"or "latin" or newageworldfunkreggaebluesheavymetal; just music - thatwill come afterwards if you like.  You have a band - you playing yourfavorite guitar; don't think about amplification, acoustic/electric - we'llstart with form; keyboard(s), bass, percussion (lets say congas - maybe drumset by the time you're done).

AABA - eight measures for each section. You'll need an introduction and a coda.  This form will be repeatedfor improvisation.

Medium slow tempo (quarter = 88 to about 96 beatsper minute) with an even eighth note (as opposed to a swing/jazz eighth).

Harmony - definable chords, mostly vertical (thatis, chord successions rather than being in one particular key with the chordsresolving in a traditional way - ex. Emaj9 - Cmaj9| Gmin7 - Dbmaj9) 

Harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords change) - 2chords per measure in the A section (doesn't have to be every measure), 1 chordper measure in the B.

Write the chords first - we'll let them 'dictate'the melody.

Texture - thick chords, with a slow movingmelody, bass-line will be mainly chord roots and the P5th above playing dottedquarter-eighth repeated pattern.

Register - A (harmony and melody in themiddle-lower register) A (melody, an octave higher; harmony, voicings stretchedover wider register) B (same register) A (similar to second A).

Dynamics - let's see where the piece goes, butstart with a quite introduction, soft A, mezzopiano A, mf to f in the Bsection, mp for the final A.

Timbre will become more apparent as you put thechords and melody together - the sort of guitar sound you want, keyboards -piano alone, with synth pads, bass - electric/acoustic, percussion - subtle ormore prominent, hand drums or set with cymbals, etc.

Orchestration - we've been dealing with it above.

Start with the 'groove' that you want to hear,then write out the rhythm of that groove.  This is the predominant rhythmin the drums and bass.  Steady eighths - where do you want accents (1, andof 2, 3, 4; 1, and of 2, 3, and of 4 for example).

Then the harmony.  A section with predominantlyminor chords; B with more major; or vice versa...

The melody will come from the harmony using'common tones' from the chord succession.  Remember to consider how thepeople you mentioned below wrote melody - use of motive (three note motives basedon a particular repeated rhythm are 'perfect'), repetition, sequence,inversion, more repetition of the melody with slight variation.

B section - slightly different motive based onthe A section melodic motive.

Lay out at least three sheets of music paper,several sharp pencils, an eraser, a straight edge (the perfect ones are plasticcredit card-size cards), guitar in hand, keyboard near if possible, cup ofcoffee (so that you can leave the 'required' coffee cup stain on yourmanuscript).

Begin.

 

 

 


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