Jazz Music, Jazz Band Background

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Jazz includes many different streams of music. They can be played by almost any combination of instruments. They can evoke almost any mood. Some are light and happy. Some are heavy and serious. Some make you want to dance. Some make you think. Some are smooth and predictable. Some are agitated and full of surprises. Jazz can be heard in many different places. It is often presented as serious music in concert halls. Some jazz is played in ballrooms fox dancers. There is jazz in background music on the radio. Much jazz is played in night clubs where people listen while they drink and talk with their friends. Jazz is unique for two very special aspects: a) its provocative rhythms and b) its insistence that performers create their parts as they play them. Each jazz performance represents a new and original creation. Hearing live jazz is exciting not only for the way it makes us feel but also for the realization that we are following the musical thinking of the musicians at the very moment they are inventing their music. They are taking us along with them while they make up fresh sounds. This is akin to the impossible situation of seeing a finished painting as we watch the artist apply paint to the canvas, at the same time as we watch one manufacturer produce the canvas and another manufacturer produce the paints themselves.

Jazz has impressive reputation. It is so interesting that it is played and analyzed in hundreds of colleges. Almost every high school and college has at least one jazz band. Though it originated in America, jazz is so compelling that musicians on every continent have played it, and today there is no city without it. The sounds of jazz have influenced the development of new styles in popular music and the work of symphonic composers. Jazz is so sturdy that the old styles are still being played, and new styles are always being developed. In fad, jazz is regarded as a fine art, not just a passing fad.

Many different kinds of music have been called "jazz" So it is no surprise that people cannot agree about how to define it. Different people use different ways to decide whether a given performance should be called "jazz". Not all listeners focus on the same aspects. For example, some call it "jazz" if saxophones and drums are used. Some consider only how it makes them feel ("swinging"). Some decide it must be jazz if it is made by performers who have a reputation for jazz. Some won't call any music "jazz" unless they know that part of it is being composed as it is being performed. Another problem frequently occurs because people attempt to define jazz only by what they have heard called "jazz". This might not include the entire range of music that has been called "jazz" Another limitation is that jazz is usually played first and only written down later, if at all. This makes it difficult to discuss. Definition would be easier if the sounds derived from written music that could be examined on paper. Despite these problems, there are two elements that most jazz styles have in common-improvisation and jazz swing feeling. To improvise is to compose and perform at the same time. Instead of saying improvise many people say ad lib, ride, or jam. This means that jazz musicians make up
their music as they go along. A great deal of jazz is spontaneous. It is not written down or rehearsed beforehand. This is like the impromptu speaking all of us do every day when we talk "off the cuff". We use words and phrases we have used before. But now we improvise by using them in new ways and new orders that have not been rehearsed. A lot of originality can result. This is significant because being original is very
important to jazz musicians. They try to be as spontaneous as possible. In fact they try to never improvise the same way twice. Some of the spirit and vitality associated with jazz may be due to the spontaneity of improvisation. Several versions of a tune made during the same recording session may be entirely different because of this. For most people, improvisation is an essential element of jazz, and musicians time. Instead of saying "improvisation", jazz musicians occasionally say "jazz" when they mean "improvise". For example, in a music publisher's brochure describing big band arrangements, a note might be included saying,"only the tenor saxophone part requires jazz". Or a musician's contractor might phone a player requesting that he play "jazz trumpet chair" in a big band, meaning the player will be the only trumpet player required to improvise.

Improvisation is essential to jazz. If you are not very familiar with jazz, however, you might not be able to tell what has been written or memorized beforehand from what is being improvised. Boston Jazz bands for wedding receptions. One clue is that if part of a performance sounds improvised, it quite often is. Improvised parts sometimes sound more casual and less organized than the written or memorized parts. The problem with using that clue, however, is that the best improvisations are so well constructed that they sound almost like written melodies. Another clue comes from knowing about a routine that most jazz musicians use. The players begin with a tune they all know. First they play it once all the way through. The melody is played by the horns, the accompaniment by the piano, bass, and drums. Then the piano, bass, and drums continue to do what they did before. But this time, the horns make up and play new melodies of their own. They improvise their own melodies to the tune's accompaniment chords. The way the chords progress in that accompaniment guides the notes they choose for their new melodies, which we call improvisations. In other words, when the melody of the piece itself ends, what follows is improvised. Then it is all improvised until that same melody begins again. This kind of improvisation distinguishes jazz musicians from most pop musicians who merely decorate a tune by changing some of its rhythms or adding notes to it.
Even though improvisation is the main emphasis in jazz not everything is spontaneous Most jazz bands use arrangements of some sort. In large jazz ensembles where the players are seated with written arrangements in front of them, a player is usually improvising when he stands up to solo; otherwise, the music is coming from the written parts. And, of course, many lines played by several players in unison must have been prepared beforehand.

Jazz originated from styles of popular music that were blended to satisfy social dancers. It began developing during the 1890s in New Orleans, and it was fully formed by the early 1920s when it was recorded in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Several different trends led to the birth of jazz. One was the practice of taking liberties with the melodies and accompaniments of tunes. This led to what we today call improvisation. Another was black Americans creating new kinds of music such as ragtime and blues. Ragtime provided some of the jazz repertory and made syncopated rhythms popular. Blues provided another portion of jazz repertory and popularized the practice of manipulating a melody note's pitch to produce a soulful effect. A third trend consisted of taking liberties with tone qualities. For instance,
musicians cultivated rough and raspy sounds to add to their collection of smooth tone qualities.

A glance back at the experiences of Africans in America will help us understand how these different kinds of music came together. When African slaves were brought to America, they were not allowed to bring musical instruments. Moreover, villages and families of Africans were so thoroughly separated that many groups of slaves in America did not even have a single language in common. But they did bring their own musical tastes and a tradition of musical practices. This may explain why European music often sounded different when played in the New World by musicians of African ancestry. For example, some slaves modified European church hymns, folk songs, and dance music to fit their own tastes and traditions. Their children followed suit, and musical preferences were thereby passed down from generation to generation. In other words, jazz did not derive its similarities to African music from direct contact with African music. It acquired these characteristics secondhand, through other music that had developed by contact with African musical practices in the New World. Keep in mind also that there is much about jazz that has nothing to do with African music.

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