Review of three major themes of this class: 1. In its seven building blocks (described in Class One), jazz incorporates many Africanisms, such as the vocalized use of brass and reed instruments, polyrhythms. group playing in which the communication between members of the group actually changes or influences what others play. Of course there are also European and American influences in jazz too. 2. Jazz favors individual expression and personal creativity in performance. Although there are wonderful jazz compositions, jazz about the player, not the composer. When you go to a concert, you want to know who is playing, not what songs they will play -- just the opposite of classical concerts in which you want to know which composer's music is being played. 3. Jazz embodies extensive uses of "conflict" -- often heard as harmonic dissonance or conflicting (syncopated) rhythms. In a general sense, jazz expresses conflict as a reflection of the musicians relationship to American society. In a sense jazz beautifies conflict,it is made "enjoyable" much like conflict in a theater piece. Seeing grief or anger portrayed in a good play does not make you grieve or feel angry, but it has a cathartic effect.
"Modal" jazz -- a new approach to improvising:
In class I tried to explain the difference from the listener's point of view by thinking of chord-change-based songs as "ballads" -- as stories. Another way to think of this is that a harmonic progression tells a story, which is why chord based songs, the 32-measure popular song, are often called "ballads." The harmonic progression moves you from the tonic (starting place) through different key changes, through a pattern of "ups and downs" until it resolves again to its home key (the tonic).
Modal music, based on a scale, establishes a tonality but does not provide movement-in-need-of resolution, as a harmonic progression does. Listen to Bye Bye Blackbird and how the music (even without its lyrics) tells a story. Then listen to "Milestone" (Miles Davis, 1958) and observe the lack on any harmonic movement and its effect on the improvisors.
Examples: The first piece we listened to in Class Six was the Miles Davis composition "Milestones"recorded in 1958. The song has the structure A A B A, where both the A and B themes are built on modes, not chord changes. If you listen to this track, you will hear that the melody is simple, and under the melody is a "riff" a short repetitive phrase. There are no chord changes to weave around or "tell the story." Miles was interested in freeing himself from the regimentation of chord changes. With this freedom comes the challenge of making interesting music using only a mode (scale pattern of whole steps, half-steps). Without chord changes to produce a built-in variety within the song, the improvisor is required to produce melody using only a series of notes. Listen to Milestones at the link above to see how they accomplished this.
Technical interlude: Miles, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane solo brilliantly on the recording of "Milestones." The first two A choruses are in the G Dorian mode (the same notes as the F Major scale but beginning on G instead of on F.) The improvisors are thus using 16 measures of a G Dorian scale (rather than chord changes) as the basis for improvising. The B chorus is 16 measures of A Aeolian (the same notes as the A Major scale but with several flatted tones ( the 3rd, 6th, and 7th). The notes of the A Aeolian mode turn out to be the same notes as in the C Major scale, but it has a different sound because it starts on A (instead of C).
Kind of Blue: "Kind of Blue" (rec. 1959) is the essential album to hear the classic example of modal jazz. It is probably the most revered album in jazz since Louis Armstrong recorded with his Hot Five and Hot Seven bands in 1927 - 1928. We listened to "So What" during class and watched a video of Miles and Coltrane playing "So What" on a TV special, a rare look at Miles and Coltrane together. . Here is a link to the full video and also to the entire album Kind of Blueon Youtube. Even pieces that are based on "blues," which does imply a set of chords, are treated modally in the improvisation. NOTE One exception on this album is the song "Blue in Green," which is built on harmonic changes and treated as such in its performance. If you purchase any album as a result of this class, this would be a good choice. I don't think i've ever met someone who has heard it but who didn't love it.
It is important to realize -- as mentioned above -- that even when there may be chords specified in a modal jazz composition, the soloists are instructed to improvise on the scale implied by the harmony. In such cases, the chord usually lasts for 4 or more measures before the piece switches to another chord (and the mode it is based on). By contrast, in a chordal piece, there are often two chord changes per measure, instead of a single chord for four measures. In class we used Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" as an example.
It is a rhythmic piece that shows the influence of on Hancock of both modal improvising and the "funky" rhythms in the music of Horace Silver. It is like "Watermelon Man" except except instead of following a blues chord progression, each four-measure phrase uses a single mode for improvising. Using scales as the basis for improvisations gives the solos a very different sound than working one's way through a series of chord progressions, which may come at the rate of two or more per measure. Here is the sheet of music in which the player is instructed to think of the melody as using a "chord" (harmony), but the improvising should be done on the specified scale pattern (or mode).
Jazz in the present time: I have made the claim in class that nearly all of jazz in the 21st century -- about 100 years after its birth -- is derived directly from the post-bebop period of 1949 through 1969: In my view (and no doubt there are those who would disagree), jazz today is comprised of these elements: popular song format, or contrafacts of a popular song, or original jazz composition based on a variety of harmonic progressions, or an orchestrated setting, or modal jazz, or finally a combination of these elements. There are more experimental musicians playing in the jazz tradition, but there is no new stylistic development comparable to the change between, for example, New Orleans style jazz, or the big band music of the 1930s and 1940s, and Bebop. The modern (bebop) period profoundly changed all elements of the jazz language (harmony, melodic vocabulary, and displaced rhythmic accents), and the post-modern period altered that using more abstract soloing and modal improvising. But because jazz is a music designed for the individual expression of the performer, the jazz "language" -- as played by each individual -- is still original as played by any authentic artist.
I have heard a question from one student (to paraphrase) that asks, skeptically, "Do you mean there is really nothing new in jazz since 1970?" Of course each player is "new" and different because jazz emphasizes the performance and ideas and sound of the individual. Since no two individuals are alike, of course, there is "new" music being made all the time.
But there has not, in my opinion, been a new way of approaching jazz since about 1970, comparable to the innovations of bebop, hard bop, jazz orchestration (prior to 1970) and modal improvising. One new approach we did NOT cover in the class is "fusion" -- the synthesis of jazz/rock or jazz/R'nB. Albums in this genre as "Bitches Brew, 'Live Evil," various albums by Weather Report ("Heavy Weather" "Birdland") and albums by the Jazz Crusaders, the Mahavishnu Orchestra (esp. "The Inner Mounting Flame" - influenced by Indian music as well as modal playing, Chick Corea's Return to Forever Band, etc.
These were great bands, but you don't hear them much on jazz radio, or hear their music referenced in concerts or CDs. IN my view, fusion was ultimately a dead end; however, there was a lot of really great music made while traveling down the road, and I used to listen to all of it! But the road didn't lead anywhere that affected jazz in general. It used jazz but did not add anything to the way musicians approach creating or performing jazz.
There is a Jazz Icons DVD devoted to Coltrane but it is not as well filmed as the other DVDs. There is also an unreleased DVD of Coltrane's quarters playing on the late Ralph J. Gleason's TV show ("Jazz Casual") which I have obtained from the Gleason estate, and I will play it in class. You can also see many excerpts from it on the Internet by typing "Jazz Casual John Coltrane" into the Youtube search bar.
Before the class began, I played you a video of a band I play with doing a Coltrane composition, "Some Other Blues." It is a 12- measure piece following the blues chord progression, but with some extra chord changes in it. (You can find our version on this web site under "Recorded Music.")
However, I recommend that you listen to Coltrane's recording of "Some Other Blues" (1959). It provides an example of his focus on a single note (in this case, F, the tonal center of this blues). In his soloing from 1959 on, (with exceptions of course), Coltrane often centers his solo around a particular scale tone, giving his improvisations a chant-like quality, even those which are not specifically modal.) In this quartet (from the album "Coltrane Jazz") he uses the same rhythm section (piano, bass, and drums) that he recorded with on "Kind of Blue" album.
One of Coltrane's best known recordings was "My Favorite Things" (1960)where he treats the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune as partly chord-based, and partly modal piece, giving it a more exotic, mystical character.
Another important piece was captured on a San Francisco TV show from the 1960s, Ralph Gleason's "Jazz Casuals." Coltrane's televised performance of his composition "Impressions" is based on the same same modal scheme as "So What." Two 8-measure themes of D dorian, 8 measures of Eb dorian - one 1/2-step up from D, followed by another 8 measures of D dorian. The camera work of this performance offers a very revealing look at Coltrane's focused, introspective approach to playing.
Coltrane's magnum opus is without question the 33-minute "A Love Supreme," recorded in 1964 with his most celebrated quartet: McCoy Tyner, piano, Elvin Jones, drums.and Jimmy Garrison, bass.) This is one of the rare jazz albums that is presented as a single musical endeavor, rather than as a list of songs. Many albums present pieces that are related to one another, but "A Love Supreme" is a singular composition. (The Beatle's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" plays a similar role in the popular music context.)
The four movements of "A Love Supreme" are conceived as part of a devotional homage to God, clearly expressed in Coltrane's liner notes. In this album his music exemplifies the inspirational, spiritual seeking that makes his music so powerful. Some Guided Listening:
In the "Acknowledgments" movement, listen for Coltrane's tone -- the emotional resonance -- on the saxophone. You may want to have in mind the tone of other saxophonists you have heard. Coltrane's tone (as I hear it) is an announcement of something important to follow. You will also hear a repetitive melodic figure played by the bass that imitates the speech pattern of the words "A love supreme, a love supreme . . . " which becomes the rhythmic foundation of the movement
.The Resolution movement: I would describe the melodic saxophone opening not as song but as a "chant" based on an original scale. the chant functions as a motif (that is, a theme) subject to variations and exploration; it is NOT a melody as one might expect from a balladic song based on a harmonic progression. There is a simplicity and an intensity to the motif that, for me, warrants calling it a chant. The piano solo by McCoy Tyner is also based on the scale (or mode) described by the Coltrane's chant-like melody.
Although I didn't get to play it in class, I want to recommend Charles Mingus's piece, "Pithecanthropus Erectus," which is extremely important as the first example of "free" playing, with the instruments instructed to play at will without regard to key or style. I highly recommend listening to at least five minutes of that 1956 recording by clicking here. Someone who pursued "free" playing without prior arrangement of melody and dispensing with harmonies altogether is Ornerier Coleman who identified himself with this approach to jazz. His albums "The Shape of Things to Come" , "Free Jazz" and "Dancing in Your Head" are good examples of his playing, which can be a bit abstract and chaotic form some listeners.
Mingus's music is at once primitive and sophisticated; it makes heavy use of the blues in the formal sense and also in its tonality, which is often enhanced by a gospel-music feeling. Like Ellington, whom he admired perhaps more than any other predecessor, Mingus's pieces were often a "soundscape" of great variety and activity into which he introduced the human voice as a shout or a verbalization, not as traditional lyrics. He can also be overtly political, fighting back against oppression as in "Fables of Faubus" and "Haitian Fight Song." Although Mingus stated he was of mixed "race," (Chinese, Native American, and African-American), he clearly identified as black and was very sensitive to and angered by racial discrimination. His autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, he writes passionately about his anger and indignation towards racist aspects of america. Below are some of him nay accessible pieces of music that express the attitudes and musical values discussed above. Other pieces you can find by typing them into a Youtube search bar or your own music provider are the following -
I will let you find the following on your own via Youtube or another provider. Duke Ellington's Sound of Love Peggy's Blue Skylight Nostalgia in Times Square
The posthumous Mingus Big Band - Moanin' (1992) composed and arranged by Mingus. There are several recordings of this masterpiece, beginning with Mingus's studio recording in 1959. But the one I played is my favorite, recorded by a big band in the1990s devoted to Mingus's music . It is a great example of how many diverse elements Mingus was able to capture, from soulful blues, to swinging solos, and complex orchestrations full of color and appealing dissonance.
Mingus Album and DVD recommendations:
My favorite Mingus Albums are: Pithecanthropus Erectus; Mingus Ah Um; The Clown; Blues and Roots; Mingus, Mingus, Mingus; The Black Saint and Sinner Lady.
NOTE: I would avoid "The Town Hall Concerts," which was based on a mistaken idea that Mingus's music should be presented in a full orchestral setting in a formal concert venue.
Mingus DVD: The Jazz Icons DVD devoted to Mingus is an excellent video recording of his six-piece bands concerts in Europe and Scandinavia in the early 1960s. I did not get to show a remarkable dance video Nicholas Brothers' athletic dance routine with the Cab Calloway Orchestra for the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather." I have at times played this at the end of the class because it is astounding to witness what these two brothers are able to do and still walk off the set in one piece. Click on the link above if you're curious. ***************** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * General Album and DVD recommendations:
Jazz on Audio One could write an entire book recommending jazz albums -- come to think of it, I have done that. I still think The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records, is a useful guide to good listening, even though it stops in 1980, which is when the book was published. Still, it covers hundreds of hours of great music. For this course, I have a short Listener's Guide which points to the important and lasting music of many of the musicians we discussed in class.
Jazz on Video I refer you to my short list of Jazz on DVD, which of course includes the Jazz Icons series of which I should several excerpts. The best in the series are he DVDs of Monk, Mingus, and Ellington. This list emphasize some early art films about jazz. It does not include Soundies, which were short sketches, often with humorous story lines, which featured famous jazz musicians of the 1930s and1940s. The link above takes you to several short films that feature Fats Waller, always a delightful presence. There are other collections featuring Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and a dozen more. I encourage you to check the DVD collection in your local libraries where you will probably find some wonderful jazz concerts. Attach a good speaker system to your TV or computer, and you can "attend" some first-rate jazz concerts in your own home.
List of recommended albums:
(Trumpeter) Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder."
(Pianist) Horace Silver compositions: Played in class: "Peace" (theme from Erik Jackson's "Erik in the Evening" on WGBH; Blowin the Blues Away. Recommended : Nica's Dream, Song for My Father, Sister Sadie, the Jody Grind.
Miles Davis: "So What" (based on scales, not chord changes). Recommended. Album titles follow: Kind of Blue, Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, 'Round About Midnight, Milestones, Some Day My Prince Will Come, My Funny Valentine, 1964.
John Coltrane: Recommended albums: Blue Train, My Favorite Things, Ballads, Coltrane Jazz, Coltrane Plays the Blues, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, Monk /Trane, Giant Steps. Under "class six," there will be additional Coltrane albums that reflect his music from 1962 - 1966, such as his greatest work, "A Love Supreme" (1964).