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jazz and blues

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 11 months ago

JAZZ

 

Jazz is an original American musical art form originating around the start of the 20th century in New Orleans, rooted in Western music technique and theory, and is marked by the profound cultural contributions of African Americans. It is characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. Jazz has been described as "America's Classical Music," and started in saloons throughout the nation.

 

Jazz has roots in the combination of Western and African music traditions, including spirituals, blues and ragtime, stemming ultimately from West Africa, western Sahel, and New England's religious hymns and hillbilly music, as well as in European military band music. After originating in African American communities near the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s. Since then, jazz has had a pervasive influence on other musical styles worldwide. Even today, various jazz styles continue to evolve.

 

The word jazz itself is rooted in American slang, probably of sexual origin, although various alternative derivations have been suggested. According to University of Southern California film professor Todd Boyd, the term was originally slang for sexual intercourse as its earliest musicians found employment in New Orleans brothel parlors.

 

At the root of jazz is the blues, the folk music of former enslaved Africans in the U.S. South and their descendants, heavily influenced by West African cultural and musical traditions, that evolved as black musicians migrated to the cities. According to jazz musician Wynton Marsalis:

 

Jazz is something Negroes invented, and it said the most profound things -- not only about us and the way we look at things, but about what modern democratic life is really about. It is the nobility of the race put into sound ... jazz has all the elements, from the spare and penetrating to the complex and enveloping. It is the hardest music to play that I know of, and it is the highest rendition of individual emotion in the history of Western music.1

 

Early jazz influences found their first mainstream expression in the marching band and dance band music of the day, which was the standard form of popular concert music at the turn of century. The instruments of these groups became the basic instruments of jazz: brass, reeds, and drums, and are voiced in the Western 12-tone scale.

 

Black musicians frequently used the melody, structure, and beat of marches as points of departure; but says "North by South, from Charleston to Harlem," a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities: "...a black musical spirit (involving rhythm and melody) was bursting out of the confines of European musical tradition, even though the performers were using European styled instruments.

 

Many black musicians also made a living playing in small bands hired to lead funeral processions in the New Orleans African-American tradition. These Africanized bands played a seminal role in the articulation and dissemination of early jazz, traveling throughout black communities in the Deep South and to northern cities.

 

For all its genius, early jazz, with its humble folk roots, was the product of primarily self-taught musicians. But an impressive postbellum network of black-established and -operated institutions, schools, and civic societies in both the North and the South, plus widening mainstream opportunities for education, produced ever-increasing numbers of young, formally trained African-American musicians, some of them schooled in classical European musical forms. Lorenzo Tio and Scott Joplin were among this new wave of musically literate jazz artists. Joplin, the son of a former slave and a free-born woman of color, was largely self-taught until age 11, when he received lessons in the fundamentals of music theory from a classically trained German immigrant in Texarkana, Texas.

 

Also contributing to this trend was a tightening of Jim Crow laws in Louisiana in the 1890s, which caused the expulsion from integrated bands of numbers of talented, formally trained African-American musicians. The ability of these musically literate, black jazzmen to transpose and then read what was in great part an improvisational art form became an invaluable element in the preservation and dissemination of musical innovations that took on added importance in the approaching big-band era.

 

 

 

 

BLUES

 

The blues is a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the full twelve note chromatic scale plus the microtonal intervals and a characteristic twelve-bar chord progression. The form evolved in the United States in the communities of former African slaves from spirituals, praise songs, field hollers, shouts, and chants. The use of blue notes and the prominence of call-and-response patterns in the music and lyrics are indicative of the blues' West African pedigree. The blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, hip-hop, and country music, as well as conventional pop songs.

 

The phrase the blues is a synonym for having a fit of the blue devils, meaning down spirits, depression and sadness. An early reference to this can be found in George Colman's farce Blue devils, a farce in one act (1798). Later during the 19th century, the phrase was used as a euphemism for delirium tremens and the police. Though usage of the phrase in African American music may be older, it has been attested to since 1912 in Memphis, Tennessee with W. C. Handy's "Memphis Blues". In lyrics the phrase is often used to describe a depressed mood.

 

Origins

 

Blues has evolved from the spare music of poor black laborers into a wide variety of complex styles and subgenres, spawning regional variations across the United States and, later, Europe, Africa and elsewhere. What is now considered "blues" as well as modern "country music" arose at approximately the same time and place during the nineteenth century in the southern United States. Recorded blues and country can be found from as far back as the 1920s, when the popular record industry developed and created marketing categories called "race music" and "hillbilly music" to sell music by and for blacks and whites, respectively. At the time, there was no clear musical division between "blues" and "country," except for the race of the performer, and even that sometimes was documented incorrectly by record companies. While blues emerged from the culture of African-Americans, blues musicians have since emerged world-wide. Studies have situated the origin of "black" spiritual music inside slaves' exposure to their masters' Hebridean-originated gospels. African-American economist and historian Thomas Sowell also notes that the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish "redneck" neighbours. However, the findings of Kubik and others also clearly attest to the essential Africanness of many essential aspects of blues expression.

 

Much has been speculated about the social and economic reasons for the appearance of the blues.21 The first appearance of the blues is not well defined and is often dated between 1870 and 1900. This period coincides with the emancipation of the slaves and the transition from slavery to sharecropping and small-scale agricultural production in the southern United States. Several scholars characterize the development, which appeared at the turn of the century, as a move from group performances to a more individualized style. They argue that the development of the blues is strongly related to the newly acquired freedom of the slaves. According to Lawrence Levine, "there was a direct relationship between the national ideological emphasis upon the individual, the popularity of Booker T. Washington's teachings, and the rise of the blues. Psychologically, socially, and economically, Negroes were being acculturated in a way that would have been impossible during slavery, and it is hardly surprising that their secular music reflected this as much as their religious music did."

 

 

Lyrics

 

Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative, often with the singer voicing his or her "personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, hard times". Many of the oldest blues records contain gritty, realistic lyrics, in contrast to much of the music being recorded at the time. One of the more extreme examples, "Down in the Alley" by Memphis Minnie, is about a prostitute having sex with men in an alley. Music such as this was called "gut-bucket" blues. The term refers to a type of homemade bass instrument made from a metal bucket used to clean pig intestines for chitterlings, a soul food dish associated with slavery and deprivation. "Gut-bucket" described blues that was "low-down" and earthy, that dealt with often rocky or steamy man-woman relationships, hard luck and hard times. Gut-bucket blues and the rowdy juke-joint venues where it often was played, earned blues music an unsavory reputation. Upstanding church-going people shunned it, and some preachers railed against it as sinful. And because it often treated the hardships and injustices of life, the blues gained an association in some quarters with misery and oppression. But the blues was about more than hard times; it could be humorous and raunchy as well:

 

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,

Rebecca, Rebecca, get your big legs off of me,

It may be sending you baby, but it's worrying the hell out of me.

 

Author Ed Morales has claimed that Yoruba mythology played a part in early blues, citing Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" as a "thinly veiled reference to Eleggua, the orisha in charge of the crossroads". However, many seminal blues artists such as Joshua White, Son House, Skip James, or Reverend Gary Davis were influenced by Christianity.

 

The original lyrical form of the blues was probably a single line, repeated three times. It was only later that the current, most common structure—a line, repeated once and then followed by a single line conclusion—became standard.

 

Musical style

 

Though during the first decades of the twentieth century blues music was not clearly defined in terms of chords progression, the twelve-bar blues became standard in the '30s. However, in addition to the conventional twelve-bar blues, there are many blues in 8-bar form, such as "How Long Blues", "Trouble in Mind", and Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway". There are also 16 bar blues, as in Ray Charles's instrumental "Sweet 16 Bars". More idiosyncratic numbers of bars are also encountered occasionally, as with the 9 bar progression in Howlin' Wolf's "Sitting on top of the World". The basic twelve-bar lyric framework of a blues composition is reflected by a standard harmonic progression of twelve bars, in 4/4 or (rarely) 2/4 time. Slow blues are often played in 12/8 (4 beats per measure with 3 subdivisions per beat). The blues chords associated to a twelve-bar blues are typically a set of three different chords played over a twelve-bar scheme.

 

The lyrics generally end on the last beat of the tenth bar or the first beat of the eleventh bar, and the final two bars are given to the instrumentalist as a break; the harmony of this two-bar break, the turnaround, can be extremely complex, sometimes consisting of single notes that defy analysis in terms of chords. The final beat, however, is almost always strongly grounded in the dominant seventh (V7), to provide tension for the next verse. Musicians sometimes refer to twelve-bar blues as "B-flat" blues because it is the traditional pitch of the tenor sax, trumpet/cornet, clarinet and trombone.

 

Melodically, blues music is marked by the use of the flatted third, fifth and seventh (the so-called blue or bent notes) of the associated major scale. While the twelve-bar harmonic progression had been intermittently used for centuries, the revolutionary aspect of blues was the frequent use of the flatted third, flatted seventh, and even flatted fifth in the melody, together with crushing—playing directly adjacent notes at the same time, i.e., diminished second—and sliding—similar to using grace notes. Where a classical musician will generally play a grace note distinctly, a blues singer or harmonica player will glissando; a pianist or guitarist might crush the two notes and then release the grace note. Blues harmonies also use the subdominant major chord with and added minor seventh (IV 7) and the tonic major triad with an added minor seventh (I 7) in place of the tonic. Blues is occasionally played in a minor key. The scale differs little from the traditional minor, except for the occasional use of a flatted fifth in the tonic, often crushed by the singer or lead instrument with the perfect fifth in the harmony. Janis Joplin's rendition of "Ball and Chain", accompanied by Big Brother and the Holding Company, provides an example of this technique. Also, minor-key blues is most often structured in sixteen bars rather than twelve—e.g., "St. James Infirmary Blues" and Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me"—and was often influenced by evangelical religious music.

 

Blues shuffles are also typical of the style. Their use reinforces the rhythm and call-and-response trance, the groove. Their simplest version commonly used in many postwar electric blues, rock-and-rolls, or early bebops is a basic three-note riff on the bass strings of the guitar. Played in time with the bass and the drums, this technique, similar to the walking bass, produces the groove feel characteristic of the blues. The last bar of the chord progression is usually accompanied by a turnaround making the transition to the beginning next progression. Shuffle rhythm is often vocalized as "dow, da dow, da dow, da" or "dump, da dump, da dump, da" as it consists of uneven eight notes. On a guitar this may be done as a simple steady bass or may add to that stepwise quarter note motion from the fifth to the seventh of the chord and back.

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