JAZZ, SOUND OF SURPRISE
Jazz is a rhythmic, vital music that originated in the United States towards the end of the nineteenth century. Two main characteristics define jazz: the use of improvisation, and a unique rhythmic
propulsion or drive called 'swing'. Unlike classical music, jazz is a performer's music; every piece is a personal statement by the musician playing it. Composers do exist in jazz, writing complete pieces of music, but they are always personally involved in the performance of their music.
Beyond basic musical considerations, jazz has few rules; it is, as jazz writer Whitney Balliett aptly put it, 'the sound of surprise'. This is why jazz and modern classical music have had practically no influence on each other. The formal classical musician and composer cannot function in the freer atmosphere of jazz, and he does not appreciate the rhythmic qualities needed for swing. The jazz musician and composer cannot tolerate the rigidity and lack of rhythmic vitality of most classical music.
Jazz is associated with commercial popular music by most people, in spite of the fact that it has been a remarkably unpopular music for much of its life and (like classical music) is essentially uncommercial. The ability to play jazz is a very rare quality, probably because it demands a good musical ear and feeling for rhythm.
Jazz differs from other kinds of music in its sound, its structure, and in its use of improvisation and rhythm. But jazz also sounds different, because several different instruments are used, and in different combinations. The wind instruments of jazz play the melody - the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, the clarinet and flute. The other instruments to be heard are the piano, guitar (usually amplified), double bass, vibraphone and drums. These instruments form the rhythm section of the band, and are played percussively to create swing, although all of them except the drums may also be played melodically. Instruments such as the oboe, bassoon, harp, and the violin, viola, and cello are rarely heard in jazz.
Most jazz pieces have a very simple structure. A theme or tune is played at the beginning; improvised solos by the musicians follow, and the theme is repeated to end the piece. These themes are of two basic lengths. Many are blues (characteristic Negro melodies), which are 12 bars long; others are 32 bars long, often songs from musical shows of the 1920s and 1930s. Musicians also compose their own themes, but many stick to the 12 or 32 bar formula. In traditional jazz, marches or hymns form a staple part of the repertoire.
The improvised solos make up the central and longest part of a performance. Musicians improvise in turn, and every member of a band may play a solo. Sometimes the length of the solo is determined beforehand, and the order in which the soloists play is also often worked out in advance. In traditional jazz and in the most recent form of jazz, free jazz, soloists often improvise together, but in other forms this collective improvisation is only occasionally practised by the players.
(From "Music, Song and Dance". The Marshall Cavendish Learning System. London, 1969)
What exactly is folk music?
Answer: Simple answers that come to me are: folk music is of the folk. It is by and for the people, ordinary people, you and me. After that the answers get more complicated, more qualified.
Folk music is often thought of as basically rural and therefore peasant or country music. But today we also speak of urban folk music and songs. Folk music is said to be music and song which has anonymous authorship and is performed informally, essentially for social employment of the participants. In this sense it can be thought of as being in contrast to concert music, piano, orchestra, violin, etc, major compositions such as symphonies, operas, ballets, instrumental and vocal "recitals" of formally highly developed works.
But there are also, obviously, folk-song and folk-music performers, playing folk instruments (in solo or in groups), and singing rural and urban songs, topical and love songs, labor songs, songs of sorrow, of celebration of events, of tragedies, of struggle, of defeats and of victories. This could be described as folk music at the "first remove". For it to be worthy of the designation of true folk music it must be performed either by folk musicians, or by performers who have absorbed and identified themselves with complete honesty to being people's artists.
In Germany there is generally (I believe) a broader view of the term "Folks Musik" or "Folklied" which doesn't worry so much about whether the music of the song is composed by a famous musician or poet, or whether it is an anonymous product, rural or city, but just that it is music that people want to identify themselves with, to whistle, hum, and call their own. So for them it can be said that Mozart or Shubert or Brahms may be the composer of a "folklied", or again a famous poet like Heinrich Heine. Who is to deny that many of today's topical songs, blues and jazz are not folk music and songs? For me the determining guidelines could be:
1. That it be a relatively simple music or song."
2. That it express or convey honest sentiments - that we can readily identify ourselves with if we are genuine folk.
3. That the music or song not be commercially motivated in its origin (this is not to say that it may or may not be commercially used - or even successful).
4. That it be performed by a capable artist who understands and is able to protect the true meanings of the music and (or) song.
(From "Moscow News", No. 18, 1978)
Topics for Discussion
- A British or American composer.
- Episodes from the life of your favourite composer.
- Your favourite kind of music (classical music, jazz, folk, pop).
Read the following excerpts. How do the authors express their appreciation of music?
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
W. Shakespeare (1564-1616)
| The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for teason, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night.
Let no such man be trusted.*
By P. B. Shelley (1792-1822)
| I pant for the music which is divine,
My heart in its thirst is a dying flower;
Pour forth the sound like enchanted wine,
Loosen the notes in a silver shower;
Like a herbless plain for a gentle rain
I gasp, I faint, till they wake again.
* * *
| Let no drink of the spirit of that sweet sound,
More, of more, - I am thirsting yet;
It loosens the serpent which care has bound
Upon my heart to stifle it;
The dissolving strain, through every vein,
Passes into my heart and brain.