Thursday, 30 June 2011

Methods of Improvisation

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The aim of this essay is to examine six styles of improvising music. Each different method is unique has a different pioneer who led the music forward and a birthplace, which not only changed the way people played music, but introduced whole new exciting cultures into these areas.

The first method of improvisation that this essay shall examine is blues. Blues came to America through the early music of slaves and sharecroppers in the plantations of the Deep South, particularly in Mississippi. It has even been suggested that one town, Cleveland, may be the exact birthplace of the blues itself. The music written usually consisted of an old farmhand song, which was sung by slaves working in labour in places such as cotton fields. They were written on guitar and often a harmonica was also used. The first blues star to come to light was Charley Patton. However, it was not until the 140’s that blues enjoyed it’s golden age. The 140s were the height of the blues age. Many great blues musicians took centre stage inspiring the coming age of rock that would soon become the central musical art form in this country such as Elvis and Buddy Holly. Probably the most famous and mainstream blues musician also hailed from Missouri. This is the singer and guitarist BB King. His reign as King of the Blues has been as long as that of any monarch on earth. Yet B.B. King continues to wear his crown well. At age 76, he is still light on his feet, singing and playing the blues with relentless passion.

The blues scale is A diatonic major scale incorporating a flat or bent rd, a flat or bent 7th and sometimes a flat or bent 5th to approximate melodic notes that originated in African work songs. Since the actual pitch is unavailable on a piano, the flatted note is often played or crushed against the natural pitch to approximate the blue note. This makes solo’s incredibly soulful sounding and usually very downbeat.

New Orleans had a great tradition of celebration. Opera, military marching bands, folk music, the blues, different types of church music, ragtime, echoes of traditional African drumming, and all of the dance styles that went with this music could be heard and seen throughout the city. When all of these kinds of music blended into one, jazz was born. �Wynton Marsalis. I have chosen to select this quote to introduce the next method of improvisation, which came out of New Orleans. This is known as traditional improvisation. Louis Armstrong was one of the most influential artists in the history of music. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 101, he began playing the cornet at the age of 1. Armstrong perfected the improvised jazz solo, as we know it. Before Armstrong, Dixieland was the style of jazz that everyone was playing. This was a style that featured collective improvisation where everyone soloed at once. Armstrong developed the idea of musicians playing during breaks that expanded into musicians playing individual solos. This became the norm. Affectionately known as Pops and Satchmo, Louis was loved and admired throughout the world. He died in New York City on July 6, 171.

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The pre-eminently influential jazz musician of the 140s was saxophonist Charlie Parker, who became the leader of a new style known as bebop, bebop, or bop. The method of improvisation that evolved as a result of this was known as chord based. Bebop was still based on the principle of improvisation over a chord progression, but the tempos were faster, the phrases longer and more complex, and the emotional range expanded. Parkers frequent collaborators were trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie,

pianist Earl Bud Powell, and drummer Max Roach. Also highly regarded were pianist-composer Thelonious Monk, trumpeter Fats Navarro, and singer Sarah Vaughan. The late 140s brought forth an explosion of experimentation in jazz. The most influential of the mid-century experiments with classically influenced jazz were recordings made by an unusual group of nine musicians led by Charlie Parkers prot�g�, a young trumpeter named Miles Davis. The written arrangements, by Davis and others, were soft in tone but highly complex. Many groups adopted this so-called cool style, especially on the West Coast, and so it became known as West Coast jazz. Refined by players such as tenor saxophonists Zoot Sims and Stan Getz and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, cool jazz flourished throughout the 150s. Most musicians, however, continued to expand on the hotter, more driving bebop tradition. Major exponents of the hard-bop or East Coast style included drummer Art Blakey and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

In 15 Davis and pianist Bill Evans devised the landmark Miles Davis album, Kind of Blue, which also featured tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. The album contains a set of songs that remain in one key, chord, and mode for as long as 16 measures at a time which led to the term modal jazz. Also active during the 150s and 160s was composer, bassist, and bandleader Charles Mingus, who imbued his chord-progression-based improvisations with a wild, raw excitement.

Modal - As smaller ensemble soloists became increasingly hungry for new improvisational directives, some players sought to venture beyond Western adaptation of major and minor scales. Drawing from medieval church modes, which used altered intervals between common tones, players found new inspiration. Soloists could now free themselves from the restrictions of dominant keys and shift the tonal centers to form new harmonics within their playing. This became especially useful with pianists and guitarists, as well as trumpet and sax players. Pianist Bill Evans is noted for his Modal approach.

Fusion - By the early 170s, the term Fusion had come to identity a mixture of Jazz improvisation with the energy and new rhythms of Rock music. To the dismay of many Jazz purists, some of Jazz most significant innovators crossed over from the contemporary Hardbop into Fusion. Eventually commercial influences succeeded in undermining its original innovations. While it is arguable that this Fusion benefited the evolution of Rock, few of its influences remain in todays Jazz

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