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Diving Into Jazz: Review of Compozitions

Introduction

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a new trend in music emerged in America. Although the word “jazz” did not come into use until 1912, this music, which was loud, bold, and exuberant, had been heard on the streets of New Orleans at least a decade earlier (Gabbard). Jazz had unique rhythmic energy never seen in folk music. Besides that, jazz was daring and unpredictable – the same song sounded different with each performance, which only added to its appeal. Jazz harmoniously combined elements of music that already existed in America at the time. This mixture produced an impressive result that became the perfect accompaniment to the busy and hectic American life of the twentieth century. This paper presents a concert that consists of the following compositions:

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  • Sing, Sing, Sing (Genre: Swing)……………………………..Benny Goodman (1909-1986) Benny Goodman Orchestra;
  • In the Mood (Genre: Big Band era)………………………Alton Glenn Miller (1904-1944) The Glenn Miller Orchestra;
  • The Entertainer (Genre: Ragtime)………………………………….Scott Joplin (1868-1917) Waldemar Malicki, piano.

Benny Goodman “Sing, Sing, Sing”

Benny Goodman was born in Chicago on May 30, 1909. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, with a total of 12 children in the family. In the spring of 1934, on Hammond’s advice, Benny founded his orchestra, which made its debut performance as early as June. In November of that same year, Goodman signed a contract with NBC for a series of radio shows called “Let’s Dance.” In the spring of 1935, Benny and his big band made their first national tour; he became the first jazzman to perform classical music. Goodman’s fans dubbed him the “King of the Swing” and the “Patriarch of the Clarinet.” His contribution to jazz can only be compared to that of Louis Armstrong.

Composer Louis Prima wrote the song “Sing, Sing, Sing,” but it was the instrumental version of the tune, performed by Goodman’s orchestra, that became the most popular and was considered the anthem of swing time. The peculiarity of this performance is that, unlike classic recordings with an approximate duration of 3 minutes, the version performed by the Goodman Orchestra lasted 8 minutes and 43 seconds. The composition’s texture is multi-faceted, displaying many aspects: an intense beat pulsation, an orchestral style dominated by Western music, and the interaction of the rhythm section with the melody. There is a repetition of certain elements, the sound of which rises and falls throughout the work. The result of the composition depends on the performer’s intuition, rhythmic sense, innate reflexes. The quality of a group sound is determined by the ability of each member to deviate from a given score and play in a single coherent rhythm, accelerating and slowing down equally.

Glenn Miller “In the Mood”

Alton Glenn Miller was an American trombonist, arranger, and leader of one of the best big bands of the late 1930s and early 1940s. The future world-famous musician was born on March 1, 1904, in the provincial American town of Clarinda. His family could not boast of wealth; his father and mother constantly moved, trying to earn more money. In 1921, he graduated from high school and at the same time joins the Boyd Senter band, a rather famous musical group at the time. In 1923, because of his enrollment at the University of Colorado, he quit the band. His tuition kept him busy, so he never graduated.

Classic jazz big bands became known in the 1920s; they kept the form relevant until the late ’40s. In 1937 Miller decided to realize his dream and assemble his big band, but the orchestra did not generate much public interest and lasted only a little over a year. In January 1938, Miller made a second attempt, incorporating both his old friends and the saxophone players they recommended into the new orchestra. It was from this sprout that the mighty tree of the Miller Band rose.

On August 1, 1939, bandleader Glenn Miller recorded his version of “In the Mood” and cemented himself as one of the most famous tunes. This composition evokes a pleasant feeling: there is a good mood, enthusiasm, but at the same time, there is no desire to run away and dance right away. Listening to this melody feels like sitting somewhere in a cafe on a terrace, moving shoulders to rhythm, and enjoying the moment. It makes a desire to watch other people having a good time to smile at them and not think about anything.

This composition does not evoke any memories; it is more of an opportunity to relax and perceive everything happening here and now. The melody creates a feeling of lightness, and it seems that no matter how long it is played, it cannot get boring. In 1983, the composition was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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Scott Joplin “The Entertainer”

Scott Joplin was an African American composer and pianist, author of 44 ragtime songs; he was born November 24, 1868, in suburban Texarkana, Texas. As early as age seven, Scott was playing the piano well. At the age of 16, Joplin made his debut in The Texas Medley Quartet, which also included his brother. During his lifetime, his music was perceived by the African-American community as “too white” and by whites as “too black,” which did not conform to classical canons. It wasn’t until the 1970s that interest in Joplin’s work was revived.

Dance music, popular in the United States from 1900 to 1918, is called ragtime. Its form is 2/4 or 4/4, with the bass sounding on odd parts and the chords on even pieces. It gives the heavily syncopated melody a marching rhythm. “The Entertainer” is Scott Joplin’s most famous ragtime; written in 1902, it became one of the musical symbols of the era. The composition characteristics combine a permanently syncopated melody with a march-like accompaniment, “aggressive” attack of the sound, staccato, abundance of dissonances, and harsh accents that do not coincide with the metric grid bars. It reflects both the formality and structure of ragtime and the freedom of the bass line. Such elements of ragtime gradually marked the beginning of its rebirth as jazz.

Conclusion

Although these works have different styles, they share standard features that lie not only in the performance itself but also in the life stories of their composers. The composers were born into low-income families; they did not initially have the opportunity to become famous quickly. They built their way by themselves and did not stop, although it was not always possible to achieve the goal at the first time. As for the form of the compositions, although they are different in sound, like jazz in general, they are united by a standard line of fascinating rhythms, enjoyable live music, which is constantly changing.

To navigate freely in this world and understand the processes that occur, people need to know a brief history of jazz. These compositions help to immerse in the origins, relax and unwind. This structure is discreet, and one gets the feeling that one can listen to it repeatedly. The world has yet to enjoy hundreds of beautiful concerts and daring experiments and to witness the birth of new directions and styles.

Works Cited

Gabbard, Krin, ed. Jazz among the Discourses. Duke University Press, 2020.

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