Tag Archives | Jazz

Three-Fingered Lightening

Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt put France on the global map of jazz.
In the mid-1920s Paris was a global hub of jazz. African-American jazz performers like vocalist Josephine Baker and trombonist and bandleader Sidney Bichet took residence there and inspired generations of French musicians to look across the Atlantic for their music, all the way to the jazz clubs of New York or New Orleans. Among those inspired were Belgian “Gypsy” guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stephane Grapelli. In 1934 they joined with other accomplished musicians in the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” a combo that pioneered an exuberant and distinctly jazz from France known as manouche (“gypsy swing.”) As you may be able to see in this video, Reinhardt only had full use of three fingers on his left hand, the fourth and fifth having been damaged in a fire, hence the nickname “Three-Fingered Lightening.”

Third Time’s a Charm

We end this week of jazz explorations with an imporant genre of jazz that may not exist. Is there such a thing as “Third Stream Jazz?” In 1957 composer Gunther Schuller proposed the term to refer to the fusion of jazz and Western classical music but the idea of blending these two genres didn’t seem to satisfy either jazz or classical purists. In 1981 Schuller tried to clarify what Third Stream Jazz is by proposing this list of “What Third Stream Is Not”: It is not jazz with strings, It is not jazz played on “classical” instruments, It is not classical music played by jazz players, It is not inserting a bit of Ravel or Schoenberg between bebop changes—nor the reverse, It is not jazz in fugal form, It is not a fugue played by jazz players, It is not designed to do away with jazz or classical music; it is just another option amongst many for today’s creative musicians. If Third Stream jazz is none of these things, what is it? Hmmm. Well, this page in the Jazz Music Archives points you to some examples, including this video of The Westerlies performing “Robert Henry.”

I hope you enjoyed this week’s jazziness. You can spend a life immersed in this extraordinary music — you’ll never run out of jazz.



Herbie takes us to Cantelope Island

In the 1970s and ’80s jazz met rock in a modern form called “fusion’ or “jazz rock.” Miles Davis, pioneering yet another jazz genre, was essential in laying the groundwork for jazz fusion by adding rock beats and electric instruments to several of his albums in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, causing much consternation among jazz purists. Pianists Chick Corea and, as we see in this video, Herbie Hancock, guitarist Pat Metheny and the jazz-rock ensemble Weather Report didn’t express consternation at all, embracing and advancing fusion by adding synthesizers, keyboards and highly processed woodwinds.

Coltrane Hardened the Bop

In the 1940s a new jazz style called “Bebop” emerged somewhat as a counter-movement to Big Band. Bebop ensembles were small–five or six musicians at most, most often featuring drums, bass, piano, trumpet and sax, and performed complicated arrangements that often featured irregular rhythms. These compositions were fascinating to hear but were not made for the dance hall. Bebop as a jazz form came to maturity in the 1960s and then morphed and developed into other subgenres. For example, musicians like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messegers  added a groovy, slightly more danceable edge to Bebop, weaving blues and gospel into their tunes. This genre became known as “Hard Bop.” Jazz heavyweights Miles Davis and John Coltrane, as well as trailblazing jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, adopted this style and continued to harden the bop. Let’s revel in this video of Coltrane’s early ’60s, “Impressions,”

Count Basie: Takin’ it Easy

The emergence of Dixieland jazz in the 1920s inspired larger bands to form and develop more extensive and standardized arrangements of Dixieland songs. These big jazz bands–which became known, conveniently, as “Big Bands”–were composed of ten or more musicians who sat or stood in rows while they were performing, much more like musicians in Western Classical orchestras than those of the free-flowing Dixieland ensembles.

Because of their numbers the bands often grouped their instrumentalists together, breaking the band into three sections: BRASS (trumpets, trombones), REEDS (clarinets, saxophones) and RHYTHM (drums, bass, piano and eventually guitar). In this video we we watch Count Basie show you how it’s meant to be done.

Kidding Around With Dixieland Jazz

By the early 1920s blues and ragtime had fused with the exciting local brass band tradition that had developed in New Orleans become a new form known as “Dixieland.” Most Dixieland music is instrumental and features basic arrangements of songs that musicians in a group repeat over and over while each instrumentalist takes a turn improvising a solo in turn. Dixieland requires its musicians to be accomplished performers, but it’s far from stodgy and demure. Dixieland is enlivening, playful and FUN. Dixieland jazz was most popular in the ’20s when musicians like trombonist Kid Orly New Orleans-born trumpet player and band leader Louis Armstrong were all actively composing and/or performing, but the music, now often referred to as “traditional jazz” or “trad jazz,” has remained a fixture of the New Orleans jazz scene–and, apparently, of Croatia’s Špancirfest Varaždin–ever since. In this video  watch “Kid” Orly and his delightful Dixieland band.

Roll, Roll, Jelly Roll

Let’s start at the beginning, before jazz was JAZZ. Ragtime originated from a mix of African-American, Western classical and “Spanish” forms in the late 1800s and early 1900s, primarily in bars in the red light districts of cities such as New Orleans and St. Louis, as a form of upbeat, dance-style piano music. Inspired by jigs and other dances played by African-American bands at the end of the 19th century, ragtime pianists composed syncopated melodies that fused the confident American marches of John Philip Sousa with the energetic polyrhythms of African music. Composer and pianist Scott Joplin took ragtime from the realm of minstrels and also out of the red light district. Ragtime pianists like Jelly Roll Morton straddled the two worlds for several years, liberally borrowing from ragtime to lay the foundations for his early forays into jazz.


America’s Classical Music?

All Around This World US and Canada "Everywhere Map"

This week’s musical joy – JAZZ! Many scholars of American music have rightly called Jazz “America’s ‘classical’ music.” (Not all!) The roots of jazz though, like the roots of all forms of modern American music, are global, and there are so many. You have the millennia-old African-American traditions of call and response, of intertwining rhythms, of improvisation in drumming and singing and dance. You have the European Western Classical traditions of melody and harmony, of rich musical theory, of a multi-instrumental approach to arranging and performing music. You also have the Latin tradition of syncopation, taking a straightforward rhythm and twisting it until it feels just right.

Jazz has its roots in humanity’s past, but it’s a form of musical art that is unique to America and especially to the American 20th century, capturing the essence of America’s creativity, struggles, accomplishment and flair. When “jazz” emerged from that mix and match of global musics, it had so many identifiable flavors in it, but it somehow tasted completely new.

This week we’re going to sample of of the best that the developing genres of jazz have to offer.

Busting Borders with Japanese Jazz

Japanese jazz proves that “#ast” can certainly get in the groove of  “West.”
People have been living in, and making wonderful music in, countries in East and Southeast Asia for thousands of years, cementing ancient traditions, generation too generation, over many centuries. Despite this adherence to tradition, musicians in this part of the world — like musicians absolutely everywhere — were always curious, always with ears open, always eager to share. Many ancient East and Southeast Asian genres formed by blending styles from beyond borders so seamlessly over time that even the most familiar musicologists can’t always tell here from there. Today this international embrace continues — Japanese jazz fusion, as we see in this video, is just one of an almost infinite number of examples.