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The evolution of jazz. The evolution of jazz, a survey of an American art form from Scott Joplin to Lenny Tristano. The evolution of jazz is a tape recorded feature presented under the auspices of Northeastern University by the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council. Nat Hentoff, associate editor of Downbeat Magazine, discusses the growth of jazz from its roots in Europe and Africa and considers the musical as well as the sociological forces that shaped it. Mr. Hentoff.
Last week in reviewing the nature of improvisation, preparatory to a fuller discussion of the newer developments in contemporary jazz, the synthesis of improvisation with extended form, we had mentioned the rather obvious fact that for improvisation, it's necessary to have a body of common musical language, and the Sydney Finkelstein states in his key chapter improvisation in jazz form in his book on jazz. Because this body of musical language exists, hot jazz can continue to be so fresh and inventive. A performer in a jam session could not carry on so well from a previous performer's solo, did he not speak the same musical language? In the two and three voiced, improvised ensembles of New Orleans jazz, what we generally hear, is the basic line from trumpet clarinet and trombone, often based on the blues. One little fresh nuance from any instrument is enough to make the entire ensemble take on vibrancy in life, one new phrase or old phrase in a new combination is enough to transform the entire musical texture.
It is because the jazz improviser has so familiar a base to rise from as we concluded last week that he can soar. The poos, for example, to use one of the many elements that go into the jazz language are particularly adapted to improvisation because even the shortest blues phrase is a self-contained melodic phrase. Frares can be built up into ever-new combinations like blocks of stone and an arch, and to continually fresh and interesting music made out of the simplest elements. The construction of a hot jazz solo continues Finkelstein brings a considerable element of musical form into jazz for a good hot solo is a musical structure. If you recall, we analyzed the Dizzy Gillespie chorus in Swedish Suite. It follows the law of all music of quality, the Oliver King Oliver Dippermouth solo was built out of the repetitions of short germ phrases as Schubert builds a song out of the repetitions of a few phrases, or as Beethoven on a much larger scale handles the fornote theme of his fifth symphony.
All outstanding hot solos are similar constructions like those of Joe Smith and Stan P, the Fletcher Henderson record, Louis Armstrong and Mahogany Hall, Stomp, Lester Young and Slow Drag, these solos have an economy of material and a logic in putting their phrases together. Another characteristic of the blues using them as an example that lends them to fine improvisation is their dual antifinal character, their statement and answer giving the jazz perform of the opportunity for the most subtle opposition of rhythmic figures and for a flight of melody followed by a return home. Out of this antifinal pattern of the blues rises the, of the blues rather, rises the exciting delayed attack so characteristic of hot style. It's really an underlining of the presence of two opposing rhythmic patterns and in modern jazz often of much more than two, as is truly a matter of fact of New Orleans jazz at times. Out of it also comes the basic character of the jazz collective ensemble. This is not generally a simultaneous soaring by all the instruments but a subtle interplay of statement and answer.
The ensembles of the King Oliver Creole band records with Johnny Dodd's playing against the trumpet line of Oliver and Armstrong are particularly beautiful examples and a number of them were played in our sections on early jazz in Chicago. As are many of Sydney Bichet's final ensembles against a trumpet player of the caliber of Tommy Ladney or Mugsy Spaniard in this example. The series attributes to thePeror and it is judgments at events that give us a sense of credibility between a group of withers and their instruments to get yourself to the зем gegen The mündorms. . .
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. Lester Young's solos are often of this character using the low honking tones of the tenor saxophone to lay down the contrasting based melodic line. JC Higginbotham build up a similar brilliant solo style in the trombone, taking over many of Armstrong's trumpet figures. It's worth noticing to continue this quotation from Finkelstein that this creation of two contrasting melodic voices by the one instrument is exactly the principal which Bach uses in his sweets and sonatas for an accompanied violin, cello, or flute and in the writing for solo instrument in his concertos, employing organ point and arpeggio. Another characteristic of the blues making for rich improvisational possibilities is their non-diatonic character. The traditional chords used to accompany the blues are not determining factors of blues melody but act rather as punctuation marks commas or periods in between which and against which the melodic lines can move
with the widest latitude striking off any kind of apparent dissonance. This combination of a simple familiar melodic rhythmic and harmonic base with a free range of movement made possible the ensemble and collective improvisation so wonderful in New Orleans jazz. Every performer knows where he has to be harmonically and melodically at the right time. Every performer knows the same blues language, there's a restriction he must accept and the latitude permitted him. Lesson what seems to be and of course is free collective improvisation each performer actually is playing the blues among many other elements. One it's rapid repeated lead phrases. Another it's long held notes or slow moving lines with off-beat accents and a third it's inversions.
In later jazz, such as that of Red Nichols and Benny Goodman, this quality tended to be lost that is in some later jazz, not all. For the blues we're no longer a familiar language to the players and as a result during the thirties there was much more emphasis laid on the development of the individual line, the solo line, rather than on collective improvisations. In Ellington and modern jazz, such as Bob the free harmonic and improvisational character return as in the blues but much different because the blues and all the other elements that have been added to the language of jazz had evolved. And then in the cool period, particularly in the work of Rubach Pastano the element of collective improvisation returned based on the greatly enriched single line. The last characteristic of the language of jazz making for a successful improvisation is that they're a language
familiar to both performers and audience. The performers do not merely express themselves but communicate to their listeners. Jazz improvisation reaches its greatest heights when its language is shared by both performers and listeners so that the most subtle variation and twist of phrase immediately makes its impact on the mind so that even when the audience is dancing the melodic and rhythmic patterns will translate themselves into dance moods and dance patterns. A good many contemporary jazz men regret, as a matter of fact, that jazz so seldom nowadays is dance too because the rapour thereby is not as great as it could be between musician and listener or listener dancer. That jazz music speaks almost as if its melodic phrases and intonations were words may seem to make for a strange music to those whose musical experiences are restricted mainly to the concert hall. This is not however a secret language that jazz is speaking. All music is meant to speak freshly and directly to the listener
as jazz does to those who know its language. Music in the past spoke sharply to its listeners as we know from some of their reactions. A Beethoven dissonance or a Mozart folk theme was meant to affect the listeners of its time as it did with a recognizable change of emotional connotation or human imagery. In its speaking quality, jazz is not bringing an unheard of quality to music nor is it an example as some would describe it of a folkish clinkness. It is a renewal in the jazz idiom in music of a necessary quality. Jazz improvisation far from being opposed to form then is inseparable from jazz form. In describing the hot solo, we've already indicated Finkelstein continues the entrance in jazz of an element of form comparable to composed music, at least to the simpler forms of composed music. Other aspects of form as well are found in jazz when being the general construction or layout of a work fitting it to a definite use of setting an audience.
Another aspect is the unity and coherence of a work of music. Its organization so that it has a recognizable beginning, middle, and end of the entire work makes a single impact. Both of these elements of form are found in jazz, although not to the same degree of expansion and complexity, found in the more ambitious composed music. However, many jazz blues and song forms are as excellent pieces of musical structure in their way as art songs by Schubert and Musorksky. And many instrumental blues, rags, and stomps are well organized as well as dances and marches by Handel Bach, Mozart, Schubert, or other masters. And jazz is reaching toward evermore a complex form while retaining at its base the improvisation and the basic essentials of the jazz language that we've covered in the preceding 37 lectures. With regard to this expansion of form in contemporary jazz,
to quote from a recent article of my own, jazz would seem now to be at the beginning of a new stage of development, the combination of improvisation with extended form. There have, of course, been attempts at large scale composition in jazz before, but not until now have there been so many jazz men with the capacity to play, think, and write within a large of framework than the usual theme and variations on the melodic line and or chords of a pop or traditional tune, or the blues antifinal framework that we've just quoted in the analysis by Sidney Finkelstein. This increasing concern for more complex form was inevitable
as the younger jazz man received more thorough musical training than his predecessors and became more intimately acquainted with classical music. Many became aware of one weakness of jazz up to now. It's essentially transitory nature, however, immensely satisfying the experience of the moment. Classical critics who also appreciate jazz, to some extent, have pointed out that Beethoven's seventh or Barthox concerto for orchestra stay in the mind and remain longer in the emotions because they are remembered as organic holes, whereas in jazz except for records we remember mostly fragments of a memorable musical experience. Jazz composition, and I return now for a moment to Finkelstein, as practically as old as jazz itself. It occurred in New Orleans. It occurred in Cedelia, Missouri. Scott Joplin, one of the most celebrated figures in early jazz, was known as a composer of piano rags, and wrote an operetta dealing with Negro history and using rag music.
Fred and Ann Jellerole Morton was a composer. He asserted rather violently at one time that he invented jazz, an assertion that was not entirely true by far, but it expressed his justified resentment at being considered a clown or purveyor of light entertainment and his demand to be recognized as a musical creator. Jellero Morton's piano rags, especially those in his library of Congress records issued by Circle, stand up as musical composition, some of them rather elaborate ones. If we compare the several existing records of the pearls, his composition, both piano and band, we'll find much the same fixed musical conception in all of them. The problem, in terms of contemporary jazz, is whether it is possible to retain the improvisatory freedom of jazz while expanding its structure. And making that structure more complex than it has been up to now. The answer would seem to be yes, or at least a tentative yes,
though so far there have been few works to support the affirmation. On the one hand, we have had the tradition of what is called with no semantic justification whatsoever, symphonic jazz, from Grishwin's flatulent concert works to Bob Gretinger's unfortunate, aridly derivative city and glass, recorded by Stan Kenton, from which we played an excerpt at a previous lecture. This stillborn type of music occurs when impressionable composers imperfectly digest the discoveries of their classical forebears, attempt to translate them into a notated jazz idiom and failed to achieve either freedom or a significant form. From the other direction, when brilliant classical composers like Stravinsky attempt to write in jazz terms, nothing much happens except for a series of interesting orphaned sounds, I think of his ragtime music and of Ebony Concerto, which was static, because Stravinsky was working with an abstract idea of jazz. He had no real experience in it.
And so the work didn't swing. It didn't have that pulsative character that cannot be lost if jazz is to remain jazz, no matter how much the form or the use of form expands. The extended jazz work, therefore, will have to be created by a man thoroughly a part of jazz, a man who is himself a swinging soloist, who knows the intrinsic feel of jazz improvisation by experience as well as by theory. He must also have the taste to avoid the Kenton-like use of effects for their own sake, and the knowledge of classical music to avoid immature copying, and improper, or rather, imperfect assimilation. Of the earlier experimenters, Duke Ellington is easily the most important. None of his large works has been wholly whole, perhaps because Duke cannot sustain his inventive powers over a large area. But sections of reminiscing in tempo of Black Brown and Beige and others were in essence successes.
For example, let us play the abridged version of Black Brown and Beige issued a few years ago on Victor Records. You'll note that this work, again, while not, by any means wholly successful, is vastly inferior as an example of the synthesis of jazz with form to the Grishwin kind of work, and to the Stan Kenton more pretentious performance. This was meant to be a saga of the Negro in America, and begins with a work song. The performance is by the Ellington Orchestra, and you'll note the spaces for improvisation left by Ellington. Music Music
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The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Extended Form in Contemporary Jazz, Part One
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
Jazz historian Nat Hentoff presents a series that traces the history of jazz, from its musical and cultural roots to its contemporary forms. "The Evolution of Jazz" was originally broadcast from WGBH in 1953-1954, and was re-broadcast by the National Educational Radio Network in 1964.
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Jazz musicians--United States--Biography.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-38 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:19
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 38; Extended Form in Contemporary Jazz, Part One,” 1954-07-30, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 19, 2024,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 38; Extended Form in Contemporary Jazz, Part One.” 1954-07-30. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 19, 2024. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 38; Extended Form in Contemporary Jazz, Part One. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from