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A great advance was made in the study of jazz when it was discovered that jazz has many aspects as a suspect has been obvious by now of folk music. One of the best descriptions of how folk music grows and changes is that given by a Lloyd and the singing Englishman and quoted here in Sydney you think of the time the songs were learned by ear remember and as they spread from village to village across the country and down the ages they were changing all the time. Lapse of memory would leave gaps which needed new verses to fill them in bits of other songs words or tunes would creep in by accident or intention. Singer after singer would modify or embellish the song too by the time it had spread 200 miles and then sung for 200 years. So much would be lost and so much would be added that often the original song would be impossible to distinguish among a thousand variants and sometimes the variance was so different from the original that they were really quite new songs. This explains why folk songs of the same land may differ from one another and yet stems from the same roots. Why so many variants exist with no one variant.
The real song any more than any other process of change and variation is basic to folk music. Negro spirituals show the same characteristics. Go down Moses. Keep your hand on that cloud Were you there when they crucified my Lord. Spring from the same root though they have become quite different and beautiful song. The rise of a wealth of blues songs from a few German phrases from the rise of New Orleans instrumental music out of the rags and blues as we shall see shows a similar process. Boyd also describes the reverse process equally necessary to an understanding of the growth of folk art that of absorption and assimilation. To the English folk singer. The modes were no mere survival from the past. They were his natural idiom and when he learned to compose song even a music hall song he would often alter the tune till it corresponded to one or another of the familiar modes of English folk music. And I think that similarly. One can call the Afro-American blues
scale a mode to which tunes were adapted. This point should be carefully studied. I'm still quoting from anything Goldstein's book on jazz it does not mean that everything new is transformed into the old It means that out of the union of new and old a new music came into being. If you don't understand this process we will not understand why although we can trace a definite line of continuity in folk music. Why this music shows such constant change and growth. Both of these aspects of folk music the germination from a few basic sources and the cross-fertilisation and enrichment from many sources are essential to the understanding of folk music jazz and in fact any music when we understand this folk character of jazz we can begin to understand the opposite truth that jazz has characteristics wholly different from folk music as heretofore unknown jazz as we shall come to see as the late 19th and 20th century development in the creation of a city music the Negro people used a rich variety of instruments and thus created a music of greater complexity of
texture. Than that of European folk music cultures in the 20th century the place of the Negro people in relation to American life underwent rapid change as changes affected the negro musician and Negro audience. The music rapidly changed compared to other folk cultures whose development is slow and spans centuries. Jazz shows a tremendously rapid tempo of change. The result is that the jazz musician is face today with problems that are almost exactly parallel those of the learned composer. And in fact the thin line of demarcation between improvisation and composition. Is to some extent disappearing. This process of change does not imply that the Blues have disappeared from jazz. There remain a potent factor but they also have changed the blues. Bessie Smith sang were for the most part far different from old folk style blues. Yet who would say that young woman's blues group and the previous hour is not of the blues line. Part of the power of Count Basie is band. In the 40s and again today was due to a rich blues content. Though these
are different sounding blues from those of the New Orleans bands Lester Young's music Mr young tenor saxophonist has been a important influential force in the evolution of modern jazz. Lester Young's music is saturated in the blues although here again we have a new and quite different blues music but one with its roots in the early field hollers and going all through the evolution of the blues and later jazz.
In line and if we listen carefully Finkelstein points out to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Being perhaps the leading modern jazz man certainly one of the most remarkable. Instrumentalist and improvisers in the history of the forum. It is not hard to find the blues again transform. Here is Charlie Parker in what he calls Parker's mood. In.
The is. The key to a study of jazz to continue this important quotation I think is through its melody. This is not to undervalue the importance of rhythm and harmony in music melody however implies or implies a rhythm and harmony. If we take a given melody like any of those in the New Orleans march in high society and play it in three quarter time the character of the melody is completely changed to give it rich and chromatic harmonies its character
again has completely changed. Such experiments are especially harmonic may lead to the evolution of new melodic lines and that has happened in latter day. Modern Jazz the melodic line rather than rhythm and harmony is the key to an analysis of the changing human imagery and emotional content of music. To some extent melody of course pointed out as has been pointed out can be many different things and is not to be limited to the euphonious harmonically symmetrical tune. In the opening movement of the Beethoven fifth for example the famous for not opening theme is one kind of melodic phrase. The development of this theme. Which follows playing it faster and each time repeating it on a higher note spins a new kind of melodic line. The second theme singing in tune is a kind of melody. Similarly in jazz we have the melody of the blues break clipped and concentrate. The melodic line constructed out of a piling up of repeated phrases
like the king Olliver blues solo in chorus and then following cornet. On. And on.
Or the high society clarinet solo originated by Alfons BQ and played here by Adam and call. Up. The melody can also be a singing tuneful little mournful one as in George Lewis's Burgundy's Street Blues.
And goes on from this discussion of the blues and the melodic line speak about melody in connection with improvisation. I think it's well to cover this now before we get to New Orleans because of the fact that so much has been written sometimes not so much over enthusiastically as perhaps semantically confused in nature about the essence of improvisation as one writer called it. And it's part in jazz. Jazz is an art of melody. Much of this melody consists of the blues played straight or broken up into small phrases and rearranged some of this melody consists of folk songs taken from the most varied sources gathered up into the general body of jazz as the spirituals took to themselves. Him tunes and square dances
in the period of flourishing New Orleans rag blues and stomp jazz melodies came from fresh sources old French dancers that was still part of the city's living music Creole songs minstrel show tunes and dances songs and dances of Spanish origin military and parade marches funeral marches spirituals and hymns square dances even the mock Oriental music often heard in vaudeville. Many of these I'll illustrate in the lectures on New Orleans jazz jazz musician loved melody. He both improvised his own melody and played a familiar melody with deep affection adding only the accents and phrasing that any good artist FOCO professional adds to a work he performs a jazz musician often added to his suite or non-blue melody notes breaks and intonations that's providing us with a fascinating combination of two musical languages and one when we understand the dual nature of jazz music the inseparable opposites that make up the unity of the jazz performance. Hot and sweet the zation and the straight performance the solo and the ensemble. The addition of personal style to familiar musical material
we can understand many otherwise in explicable aspects of jazz. We can see why so many of the great jazz players noted for their improvisation so often play close to an original melody. Of course the musical taste the economy where each node makes its own plangent impact that marks a creative artist. We can see that jazz is not simply improvisation on anything but sometimes the difference between an exciting performance and a boring one by the same fine musicians is due to the fact that the first offered to the musicians a good melodic material the second poor That's the latter put a strain on creative artistry which they weren't always up to. We can understand why so many evergreens blues rags folk melodies even standard good standard popular tunes come up again and again in the history of jazz and are still enjoyable to day. We can see why although each jazz player has his own technique and personality you can also take over play and play with affection affectionate rightness and other jazzman improvisation. I just illustrated that with the Edmond hall version of a chorus that has become standard among jazz musicians
and that was first created by the New Orleans parade musician. Speak to we can see why the incorrect definition of jazz is pure improvisation. Rose only when jazz performances were almost drowned by the flood of hack created Tin Pan Alley tunes and the jazz player had to fight his material to make something out of it. We can see why it is possible for a beautiful jazz music to be made out of the popular tune when the jazz player has assimilated its idiom sufficiently to make it into a strange free us and personally expressive melodic line. Not every popular tune is fit for such treatment of course and there is quite a transitional process required. It is the Jazz theorist Mr Finkelstein States quite rightly. Much more than the player who has been a purist. There is a purity worth fighting for it is not the purity of a single style of folk material. It is the purity of honest and free musical communication against the manufactured slickness. The repetition and standardization of what were originally living musical ideas that makes up the vast amount of
popular music today. However some theorists lumped together as commercial which is an epithet I might say in jazz criticism. Everything that appeared in jazz after New Orleans including in one term the most sensitive and deeply felt creative music and the most uninspired imitations. Attack the musician for selling out which is actually the rather selfish demand that the musician at the price of poverty and also at the price of giving up his own right to grow to experiment with whatever new materials and methods please him provide the critic with the music that the critic is painfully learned to like so that in this course you will find no distinctions in terms of quality made between the best of New Orleans music and the best of modern jazz. There are musical distinctions in terms of their evolution but in terms of the time in which they have arisen the matter of quality cannot be used to denigrate either
Gringo's and continues that point previously mentioned of one musician playing another solo or composition brings up this complicated question of originality. It is important to remember that there are two diametrically opposed processes. One appears in the case when jelly roll Morton and New Orleans musicians adapts. King Oliver has chimes blues or James P. Johnson a Harlem pianist or Albert Amman's of Chicago pianist improvises on Pine Top Smith's boogie woogie. It's a process like process basic to the development of music of the creative musician realizing that he is not alone in a musical world and that he learns only by using with appreciation what has gone before. The subject has been treated as you know in another sense in TS Eliot's tradition and the individual talent. It is an open and honest use of influences. One musician giving credit to another for what he has brought into the musical world. The other is the prevalent process
in terms of the manufacture of popular music by men with no originality who would take riffs folk tunes or jazz ideas. Recently South African folk music any kind of music familiar to every musician the idea the basic ideas rearrange or embellish them enough to disguise their origin generally ruining them in the process and put their name to them as original compositions. The entire fetish of originality which causes the most creative musicians often to be called an original and the greatest non-original ones to call themselves the original composers is a product of commercialism and a folk culture. Music is a common language as it is indeed and all creative music. The old blues singers used a common stock of melodies and even poetic phrases familiar as well to their hearers their originality lay in the variation the embellishment the personality and the fresh character they gave to this common language. Many of the old blues singers if you hear them in the form and sound like anthologies of almost all the blues you've ever heard before but yet they're different because of the impressive the singer's personality
where the rise of the market and returning to this quotation in the music industry originality became a necessary part of a saleable commodity and so every jazz performance as well as every piece of sheet music had to have a composer's name. Yet if we examine the popular tunes and band performances of New Orleans we find them a criss cross of similarities of repetitions of phrase recreations of long existing folk and traditional tunes. When Brahms was told that his first symphonies showed similarities to Beethoven's Ninth he replied. Any fool can see that the test of originality in all cases is musical quality taste inventiveness and moving quality of the music that has produced something all transformed by the something new. This is entirely different from the claim of occasional enthusiasts and writers that improvisation is all that matters. Jazz like all music is a combination of the individual and the social. The inventive craftsmanship and musical thinking with the common body of musical material each into penetrating the other three. The reason New Orleans music and the blues that led to New Orleans music and later
jazz is still so greatly love today is its relative melody its fresh creation of a living malleable body of folklore. It should be like the folk music of every country. A part of its musicians and its people's consciousness folk music then is not pure music either. Music taken from many sources becomes part of people's daily lives their personal and social thinking that is used by them it takes on new characteristics and a new unity whatever its origins through such a language we can see how people lived together how they react to the world and their fellow human beings in such a language was the blues. Here is a recording made very recently by a blues singer. One of the few still existing who sound to be let's say linearly in the Bessie Smith tradition. Her name is Big Maybelle and this is another example of the common language to be found in the blues.
She calls this rain rain. Rain a way by the.
Way. My way. Ay ay. Ay. Ay ay ay
ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay and me. That I can include those two hours on the blues. The recording by the woman. Most people agree musicians as well as Meyers and jazz was
the greatest of all the blues artists Bessie Smith. A. The only. Way to.
Be that way. We've been to. A. Great.
Many and moaning and groaning kept me away from you. Next week the blues form of playing piano called Boogie Woogie and the beginnings of minstrelsy and ragtime.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Form of the Blues, Part Two
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, explores the musical elements that make the blues what it is.
Other 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.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
African Americans--Music--20th century--History and criticism.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:49
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 6; Form of the Blues, Part Two,” 1953-12-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 2, 2021,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 6; Form of the Blues, Part Two.” 1953-12-11. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 2, 2021. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 6; Form of the Blues, Part Two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from