Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey is a choreographer who was huge in popularizing modern dance in the American ballet scene. He also cast many African-American dancers, who often could not find work in traditional ballet companies. He based many of his works on music by blues and jazz musicians.

His ballet titled "The River" was a work of his set entirely to music by Duke Ellington.

Here's a narrative ballet by Alvin Ailey. It really gets going around 4.45. A less conceptual ballet, but very clearly a tribute to jazz.

On another note, a huge jazz center is being built in San Francisco called SFJazz.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Billie Holiday clips

Good afternoon, everyone.
Here in a couple hours I am going to be giving my presentation on Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, & Charlie Parker and their influences within Jazz Poetry. But seeing as we have already heard a couple of presentations that have mentioned Billie Holiday, I thought that I would only mention her briefly today during my presentation and instead, offer everyone some really good songs of hers that I have used during my research. I hope that you like them and I will see you all after tea! See ya soon, Drew

Monday, May 3, 2010

Satin Doll

Here are two videos of the same jazz standard, one by the writer Duke Ellington and his band, and one by the guitar legend Joe Pass. Note how Pass uses his unique playing style to make his guitar emulate the sound of the entire big band.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ballet and Jazz

So very beautiful!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Don't forget: a jazz concert in Spooner tomorrow (Friday) at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chicano Jazz

George Lipsitz talks about this song in terms of Chicano culture in the 1960s. This is a cover of "jazz artist Gerald Wilson's tribute to a famous Mexican bullfighter...The song and the band soon became emblematic objects of pride for the Chicano movement in Southern California."

This song is clearly a cross-cultural hybrid. This hybridity is made only more clear when viewed through the group's later work, banda music very located in a different cultural tradition.

This group illustrates the ability jazz has to cross cultural boundaries and reaffirms the music's tradition of subversion and location as an alternative to tradition Anglo-American culture.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

KC Film Fest - Jazz Inspired Films

The Kansas City Film Festival featured several films inspired by jazz this year in their Cinema Jazz Division. Check some of them out at the facebook event:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jazz & Visual Art/Alain Kirili

Here's a Basquiat jazz thing:

On another jazz/visual culture note: one of my dad's good friends, Alain Kirili, is a sculptor, and he does a lot of his work with jazz musicians. Here is a link the Music/Sculpture section of his website:

He says that "Jazz and Sculpture are created urgently. Extreme risk is the minimum condition of this creation, the absolute measure of the musician and sculptor... Revival of verticality in my sculpture is linked to statuary, music and dance."

He has musicians over to his studio and they play while he sculpts.

Here's an installation of his in Paris called "Hommage to Charlie Parker"

Here is a video that another artist made of him, and the French at the end is him reading "Charlie Parker's Blues," from Kerouac's Mexico City Blues!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Circle With a Hole in the Middle

This is an image Ornette painted for his album "The Art of the Improvisers."
The performance slated for this Wed has been cancelled.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Amiri Baraka and Lester Young

Good evening everyone!

I was just looking up some information on Amiri Baraka and came across some really interesting readings of his poetry that he has done. In many of his poems he references Lester "Prez" Young, the great tenor sax player. In one of Baraka's poems, written after Obama's inauguration, the poet utilizes Young and his nickname as a reference to the new "prez," Barack Obama. Not that I am trying to push any liberal agenda here, just thought it was a way of utilizing jazz influences that we had not yet come across in class. Below are links to some readings of Baraka (all of which include blatant jazz influences) as well as some really incredible works by Lester Young that I feel help give Baraka's work some context.

I hope you enjoy them and I'll see you tomorrow in class, Drew.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Couple of Events

The Commons has scheduled additional jazz concerts on April 7 and April 23 at 7:30 in Spooner Hall. The first concert will feature KU Jazz Combos I, II, and III, and the second concert will feature Nick Weiser on piano and William Cleary on alto sax. Nick got his undergrad here at KU and is now completing a masters at the Eastman School of Music in New York.

Koch's "The History of Jazz"

The History of Jazz. Read by the author.

Maria Schneider's Jazz

Why “Jazz Composer” Is Not An Oxymoron | Maria Schneider | Big Think

I recently discovered the music of Maria Schneider, a Grammy Award-winning jazz composer. She's been working since the early 90s, and she's one of the most influential new jazz writers of today. The above video describes her views on improvisation and what it means to make jazz and music itself - a pretty general topic, but an interesting view on improvisation and composition. Her music is eclectic but beautiful - some may classify it as some type of smooth jazz, but it's definitely better than Kenny G. She uses lots of Latin, African, and Brazilian beats and ideas in her work, but other pieces are just gorgeously simple. Schneider's music has obviously developed, changing styles and ideas over the roughly 15 years she's been putting out albums.

This is one of her more recent pieces, "A 'Pretty' Road." In it, we can see some generalizations of Schneider's composition style - her pieces are more melody-driven and harmonized than the modern, avant-garde jazz we've been listening to in class lately. However, there are definitely elements of improvisation, and not just in the solos - even though we know the music is written out for the ensemble, it still feels like it is being improvised, which she encourages. Her instrumentation also deserves recognition - in her early years, she was known for reviving the idea of the "big band" which had fallen out of favor by both composing music for it and changing its instrumentation. Keeping most of the traditional big band instruments - rhythm section, trumpet, trombone, and saxes - she adds some instruments that are somewhat used in jazz - the flugelhorn, clarinet, and flute - and some that we rarely or seemingly never see - bass clarinet, alto flute, accordion, and some electronic alteration. We also hear vocals, but she leaves out the words and lets the vocalist create her own ideas with the sound. Overall, while Schneider's sound may unclassifiable, it's definitely something new, which seems to be what jazz is about a lot of the time - resurrecting old ideas, revitalizing them, and taking things in an entirely new direction. And Schneider's jazz is definitely a good direction.

Esperanza Spalding

I was introduced to Esperanza Spalding a couple of years ago. She's different than the jazz we've been studying, mostly because she's much more modern, but she's fabulous. She plays the bass and many of her songs are in Spanish and Portuguese, if I'm correct. I saw her in concert about a year ago and she was fantastic. This is one of my favorite songs by her, Ponta de Areia.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ella Fitzgerald

Just wanted to post this song of Ella's, it is really beautiful.

Ronnie Scott's

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had wonderful and relaxing Spring Breaks! I was lucky enough to go on KUs "London Review" Break and I had the opportunity to go to a show at the legendary Jazz Club Ronnie Scott's. This jazz club was founded in 1959 by Ronnie Scott and Pete King and moved to its current location in 1965. Since then, it has hosted such musicians as Ella Fitzgerald, Wes Montgomery, Curtis Mayfield, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Bill Evans, Art Pepper, Nina Simone, Van Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix (in his last live performance). Below is a video of Curtis Mayfield performing his "Pusherman" at Ronnie Scott's (split up by portions of an interview).

My impression of the club was mixed. On one hand, I sat thinking in awe about the musicians who had performed on that stage. On the other, I thought a lot about the 30 pound (around $50) entrance fee and the almost exclusively white musicians and audience members. I scrawled the word "gentrified" quickly on my notes, and noted that the median age in the club, tucked away beside Soho Square, was by my estimation probably around 40 or 50. The speciality drink menu highlighted the favorite drinks of jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Jelly Roll Morton.

The performers I saw were called the James Taylor Quartet. They played in a funk style, and had local music students come up with the band and had one woman vocalist perform a few songs with the group. They played funk but within the jazz tradition, doing solos and improvising often. Sometimes the funk leaned towards world jazz and even new age music, and was very conscious of it's electronic possibilities. The band is credited with helping to create and further the genre of "acid jazz." The group performed the theme of Starsky and Hutch and one track on the Austin Powers soundtrack album. I was definitely the most interested in the songs they played with the vocalist, Yvonne Yanney. Below is a clip of the group performing in Switzerland with Yvonne.

I am happy that I had the opportunity to see a show at this historic club. Here is a tribute video for Ronnie Scott's because it is in its 50th year.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

3 categories

In the lecture last night the speaker, Tammy Kernodle, distinguished three categories of religious influence in jazz:

(1) In secular jazz, patterns derived from the African-American church, like call and response patterns in "Moanin'," as played by Art Blakey.

(2) Direct expressions of religious sentiment, as in Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."

(3) Writing directly for the liturgy, as in Mary Lou Williams's masses.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tension & Release in AABA form

Tension and release is not only harmonic. For example, melodically speaking, rising phrases tend to create tension, and falling phrasing are resolving. Rhythmically ambiguous figures are tension-builders, while the return to the original beat is felt as a resolution. These are very basic ideas and I am not developing them with any great musical sophistication--something I couldn't do even if I wanted.

So applying these ideas to the AABA song form.

A: first four measures is like a question, second four measure like an answer.
A. A repetition of the same form, but at the end of measure 16, the resolution is deferred, instead we have the ...
B section, or bridge. Usually in a different key, which is felt to create tension. (For example, in Monk's "Bemsha Swing" the B section is identical to the A, but transposed up a fourth. This song is AABA but a 16 bar, not 32-bar, form. But the same principles apply.)
A: The 4th A section is identical to the first, Resolving the tension created in the bridge.

An example of Coltrane moving through this form is his own composition "Impressions," which can also be heard in the Village Vanguard sessions. Once again, he blurs the boundary between tension and resolution through a combination of great intensity and a great deal of repetitiveness. He never really plays the same thing twice, yet you feel that he is playing the same underlying thing over and over again. No other musician that I know of has explored the two extremes of relaxation and tension to the same degree--sometimes even in the same composition.

Louis Armstrong Interview

Hey guys, I just got done writing our second composition in part on Louis Armstrong and really just fell in love with his music. What I did here was include a link an interview with Louis Armstrong, because he is just so interesting, a link to his version of Édith Piaf's
"La Vie en Rose," as well as some of his other stuff. I hope you like it.

"A note is a note in any language." - Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tension & Release in "Chasin' the Trane"

I was listening to "Live at the Village Vanguard: The Master Takes" in my car just now. The third cut off this cd is "Chasin' the Trane." (Charlie Parker has a composition called "Chasin' the Bird.") It's a twelve-bar form, a blues progression essentially, done at about 240 bpm, so that the second chorus strats at :13, the third at :25, and so on. The song in its totality lasts 16 minutes, so there are about 64 choruses, let's say. I haven't counted. The entire recording is one extended solo by Coltrane, with bass and drums, no piano.

We've talked in class about how Coltrane's modal compositions create an almost static effect: there is no tension and release because the improvisations take place against a single scale. In contrast, "Chasin' the Trane" is tension release tension release tension release tension release [repeat 64 times in rapid succession.] The same musician, then, is given to exploring the extreme of tension / release and its virtual elimination.

(A third possibility is "Cotrane Changes" in songs like "Giant Steps," where instead of an extremely simple harmonic progression, there is an extraordinarily complex one that cycles through many keys.)

Where the extremes meet is in the fact that Coltrane plays with such intensity and speed that the listener can hear tension / release- tension/release in rapid succession almost as one long, virtually static wail rather than as a series of discrete choruses starting and stopping again. It's not as though 'Trane were pausing between choruses to regroup. The absence of piano also means that it is harder to follow the chords--especially when he is playing notes outside the harmonic structure of the song and overblowing, producing intense sound effects and making the beginnings and ends of the 12 bar phrases less identifiable. It ends up being all tension with very little release; at least that's how I experience it. It's fast, intense, driving music you could almost meditate to.

Really long solos have their own logic. In big band music often a soloist had 8 bars--not even a full chorus--to make a significant statement.


It's interesting how Anthony Braxton in the interview segment we watched in class yesterday used the word "cerebral" to talk about the reception of his work. In other words, he was viewed as too intellectual. The same term has been used of Lennie Tristano and others of his school in the 1950s, and of many white musicians generally. Cerebral is the opposite of emotional, and generally speaking the word has negative connotations.

Some listeners find almost all jazz to be too cerebral, yet within jazz itself there is a division between heart and head--at least in the way people talk about jazz. I myself don't find Braxton to be too cerebral. If he is, then he is in the same way that Ornette or Coltrane is. Or Miles Davis or Max Roach. Intelligence dose not kill emotional response--in fact, the two go together very well in jazz with no contradictions at all.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I've been able to find quite a few sections of this interview with Braxton on Youtube.

A Tribute to Ella

This is a song that's featured on "We All Love Ella" a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. This song is called Airmail Special sung by Nikki Yanofsky. At the time the CD was released, she was only like 11 or 12. But check out this video; she's incredible.

Sonny Sharrock

A commenter on this blog suggested we check out guitarist Sonny Sharrock. I'm not very familiar with him but I found this clip on youtube.

Elvin Jones

Room change

Don't forget we will be meeting in 2600 Wescoe today.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jazz in Film

In a famous scene from the 1957 film Funny Face, Audrey Hepburn dances in a smoky Parisian bar. The music she dances to sounds like avant garde jazz, and from what we learned in class, that jazz movement was bigger in Europe and France specifically.

I wonder how accurately the jazz club was depicted. I imagine that using this stereotype of a jazz club and the black turtleneck Hepburn wears as a symbol of the beatnik/jazz culture was all exaggerated by Hollywood like hip hop or rock and roll culture often is today.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some random dude reading Baraka's Am/Track with Coltrane in the Background

Jazz Guitar

So far in class, we haven't talked much about jazz guitar other than its traditional role in the rhythm section. After years of the development of jazz, guitarists have found a way to break out of that strictly rhythm role and take the lead. While guitar-lead jazz is certainly different than the bop, hard bop, etc. we are so familiar with, it still has great swing (earlier music) and some very talented players play some great solos much like the horn greats we all know and love.

Here is a very early and extremely important guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt was born in Belgium in 1910, and his musical career spanned from 1928 to 1953. Reinhardt was a great forerunner to jazz guitarists today. Another interesting fact; Reinhardt played largely with only two fingers on his fretting had due to a childhood accident, so his playing becomes even more impressive after this fact.

Another notable guitarist is Larry Carlton. Carlton played many kinds of music in his career, but was always influenced by artists such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He played one of the most famous guitar solos of all time on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" but his guitar skill was, in my opinion, more evident in his jazz recordings. This style is much more of a jazz fusion, but his playing still retains a very jazzy and improvised quality. The second guitarist in this video is Lee Ritenour, another notable jazz guitarist.

Other notable Jazz guitarists include John Mclaughlin, who plays primarily jazz fusion (in fact, he played on Miles Davis' later electric fusion albums) but has done some more classic style tracks as well. Wes Montgomery was also a great jazz guitarist who spanned many genres of jazz.

And Pat Metheny, a very well known and critically acclaimed Jazz guitarist in the 70s and 80s, is from Lee's Summit, Missouri, which is very close to Kansas City.

Jazz Poetry

I found an article that fits in with our talks about jazz poetry, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat generation. I love love love Kerouac’s quote regarding “beat”: “Beatitude, not beat up. You feel this. You feel it in a beat, in jazz real cool jazz.”

Another section I found interesting was “bop prosody,” a prose poetry style described as words in random bursts and comparable to that of a stream of consciousness, specifically Jack Kerouac, which is exactly what we came up with in class after listening to his work.

This article mentions two beat poets that I am interested in learning more about: John Clellon Holmes (who, according to the article, was a devout lover of jazz musicians) and Leroi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. Being an African-American poet, he was able to relate more to jazz musicians).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jazz Combo in Spooner.

Unfortunately, we have two events going on at the same time (Wed. 7:30): Moten's reading and the faculty jazz combo. Both are relevant to our course. I would recommend that you go to at least ONE of these events, and, of course, to Moten's lecture on Thursday. I wasn't directly involved in scheduling these two events or I would have noticed the conflict before now.
Moten's reading tomorrow.
Since several students are taking trips this week, I am postponing the 2nd writing assignment until 3/4. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Interview w. Miles Davis

I thought that this interview was a really great representation of Miles Davis and offers insight into the "cool" school of Jazz.

Don't miss Kenny Garrett

Hey the KU Jazz Festival is the weekend of March 6th. The featured group this year is the Kenny Garrett combo. In case you don't know him, he is a world wide know alto sax player and has put out a number of well selling jazz albums. He was a side man for Miles Davis before he became really popular.

Garrett is a unique player with a very unique sound. His playing style is hard bop with influences of R&B, Blues and Gospel. His tone is a bit harsher than most alto players and works kind of as his signature. He is one of my favorite players and I have used alot of his licks myself. His approach to soloing draws heavily from the modes and penatonic scales. If you want to check something out of his I reccommend his album "Song Book." I'll admit the melodies are somewhat exotic but if fits his style and approach well, lots of tastefull dissonances.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Giant Steps and Def Jam

John Coltrane’s recording “Giant Steps” is a monumental jazz work. Not only is it a popular melody, but also features what most consider the most difficult jazz improvisation in the history of jazz. The chord changes occur increasingly fast and Coltrane plays through it all effortlessly. John Coltrane liked to record songs unrehearsed and this was the case with “Giant Steps.” Due to the complexity, the pianist, Tommy Flanagan, could not keep up with Coltrane and floundered trying to play a solo over the others for the first take. The video below is indeed Tommy Flanagan on another shot at playing, when he was better prepared for the piece. This just goes to show that even professionals can get in over their heads when they work with such extraordinary musicians as John Coltrane.

The video is a transcription of the solo as it is played on the recording. It is fascinating to watch the notes unfurl effortlessly and see all the changes he is accounting for instantaneously. Astounding.

In a more contemporary setting, Slam Poetry has taken somewhat a similar role to jazz poetry. Slam poetry can sometimes include music as well, alluding to its roots in the jazz culture. There is an inherent performance quality to this style of poetry, something else that is remarkably similar to jazz. Here, one of my favorite slam poets, Rives, uses sign language and humor to make some beautiful points. Much like jazz musicians (like Coltrane in “Giant Steps”) utilizing the entire range of the instrument and technical facets, poets use their gamut of emotions and physical gestures to enhance the performance.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pure Improvisation

The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett has to be one of my favorite jazz albums of all time, and it's also the best-selling solo jazz album in history. A friend in high school introduced me to it, telling me that he listened to it almost everyday and could sing along to most of it by heart. In 1975, Keith Jarrett recorded this concert at the Cologne Opera House in Germany, and it's just over an hour of pure improvisation. And while this sounds like it would be too free-form to repeatedly listen to, it has so much drive and structure that it's hard to believe that he made it up on the spot. In certain sections of the piece, he spends as much as 12 minutes improvising while vamping over a chord or chord pattern. It's so relaxing to listen to, but it still covers a wide range of emotional and musical ideas, from melancholy blues melodies to upbeat, ostinato rhythms.
Here's the first part of the first section of the piece: (it's traditionally divided into four sections, with the first being about 26 minutes long)

Here's another clip of Jarrett playing, this time from a different concert. Notice how physical he gets when he's playing: in certain parts of
The Köln Concert, you can hear Jarrett banging on the piano and pedals to create percussion, and also sings along at other points.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jazz & Hip Hop

As I said in class, after the Kerouac reading this week, my mind went straight back to the 10th grade. All of the cars I found myself in sported tape decks, and of the tapes I listened to, I remember well an album by Gang Starr. Gang Starr is a hip hop group that overtly drew inspiration (and samples) from jazz. A close friend of mine in high school had turntables, and was constantly mixing jazz with hip hop. It seemed even then like a natural marriage, and helped me to see that hip hop transposes much from jazz, especially those artists in groups like Gang Starr, The Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest. A lot of hip hop (and hip hop culture) is so clearly drawing from literary traditions like stream of consciousness and musical traditions like improvisation and call and response. The culture is full of the same kind of competition and virtuosity that we have talked about in class. Below are some of the most obvious tracks that incorporate jazz, but there are many many more.

This video is Gang Starr's "Jazz Thing." Notice the parallel with Kerouac's "History of Bop."

This is Gang Starr's "Words I Manifest," set in part to a Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia."

This is The Digable Planets "Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like Dat)." Most obviously a Miles Davis reference, but a tribute to many jazz artists.

Lastly, A Tribe Called Quest's "Footprints" off of their album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.

Such good stuff. Dig it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

SOLO Thelonious

Here is some music from my favorite jazz musician, Thelonious Monk. I love all of his stuff, but I find his solo work to be the MOST wonderful. I think it is both easy and hard to comprehend, but most of all, fun and relaxing to listen to. Here is a video I found of his solo work online, playing "Everything Happens to Me." My favorite song of his is "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," off of his Monk, Alone in Paris album, which is easy to stream off of for free. Anyway, listen to the Monk and relax!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jazz Will Make You Smart

I was listening to Bach's "Art of the Fugue" and began to think. Bach wrote that work to demonstrate how to write a fugue: it's a kind of musical treatise or textbook in which he writes a series of fugues on a simple theme. Other of his works have this "textbook" quality, like the "Well-Tempered Clavier." He is not only providing a learning tool for subsequent musicians, but also showing that the musical creative genius is a kind of student, someone who undertakes a systematic study of something to see how it all works.

Max Roach's body of work has that kind of quality too: he was known as an intellectual among bop musicians and I feel that studying his solos, really taking them apart, to be very rewarding. By listening to him we are also studying the work of a great student. We are getting into his thought processes.

Intelligence, in any field, is driven by the desire to discover the inner logic of things, how things work from the inside out. You feel this, for example, in looking at Picasso's numerous studies of Velásquez's great painting "La meninas." Education, even at the highest levels, tends to emphasize the acquisition of knowledge, but erudition is not intelligence. If you take an approach to learning that is oriented toward discovering how things work, you will acquire a lot of erudition along the way, but, more importantly, you will develop real intelligence, which I define as the capacity to draw connections within and between complex systems. In some sense the knowledge (erudition) is the easy part. For example, if you asked me analyze the rhythmic interactions between Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Red Garland in the Miles Davis quintet rhythm section, that would be very difficult. It would require a lot of close listening and analysis. But if I'm trying to do that then I already know who Miles's drummer was at the time.

Jazz provides a good opportunity to exercise this kind of intelligence because of its complexity and subtlety. Since jazz is already a complex musical style, and takes place as one part of a complex culture, then interpreting its place within culture involves relating two complex systems to each other.

Now I think you'll say that to this you have to be very, very intelligent. I agree to a certain extent, except that I would put it another way: the way to become intelligent is to do things like this.

This shouldn't really be a wholly new approach for you. I think good students figure this out for themselves eventually. Sometimes very intelligent students, however, don't really get it. They still think of education mostly as acquiring knowledge and doing well in classes rather than trying to figure out the secret logic of things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


We're reading Cortázar in English. I want you to think a little bit about the translation. You don't have to compare it to the original, but just make some notes about things you notice in the English translation. What is the language like?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

"The Rhythm Section" in this case is that of the Miles Davis Quintet of the 1950s: Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland, Paul Chambers. Interesting that the record would be marketed like this. This only shows how soon that rhythm section was recognized as the best. Pepper blends in very well with this rhythm section.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Four against Five

A four against five polyrhythm can be counted out like this:

ONE 2 3 4
ONE 2 3 4

Use the words "It's / coming, / there's no place / to hide" to remember this rhythm.

Doodlin with polyrhythms

The song "Doodlin'" by Horace Silver sets up an interesting 3 against 4 figure. The song is in 4/4, but the motif is a three beat figure, staring on the 2nd beat of the first measure, like so:

one TWO and a three four
ONE and a two three
FOUR and a one two
THREE and a four one two three four

and then again in the second four measure phrase of this twelve-bar blues. The last four measures resolves this tension but reverting to a straight 4/4 count. A thing of beauty.

The swung 8th note pattern is really based on triplet rhythms. If you hear it like that, and accent every other note, then you get quarter note triplets: 6 instead of 4 beats to the measure:

Inestead of counting ONE and a TWO and a THREE and a FOUR and a

do it like this

ONE and A two AND a THREE and A four AND a

Or ONE two THREE four FIVE six instead of ONE two three FOUR five six

This creates a 4 against 6 polyrhythm. Youl'll hear jazz drummers playing around with this all the time.


There's an interesting give and take between vocal and instrumental jazz, beginning with Armstrong who was both the first great recorded jazz singer per se and the greatest soloist of the earliest period of recorded jazz. Really great horn players listen to singers and often model themselves after vocal stylings. (I've heard classical wind and brass players say the same thing so this isn't limited to jazz.) You can hear this in Lester Young, who admired Billie Holiday and Sinatra; in Miles Davis, who often interpreted songs sung by these same singers. The singers also provide a connection to the songs themselves.

By the same token a singer can model his or her stylings on horn players.

A playlist based on this concept might begin with the following:

Armstrong playing and singing "Body and Soul"
Sinatra and MIles playing their separate versions of Rodgers and Hart's "It Never Entered my Mind."
Sinatra and Lester Young playing their separate versions of "Taking a chance on Love."
Lester Young accompanying Billie Holiday on the collection "A Musical Romance" (various songs)
John Coltrane playing with singer Johnny Hartman on "My One and Only Love."
Vocalese versions of "Moody's Mood for Love." An improvised jazz solo by James Moody on the tune "I'm in the Mood for Love" later set to words.


When swing style pop vocals like those of Tony Bennett became eclipsed by rock music in the mid 1960s, it freed Bennett up to be a jazzier singer. The same happened with Rosemarie Clooney--a pop star in the 1950s but a jazz artist later in life. Interestingly, rock musicians popular in the 1970s like Linda Rondstat and Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, also turned to the great songs of the great American songbooks much later in their careers--with varying results, some good, some bad.

Nat Cole began as a jazz pianist. When he began singing that talent eclipsed his piano playing and he became an international pop star. His brother, Freddie Cole, has had an interesting career as a jazz singer, using a Nat King Cole-like voice but a more jazzy, less pop feel. Even Armstrong did pop vocals in his later career that have little to do (seemingly) with his jazz roots: "It's a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly."

Vocal music, then, has always been close to the commercial side of jazz, often to the point of not being jazz anymore. To what point the dichotomy between jazz singing and popular music is valid, I don't know. Is Sinatra singing jazz with Count Basie and pop with Nelson Riddle? For me, Sinatra is a jazz artist. He even tried to hire Billy Strayhorn away from Duke at one point...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Billie Holiday--First Issue--The Great American Songbook

Billie Holiday's Great American Songbook was not designed as such: it is, rather, a collection of 34 songs put together long after her death to commemorate a postage stamp. It forms a nice contrast with Ella's Songbook series. I'd listen to Ella to learn the songs, and to Billie to discover some of their emotional depth.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


The Great American Songbook

I'm at home listening to an LP (vinyl) of Ella Fitzgerald's Duke Ellington Songbook. Ella did a whole series of songbooks recording music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Duke. This music is important to listen to for a few reasons.

The quality of the original music and lyrics, the excellent arrangements, and Ella's near flawless singing. Many of the arrangements are by Nelson Riddle, who had some classic albums with Sinatra. The arrangements on the Duke songbook album are by Duke himself with the great Billy Strayhorn. (Strayhorn wrote many classics identified with Ellington's band, such as "Take the A-Train." )

Listening to Ella's songbooks is a good way to learn a lot of standard tunes, with both words and music. If we take all the Ella's songbooks together, we have most of the best songs by eight or nine of the great composers and songwriting teams of twentieth-century American popular music. There are some songs missing: she never did a Hoagy Carmichael songbook, for example. But it will give you a good head start. Not all the songs she sang became classic jazz instrumental standards, but quite of few of them are.

Knowing the lyric of a song is a good idea. In the first place, it helps you to remember what the song is called, if you hear it played and not sung. Secondly, some of these lyrics are extremely well-written pieces of "written jazz." Thirdly, knowing the words gives you an emotional connection to the song, even if you are hearing a purely instrumental version.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to post a video

Find the video you want at you Tube.

Find the "embed" window on the right hand side of the screen. Copy the text in this window.

Open a new post in blogger.

Paste the text into your post.

Write a title for your post.

Push "publish post."

Monk -- epistrophy

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Count Basie

Camarón canta un romance de Lorca

Not really jazz--I posted this on the blog for my other class but posted it here by mistake first. I thought I'd leave it here anyway.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First assignment here.

Playlist for 2/2

Mahalia Jackson. "Get Away Jordan" (Spiritual)
Bessie Smith. "Backwater Blues" (early recorded blues)
Scott Joplin. "Maple Leaf Rag" (ragtime)
"Maple Leaf Rag" as played by Jelly Roll Morton.
Morton. "King Porter Stomp"
Louis Armstrong. "West End Blues"
Billie Holiday. "How Deep is the Ocean"
Benny Goodman. "Moten Swing"
Duke Ellington. "Cottontail."
Earl Fatha Hines and Johnny Hodges. "Perdido"
Billy Strayhorn (comp) "Cheslea Bridge"

Lecture Series

Press release about the Writing Jazz lecture series.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Listening to Earlier Styles

It's a good idea to have "big ears" when listening to earlier styles of jazz. Contemporary jazz sounds contemporary; we don't need to make a huge effort to bridge the gap between ourselves and the music. Early styles can sound "dated" or "corny" sometimes. Poor recording quality can also affect our reactions. We have to realize that Louis Armstrong sounded revolutionary in his day: nobody who wasn't from New Orleans had ever heard any music even remotely like that in the 1920s. It was also wholly contemporary with the so-called "jazz age" of the 1920s. It was the equivalent of the Beatles in 1964 or hip hop in the late 80s: something fresh and new.

You don't necessarily have to like something to appreciate it. In other words, there will be things you don't necessarily identify with on a personal level, but you can see how this music was considered fresh, new, innovative for its time.

When I was kid the movie "The Sting" came out with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The sound track featured "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin--a ragtime piece. Suddenly every kid who took piano lessons wanted to play that--including me. So in the 1970s there was a revival of the "hip" music from the 1890s.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Play list for 1/21

This is what we heard today in class, January 21.

James P. Johnson. "The Charleston." (stride piano)
Louis Armstrong. "Struttin with some Barbecue." (early jazz)
Fletcher Henderson. "King Porter Stomp" (swing)
Lester Young with Count Basie. "Lester Leaps In." (swing)
Duke Ellington. "Snibor." (composed by Billy Strayhorn). (swing)
Charlie Parker. "Scrapple from the Apple." (bop)
Miles Davis. "Airegan." (composed by Sonny Rollins) (hard bop)
Miles Davis. "Footprints." (60s jazz)
Weather Report. "Birdland." (fusion)
Herbie Hanckock. "Canteloupe Island" (sixties jazz: straight 8th)
Mongo Santamaría. "Watermelon Man." (Composed by Hancock)
The Metres. "Sissy Strut." (New Orleans funk)
The Roots. "Mellow My Man." (hip hop)

Art Blakey. "Moanin'" (hard bop)
Stan Getz. "It Never Entered My Mind" / "Opus de Bop" (West Coast / cool jazz)
John Coltrane. "Chasing the Trane." (sixties jazz)

Roy Hargrove

There is an album by Roy Hargrove that features two leading tenor saxophonists from this era, Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman. The album is titled "Roy Hargrove with the Tenors of Our Time" and I highly recommend this CD specifically because it offers a lot of standards that are set in a contemporary feel that is still loyal to the traditional rules. Roy Hargrove is a trumpet player who is gaining a lot of popularity.

Lester leaps in

Transcription of Lester Young's solo from "Lester Leaps In"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I've posted the syllabus here.

Time to Begin Posting on the Blog!

You can start posting on the blog now. Just listen to a song or two and tell us what you think. If you're not already a member, please respond to the invitation. You can also comment on my posts or those of your fellow students.


Jazz standards website. Very useful. See how many you recognize among the top 50.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Model for 1st Writing Assignment

For the first writing assignment I want you to do a simple description of the style of a particular improviser on any instrument. The idea is to translate your listening into words. don't write at length if you don't have a lot to say. Try to say as much as possible in the fewest possible words. Be creative in writing style, but note that creativity doesn't mean carelessness. Find a recording or two to listen to: enough to get a good impression. Sax players and trumpets work well for this exercise, but you can do singers, pianists, bass players, etc... You can be as technical or non-technical as you wish, and expand or contract any part of the discussion.

There is not any particular format to follow, but here is what someone might write about alto-sax player Benny Carter (these would be notes for a finished paper, not the paper itself, which would have fewer sentences fragments and lists.):

Benny Carter

Timbre: Warm, but not too sweet. A rough edge. Breathy in the lower register, bright at the higher range. Timbre, intonation, articulation, are not constant but expressive, variable.

Vibrato is noticeable on longer notes, and is highly controlled. One of his trademarks is to crescendo through a long notes while increasing the vibrato. His normal style at fast tempo has virtually no vibrato at all.

Phrasing and rhythm: Phrases tend to be long, with logical connections between phrases. At slower tempi there is a rubato feel, even when he is playing over strict time. There is no nervous edginess; the rhythmic conception is pre-bop. At medium tempo plays on the beat, rather than lagging behind or pushing it. At slower tempi he plays more behind, but not as much as the later Lester Young. Articulation is fluid, legato, with sensitive dynamics, especially at slower tempo. Attack is sharper at fast tempo. (Always sharper than Johnny Hodges.)

Improvisational style: There is a lot of direct statement of the melody, with variation in rhythmic phrasing but not a lot of excess ornament. There is more melodic paraphrase than simple "blowing over the chord changes." (You can always tell what song he is playing!) Ideas are inventive, memorable, melodic, exploitating the full range of the alto sax. A strong sense of logic in the development of solos. Limited use of too obvious formulas. However, if he comes upon a phrase he likes he will repeat it a few times before moving on. Very "tasty" aesthetic, similar to Teddy Wilson (who plays on some of these tracks.) In the same general feel as Lester Young.

Emotional range: he excels both at melancholy and exuberance. (He has different approaches to slow and fast tempi.) He is not afraid to be lushly romantic, but doesn't lapse into bad taste, because there is a wry tone of resignation in his melancholy.

Overall qualities: Intelligence, warmth, flexibility, amiability, confident ease, equanimity. Emotional responsiveness. Good taste ("tastiness"). A pleasant up and down "lilt" to his playing, resulting from overall rhythmic and melodic approach. Along with Hodges, Young, Hawkins, the best representatives of the classic "swing" style on the saxophone.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I. Thousands of songs, standards, are in this form. Most of the ones that aren't are in ABAC, a closely related structure. 32-measures of 4/4 time, with each phrase being 8 measures long.

II. The B section is commonly known as the Bridge; usually features a key change.

III. Counting it out.

IV. Example: Body and Soul.

V. Contrast with Blues. Longer, more harmonically complex, more melodically varied.

The Blues

I. Basic structure

A. 12 measures.
B. Harmonic structure I / IV I / V VI I

II. Varieties

A. Bessie Smith
B. Lester Young
C. Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk
D. B.B. King
E. Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane

Friday, January 15, 2010


I. General considerations

A. There isn't just one jazz rhythm.
B. Some rhythms will seem "unjazzlike" to some listeners. Who's to say?
C. Still, some say it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

II. Swing

A. Even quarter notes (walking bass)
B. Accents on 2 and 4 (high-hat click--compare contrast to backbeat in rock)
C. "Swung" 8th-notes / variations on the timing
D. Does it swing or not?
E. Swung 16ths in Hip Hop

III. Tempo

A. Medium tempo
B. Fast
C. Slow

IV. Straight 8ths.

A. Latin: the clave
B. Rock / fusion
C. Does jazz have to use swung 8ths to swing?

V. Listening test


Thursday, January 14, 2010


I. General consideration

A. The compositon does matter
B. Favorite structures: 12-bar blues / AABA / ABAC
C. The idea of "standards"
D. Not all jazz is equally improvised.
E. Improvisation is not the opposite of structure or of planning, does not imply formlessness.

II. Performativity

A. Jazz a performer's art
B. zero degree of improvisation can still be jazz-like

III. Types of improvisation.

A. Melodic statement of theme.
B. embellishment or ornamentation
C. Melodic paraphrase
D. blowing over the changes / licks and clichés
E. "free jazz"

IV. Structure of a solo

A. Telling a story
B. Beginnings
C. Endings
D. development and climax
E. compare contrast with classical styles

V. Examples of improvisers

A. Stan Getz and Lester Young
B. drum applications: Max Roach
C. Art Tatum and the ornamental style

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Professor Jonathan Mayhew
2624 Wescoe
Office Hours: TR: 10-11:30 and by appointment

Honors 492: Commons Course
“Writing Jazz”

Course Description:

“Writing Jazz” means writing about jazz, writing about writing about jazz, and appreciating the connections between the music itself and the literature it has inspired. We will begin by looking at the main forms of the music in its historical development, along with key concepts like “swing” and “improvisation.” We will then read literary texts inspired by jazz, exploring key motifs and techniques. Finally, we will explore the possibilities for doing our own writing about the music in the form of the final projects that each student will produce.

Requirements and Grading:

Class participation: 15%
Blog Posts 15%
3 Short Writing Assignments 30%
2 Exams 20%
Final Project, including presentation 20%


J. Szwed. Jazz 101
Jack Kerouac. Visions of Cody. Mexico City Blues
Julio Cortázar. Blow Up and Other Stories 

Feinstein, ed. Jazz Poetry Anthology



The instructor follows all relevant university policies regarding disability, academic integrity, H1N1 influenza, etc... Any absence of specific statements regarding any university policies in this syllabus should not be construed to indicate non-compliance.

Students returning after being absent due to H1N1 should contact the instructor immediately upon their return to the classroom so that we can arrange make-up work. Absence from class means a zero on participation for that particular day. Students with legitimate excuses may make up that portion of the grade by providing additional blog posts, etc... Absence from a lecture (outside lecture series) will count as the equivalent of missing 2 days of class.

Late work can be accepted, but with a penalty, generally 5 percentage points if not turned at the beginning of the class period when the paper is due, and 5 additional points for each additional day after that.

Schedule of Class Meetings:

Week 1:

1/14: Introduction to the course. Basic concepts and expectations.

Week 2:

1/19: Jazz history and concepts. Improvisation.
1/21: Rhythmic conceptions: Swing

Week 3


Week 4

2/2 History of jazz: Early Styles. Szwed Chapters 10-14.
2/4 History of jazz. Late Styles. Finish reading Szwed’s Jazz 101 by this date.
1st short writing assigment.

Week 5

2/9: Writing jazz: basic concepts
2/11: Cortázar, “The Pursuer”; comparison with “’Round Midnight” film

Week 6

2/16 Modernism and jazz: Poems by Williams, Sandburg, Tolson
2/18 Bebop and the Beats. Read Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues.

Week 7

2/23 Poems by Creeley, Blackburn, Kaufman in The Jazz Poetry Anthology
2/25 African American poetry and jazz. Read poems by Baldwin, Baraka, Brown
2nd Writing Assignment

Week 8

3/2 Discussion of 1st lecture (Moten); catch-up on other discussions.
3/4 Poems by Harper, Hayden, Joans, Jonas, Knight

Week 9

3/9 Poems by Mullen, Reed, Senghor
3/11 Jazz and the New York School. Poems by Koch, O’Hara, Berrigan
3rd Writing Assignment

(Week of 3/15, spring break)

Week 10

3/23 Discussion of 2nd lecture (Kernodle); catch-up on other discussions
3/25 Jazz prose: Kerouac’s Visions of Cody (Selections)
1st Exam.

Week 11

3/30 Writing about jazz: Baraka, Balliett
4/1 Development of research projects

Week 12

4/6 Jazz and visual culture: photography
4/8 Jazz and film

Week 13

4/13 Development of research projects
4/15 “ “ “ “

Week 14

4/ 20 Discussion of 3rd lecture (Lopes)
4/ 22 2nd Exam

Week 15

4/27 Pressentation of Projects
4/29 Presentation of Projects

Week 16

5/4 Presentations of Projects
5/6 Conclusions. Before and after comparisons. Evaluations

Lecture Series:

Note: The Lecture Series is an integral component of the course, and attendance is not optional. Do everything you can to attend these lectures. Please note that one is the Thursday before spring break. Take that into account when making travel plans.
Fred Moten, 
Department of English, Duke University 
Thursday, February 25th 
7:30 p.m., Spooner Hall 
"Jurisgenerative Grammar: For Alto, For Black"
Tammy Kernodle, 
Department of Musicology, Miami University 
Tuesday, March 9th 
7:30 p.m., Spooner Hall 
"Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit: Constructing Black Women's Conversion Narratives in Jazz"
Paul Lopes, 
Department of Sociology, Colgate University 
Thursday, April 15th 
7:30 p.m., Spooner Hall 
"From Hepcat to Rebel to Heroin Fiend: The Jazz Trope in the Popular Imagination"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Introduction to the course (January 14)

I. Course (structure)

A. Syllabus
B. Lectures
C. Readings and written assignments
D. Supplements: field trips / lecture series
E. Final Project

II. Course (substance)

A. The music itself
B. Writing
C. Researching
D. Visual culture
E. How to be intelligent

III. Jazz is a universe

A. Jazz borders on other kinds of music
B. A hybrid music, and lends itself to other hybrids
C. The meanings of the music change over time, cannot be fixed
D. Can be intellectual or emotional
E. Can be harsh, dissonant, / or sweet and mellow

IV. Jazz takes place in particular place and time.

A. An American music.
B. An African-American music
C. Rhythm
D. Sonority
E. Improvisation

V. Listening.

A. Resources. Where to find recordings / broadcasts of jazz.
B. Active listening. Jazz is not background music.
C. How to? We will discuss particular techniques for listening.
D. "Big ears." Why it is important to listen to a huge variety of music.
E. Verbalizing your responses.