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.