Term Paper: Pop Culture

Pages: 4 (1213 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper

Jazz and Popular Culture

Within every genre of music, there are innovators who continue to push the edge of that genre. Classical music had innovations in every generation, from Bach, Haydn and Beethoven to Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Shostakovich. Jazz, too, has evolved from a synergism of many different folk and tribal styles to a more formal definition of a true, 20th century phenomenon. One of the most interesting aspects of jazz, though, surrounded the manner in which the different styles and subgenres mimicked popular culture and exemplified the way African-American music and social change remained melded.

Jazz emerged out of the African slave culture from a synergy between various tribal aspects (rhythm, scales, improvisation, syncopation) and European musical tradition (harmony, chromaticism, instrumentation, even hymns). One famous musician noted, though, that jazz was uniquely American and that, "No America, no jazz. I've seen people try to connect it to other countries, for instance to Africa, but it doesn't have a damn thing to do with Africa" (Blakely in Taylor, 1993).

Jazz is somewhat difficult to define because it is an amalgamation of many forms; from Ragtime waltzes to 2000s-era fusion. and, since it evolved over a lengthy period of time, more folk oriented than formal, often not notated until well later, the actual historical foundation remains murky. Instead, there are characteristics of jazz that are important to understand since these very basics are what our three musicians under consideration took far beyond the original format. First, while jazz may be difficult to define, it may be best to see it as a construct or category rather than a specific set of rules or harmonization (Cooke, 2002, 1-6). The patterns that are indicative of jazz, though, usually consist of some form of call-and-response pattern, or improvisation. Rarely written or even sketched, this is what separates the good from the great in jazz -- and makes the modern ability to preserve recordings of certain performances so valuable. In Dixieland jazz, players take turns playing melody and then countermelody and harmony. In bebop there is an agreed upon tune and key, but a great deal of free form. Later styles, like modal jazz, abandoned the notion of a chord progression completely, which allows the individual musicians to improvise within the context of a given mode/scale. Avant-garde and free jazz idioms often abandon chords, scales, and rhythmic meters -- focusing instead on the creativity of the individual players (e.g. often moving out of western chording into the old pre-Medieval modes) (allmusic.com; Mandel, 2-7).

Perhaps the greatest contribution of jazz to population culture is the way it allows musicians to hear music in such different paradigms, something classical musicians have struggled with since Beethoven. Rather than being limited to the tonal patterns of Baroque music, and even the modernizations of the Romantics and moderns, Jazz artists knew that there was something more that had not yet been explored. Something at once primal, yet sophisticated and emotional. While Western music is based on tonal patterns and whole and half steps, Jazz experimented with moving into the tones in between (e.g. Eastern music allows for quarter tones). This was easier for musicians like Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman since they controlled the bending of pitch (with their instruments), but as electronic keyboards and instrumentation became sophisticated enough for professionals, keyboardists like Cecil Taylor were also able to take advantage of the technology. Additionally, generations of musicians seem to need, much like artists of all types, individuals who are perhaps a bit ahead of their own generations.

Take, for example, the riot that occurred during the 1913 premier of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Yet, contemporary… [END OF PREVIEW]

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