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History of Jazz and Classical Music

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History of Jazz and Classical Music

Upon entering a modern record store, one is confronted with a

wide variety of choices in recorded music. These choices not only

include a multitude of artists, but also a wide diversity of music

categories. These categories run the gamut from easy listening dance

music to more complex art music. On the complex side of the scale are

the categories known as Jazz and Classical music. Some of the most

accomplished musicians of our time have devoted themselves to a

lifelong study of Jazz or Classical music, and a few exceptional

musicians have actually mastered both. A comparison of classical and

Jazz music will yield some interesting results and could also lead to

an appreciation of the abilities needed to perform or compose these

kinds of music.

Let's begin with a look at the histories of the two. The music

called classical, found in stores and performed regularly by

symphonies around the world, spans a length of time from 1600 up to

the present. This time frame includes the Renaissance, Baroque,

Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods. The classical period of

music actually spans a time from of 1750 to 1800; thus, the term

Classical is a misnomer and could more correctly be changed to Western

Art Music or European Art Music. European because most of the major

composers up till the 20th century were European. Vivaldi was Italian,

Bach was German, Mozart and Beethoven were Austrian; they are some of

the more prominent composers. Not until the twentieth century with

Gershwin and a few others do we find American composers writing this

kind of art music. For the sake of convention, we can refer to Western

Art Music as Classical music.

Jazz is a distinctively American form of music, and it's history

occupies a much smaller span of time. Its origins are found in the

early 1900s as some dance band leaders in the southern U.S. began

playing music that combined ragtime and blues. Early exponents of this

dance music were Jelly Roll Martin (a blues player) and Scott Joplin

(ragtime). The terms "Jazz" and "Jazz Band" first surfaced in the year

1900. Some say this occurred in New Orleans, although similar music

was played at the same time in other places. The most prominent

exponents of this early music, called Dixieland Jazz, included Louis

Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. After World War I, Jazz music had evolved

and was aided by the development of the recording industry. The

small dance band ensemble grew into the larger orchestra known as the

"Big Band". The music of the Big Bands became known as "Swing." Two of

the more famous Swing band leaders were Tommy Dorsey and Harry James.

In the late 40s and through the 50s, a different kind of Jazz became

popular. This music, played by a very small ensemble, was much more

sophisticated and complex . Its rich harmonic changes and melodic

counterpoint were not conducive to dance. It became known as "Bop,"

with Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie being the early proponents.

In the last twenty years there has been a combination of Jazz with

popular music of the US and Latin America. This modern Jazz music has

been called "Fusion." Present day exponents include Pat Metheny and

Chic Corea. There has also been a return to the sound of Bop in the

last ten years by such musicians as trumpeter Winton Marsalis and his

brother Branford, a saxophonist.

Let's focus on the instrumentation of the two kinds of music. In

Classical music, both large orchestras and small ensembles are used.

But generally, the greatest and most prominent compositions are for

the larger symphony orchestra. The largest part of the orchestra is

the string section consisting of violins, violas, cellos and string

basses. These instruments were invented very early in medieval times

but really matured into their present form during the late 18th

century. The wind instruments, comprised of brass and woodwinds, took

longer to mature. The brass section in particular did not posses the

ability to play chromatically (in all keys) until the advent of valves

which allowed the length of the instrument to be changed while

playing. This occurred around the middle to late 19th century.

Consequently, the brass instruments are less prominent in the music of

Bach, Mozart and Beethoven along with their contemporaries. Late 19th




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