Month: August 2013

The History of Jazz

Native to the United States, Jazz made a roaring boom in the beginning of the 20th century. Though the music may have developed in the U.S., Musicologists have found certain characteristics of Jazz that have their roots in much earlier forms of music. When over-packed slave ships arrived on American shores, the African people undoubtedly brought their music with them. It is important to note that through the years 1620-1865, 597,000 slaves were imported to the American colonies.  The captives sang songs of their birthright, as they tirelessly worked on American soil. Eventually, a new genre of music was developed called “Spirituals.” Most of these songs have religious texts, and were sung while working, during prayer meetings, and in black churches which helped them cope with slavery. Though many slaves were forced into Christianity by their masters, they learned church Hymns and naturally combined various forms of traditional African music with biblical texts. Though the words were biblical, the meanings were entirely personal. In Africa, music was infused into every aspect of life, but in the Americas, the slaves weren’t allowed to use instruments. In fact, they were taken away from them on the ships. As a result, they were forced to improvise with different forms of hand-clapping and singing, which could never be taken away. Melodic traditions of the African diaspora are most alive in Blues and Jazz, including call and response (antiphony), syncopation, and improvisation techniques. It was the African-American work songs that gradually evolved into the Blues, Gospel, Jazz, and virtually every other American genre created during the 20th century, including Rock N’ Roll and Hip-Hop!

This drawing of African slaves stacked in a ship’s hold appeared in Thomas Clarkson’s 1808 book The History of the Rise, Progress, & Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-trade by the British Parliament.

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Archival Image of the slave trade depicting East African slaves taken aboard the HMS Daphne 

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If you are interested in learning more about the music of African-American Spirituals, below is a great 17 minute PBS special on the first Slave Songbook of Spirituals of the United States.

As quoted from Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867, (which was two years after the end of the Civil War),

“The musical capacity of the negro race has been recognized for so many years that it is hard to explain why no systematic effort has hiterto been made to collect and preserve their melodies. More than thirty years ago, those plantation songs made their appearance which were so extraordinarily popular for a while; and if “Coal-Black Rose,” “Zip Coon,” and “Ole Virginny nebber tire” have been succeeded by spurious imitations manufactured to suit the somewhat sentimental taste of our community, the fact that these were called “negro melodies” was itself a tribute to the musical genius of the race.”

The book is a collection of 136 songs with familiar music and lyrics, like “Roll Jordan Roll”, or “Michael Roll the Boat A’shore.”

During this video, make sure to check out the early John Lomax recording of “Roll Jordan Roll” at 11:05

John Avery Lomax, born in 1867, was an American Teacher, Folklorist and pioneering Musicologist who did much to preserve American folk songs. Here is one of his early recordings titled “Rock Island Line” sung by inmates at the Arkansas State Prison in 1934.

Three years later, “Rock Island Line” became world-famous by Leadbelly & The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet in 1937.

Here is a more recent video of the South African jazz group, “Mantonoro”. Take note of the methods of call and response (Antiphony) and syncopation. 

Though Jazz is known to have developed in the early 20th century, it most likely came into existence even earlier in the southern United States. Technically, Jazz is a combination of the adoption by African-Americans of European harmony and form, and combining those elements with African based music. This is evident by the use of blue notes, or “worried notes” sung at a slightly lower pitch (often times these notes are semitones or less.) These tones are a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale for expressive purposes, improvisation, syncopation, polyrhythms, and swung note/time.

1900’s: Eventually after slavery was abolished, and Africans became Americans, Jazz as we know it was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. This location was known as a ‘melting pot of sound’, and had a great tradition of celebration. “Opera, military marching bands, folk music, the blues, different types of church music, ragtime, echoes of traditional African drumming, and all of the dance styles that went with this music could be heard and seen throughout the city. When all of these kinds of music blended into one, jazz was born.” —Wynton Marsalis (American Trumpeter, composer, teacher, music educator, and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.)

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1901: Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, and became known as one of the most influential artists in the history of music. He began playing the cornet at age 13, and perfected the improvised Jazz solo as we know it. Louis Armstrong was in charge of playing during musical breaks, which expanded into musicians playing individual solos. Affectionately known as “Pops” and “Satchmo,” Louis was loved and admired throughout the world. He died in New York City in 1971.

Previously, a style called “Dixieland” (sometimes referred to as “Hot jazz” or “Early Jazz” was made popular by bands that spread from New Orleans to New York City in 1910. Chicago-Style Jazz was a transition and combination from 2-beat to 4-beat, introducing swing in a very early form. Everyone in the band soloed at the same time, which is when Armstrong modified the improvised Jazz solo.

The Lindy Hop also developed during this time, which was American dance first seen in Harlem, New York City, in the 1920’s and 30’s. The dance itself was based on Jazz, Tap, Breakaway, and Charleston, and was frequently described as both a member of the Jazz and swing dance family.

I absolutely love this Lindy Hop instructional video from 1944.

1930’s:  Swing first appeared during the Great Depression, and is noted as the basic rhythm of jazz. At the time, these swing vibes were both sought after, and uplifting, as they helped the people of America get through the 30’s. The Depression meant that millions of people all over American would now be playing and performing music for free. For centuries, a strong division between blacks and white’s permeated throughout American society. Jazz symbolized a certain kind of American freedom, and lifted the spirits of a frightened country. As a result, it broke down the barriers that had separated Americans from each other for centuries.

Here’s a picture of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five in Chicago in the late 1920’s

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Around 1935, a period developed called the “swing” era, and was well-known for its national dance; ‘swing dance.’ Big bands commonly played this style of music, and Orchestra leaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, and Benny Goodman led some of the greatest bands of the era.

In shuffle rhythm, the first note in the pair is exactly twice the duration of the second note, and in jazz, the verb “to swing” is also used as a term of praise for playing with strong rhythmic groove or drive.  Swing is commonly used in Jazz and blues, and came about in the 1930s-1940s. Triplets are also very common in Jazz, and blues music, which may have mimicked the rhythm of a beating heart during ceremonial dance practices in ancient times. The basic shuffle rhythm is created by leaving out, or resting the middle note of each three-note triplet group. This makes it easy for composers or improvising soloists to include triplets in the melody without clashing any rhythm patterns.

Duke Ellington is praised as  being the greatest composer in American history, and he rightfully deserves this title. Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington D.C., and began studying piano at the ripe age of 7. He grew up to be  a well-known composer, pianist, and jazz- orchestrator/leader, and his career spanned over a whopping 50 years. Duke Ellington led his orchestra in 1923 until his death in 1974, and was the first person to refer to his music as “Jazz,” rather than the mere genre, “American Music.” He gained a national profile through his some 1,000 compositions and collaborations, and his music lives on today through what Billy Strayhorn (Jazz composer/pianist/arranger who collaborated with Ellington for nearly three decades), called the “Ellington Effect,” which meant achieving the right sound for the band, rather than standing out as a distinct entity.

1940’s: was strictly known for the development of Bebop. “If you really understand the meaning of bebop, you understand the meaning of freedom.” —Thelonious Monk, pianist and composer. Looking for new directions to explore, a new style of jazz was born. This new style had fast tempos, complex harmonies, and intricate melodies, and became known as “jazz for intellectuals.” Big bands fizzled away, and smaller jazz groups shifted to playing music for listening audiences, rather than dancing audiences.

Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917 in South Carolina. He received his first music lesson from his father, and took off as a natural from there. He moved to New York in 1937, and met Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker. Together, they established the Bebop sound, and Dizzy became known as one the greatest trumpet players of all time. He was very well-known for introducing Latin American rhythms into Jazz, and had a playing style that was unbelievably precise, and fast-paced.

1950’s: was the era of Latin and Afro-Cuban Jazz, and “celebrates collective musical history. Through its percussive beat, it unites ragtime, blues, swing, and the various grooves of Cuban Music. It proclaims our shared musical heritage.”- Wynton Marsalis

In the 50’s, there was a strong combination of African, Spanish and native cultures in Latin America that created a special body of music and dance. Musicians from this era like Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, blended their music styles with this Latin sound to create an unstoppable musical force. In the 40’s and 50’s, Cuban musicians began playing with Jazz musicians in New York, which further enhanced the cultural circle. CuBop, was developed by Dizzy Gillespie, (who became the godfather of modern Jazz in the U.S.), and collaborated his ideas with with Cuban musician, Chano Pozo. Together, they pushed the limits in order to make Afro-Cuban Jazz a mainstream. CuBop fused the African-based rhythms with the post modernist Bebop.

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Here is a popular hit by Gillespie of the time called “Manteca” recorded in 1947. You can clearly hear the fusion of Cuban and African styles working in sync with earlier Jazz techniques in this piece.

 

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Rudy Van Gelder: The Greatest Recording Engineer in Jazz History

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Rudy Van Gelder has obtained the title as “The Greatest Recording Engineer in Jazz History.” Born back in November 1924, Gelder is residing in the Englewood Cliffs, where he still produces some of the most dynamic Jazz music in American music history. Since 1999, he has been re-mastering the analog Blue Note recordings he produced some decades ago. Rudy was thrilled when he discovered that he had the opportunity to re-master his old tapes. This is an example of a man who truly has a passion for his line of work. The re-masters gave Rudy the chance to present his version of how those early recordings could sound with today’s technology.

With his formal training in Optology, Rudy developed a deep seeded interest in engineering when he and his friends visited a radio station (WCAU) in downtown Philadelphia. After touring the stations’ control room, Rudy decided this was the line of work that he wanted to specialize in. Out of his parents living room, he began by recording sessions of his friends who were trumpet, piano, and clarinet players. People in his neighborhood began calling to book sessions, and the rest is history. Under stunning circumstances, Gelder had met Alfred Lion, a Jewish German-born American record executive who had co-created Blue Note Records in 1939. Alfred had heard one of Rudy’s recording sessions, and had liked it so much that he decided to put it out on a 10 inch LP. When it came time to release another record, Alfred knew that he had to contact Rudy to help him create the same sound that he heard before. From that point on, “[Rudy] was responsible for just about every session off the Blue Note label from 1953 to 1967, (among thousands of others), encompassing some of jazz’s most groundbreaking and enduring classics” (http://www.allmusic.com/artist/rudy-van-gelder-mn0000305301/biography).

Blue Note Records was known as the “Hard Bop” jazz label because it maintained Soul and Bop Jazz artists. In 1966, Blue Note was sold to Liberty Records, and then in 1968, Liberty Records was sold to Transamerica who also owned United Artists with its own music division. The name “Blue Note and Liberty” were later reissued, but merely for marketing strategies, which many people feel drove it down as second-rate. If that weren’t bad enough, Transamerica had no Rudy Van Gelder, which is most likely why the label was never as successful from that point forward. (http://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/record-labels-guide/labelography-2/blue-note-records-history/).

Van Gelder (Left) with Alfred Lion (Right).

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Rudy Van Gelder was working double-time as an Optometrist by day, and a Recording Engineer by night. Shortly after his run in with Alfred Lion, Bob Weinstock of Prestige Records came into Rudy’s office inquiring about recording for his label. In good spirits, Van Gelder accepted the offer, and began recording for two separate labels. Throughout his career, Rudy Van Gelder worked with outstanding producers, such as Bob Weinstock of Prestige Records (established in 1949) and Creed Taylor of CTI Records (founded in 1968). Van Gelder recorded countless gifted musicians like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Hubert Laws, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith, George Benson, Thad Jones, Chick Corea, Hank Mobley, Freddie Hubbard, etc. The list truly goes on and on.

Here’s a picture of Van Gelder with Wes Montgomery; Jazz Guitarist. 

Once the tapes were recorded after a session, Rudy would take the tapes, and transfer them to a “Scully” (which was a machine that  was used to make the masters for all the LPS of the era.) He would take a blank Lacquer disc, put it on the lathe, and attach the suction device in the center of the disc. Beneath the disc, there were holes on the precision table that would create a vacuum suction-like system. The Scully’s cutter would rest over the edge of the disc, and the rest of the machine could be activated. The sound was transferred to the cutter head, which would in turn move the cutting stylus. Technically, this process explains how the sound was engraved into the surface of the lacquer disc (12 inch LP). This master was then sent to a plant that made pressings that could then be mass produced.

The Original Mastering Scully 

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After listening to quite a few works by Van Gelder, I decided to look deeper into a piece of music by The Hank Mobley Quartet called Hello, Young Lovers. The track stars Hank Mobley on Tenor Sax, Wynton Kelly on Piano, Paul Chambers on Bass, and Philly Joe Jones on Drums. Hello, Young Lovers was recorded in 1961 with quite magnificent intelligibility.  I thoroughly appreciate that Van Gelder’s music is (and had to be) recorded in one take, meaning everything was recorded live. This recording tactic proves the talent of the musician, unlike today, where everything can be recorded in small bits and pieces until it sounds just “right.” With today’s recording techniques, a piece of musicianship lost. That is why music like Miles Davis, or Hank Mobley’s Quartet is something quite special.

Something I noticed right off the bat was that no instruments are fighting with one-another. I was quite clearly aware of this after listening through this album; Another Workout. One never struggles to hear the individual instruments. There are no frequency-sharing issues that occur anywhere within the mix. This gives an effortless chromatic vibe, and creates a sense of easy listening for the audience. Additionally, there are no “unbelievable” sounding effects on the individual instrument tracks. In a sense, today’s plug-ins enhance, and at times, falsify a musicians performance. At the beginning of Hello, Young Lovers, the piano wisps gently along with the kick and snare to introduce the main voice; the tenor saxophone. The kick itself is under-powered, which serves this piece quite well. If it were louder in the mix, it may frequency-fight with the bass, or perhaps, muddy up the saxophone. The timbre of the sax is incredibly warm and smooth, and its placed heavier towards the Left speaker. The piano and drums tie for the second loudest element, and the bass (front and center) is much quieter. The individual drum components have nice stereo spread and width between both speakers, while the piano leans more towards the right. When the piano hits the stage for its spotlit solo, it peaks above the drums and swing dances next to the bass, rhythmically driving the music forward. In this mix, the bass’s midrange glimmers, and each string is plucked with a natural attack.

I look at the entire piece of music almost like the perfect game of Jenga; a game physical and mental skill.  The objective is to remove a block from a tower and place it on the top (which becomes more and more unstable the more blocks you add). Rudy Van Gelder’s mix in this piece is effortless: each discrete instrument is stacked upon one-another with blooming sturdiness.  If any element were to be louder or quieter, perhaps the amazing-mix-tower would fall to the ground. Or, the mix would not be as highly regarded in the world of Music Production and construction. Rudy Van Gelder is a self-taught engineer who brought the art of jazz recording to a whole new level of respect and clarity. To this day, none have been able to challenge his signature technique. It will be interesting to see if and when the next prodigy arises!

Here’s another brilliant track by Hank Mobley, called Me ‘N You. This piece (and album called “No Room for Squares” was released in 1963.) The track stars Mobley on the Tenor Sax, Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd on the Trumpet, Andrew Hill and Herbie Hancock on the Piano, John Ore and Butch Warren on the Bass, and Philly Joe Jones on the Piano. Go ahead and enjoy the album here!