Breakthroughs in American Jazz
The backdrop was New Orleans in the late 19th century, a growing port city with a diverse population of African Americans, whites, displaced French settlers, and immigrants from the West Indies and South America. This hodgepodge of cultures mixed European influenced popular music, such as ragtime, with tradition African music creating the hybrid musical style known as jazz. Jazz, bold and beautiful, in its purest sense demands high instrumentation mastery, creativity, and improvisation combined with low rehearsal and repetition. Unlike opera or symphony music, jazz dates back a little more than a century ago and finds all of its major developments occurring in the United States.
Jazz is constantly changing and evolving. From the beginning to now there are six distinct styles mimicking American life for the past century. What started out as ragtime turned into early jazz with musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory and King Oliver. Politically and economically the Great Depression changed everything including the sound and style of jazz music. Quartets became less popular because people wanted music with more of a punch, this was the movement of swing and the big band. In the early 1940’s two different jazz styles were developing bebop and cool/west coast jazz. Musicians not satisfied with the rules regarding big band music, limited opportunities for improvisation and musical experimentation, began to break those rules regarding how music in the jazz style should be created and how it should sound. The last two steps in jazz’s evolution is Hard Bop and Avant-Garde/Free Jazz. Hard Bop is a hard driving descendant of bop and Avant-Garde Jazz is boundarieless jazz that frequently uses honks and squeaks in the music encompassing all ranges and sounds from the instruments. Ornette Coleman’s 1960 album Free Jazz in 37 minutes of complete collective impersonation.
A Tribute to Charlie Parker Birdmen ; Birdsongs was a jazz festival recorded in January 1990 at the Palais des Festivals located in Cannes France. The highlighted jazz bands were the Phil Woods Quartet and the John Hendricks Group. One song in particular performed by the John Hendricks Group called Parker’s Mood was one of the best representations of the bebop style with improvisations of wide melodic range on different instruments including piano, drums and bass. Also Parker’s Mood showcased one of the best displays of scat singing by John Hendricks and his daughter Michelle Hendricks. It was a very good concert that encompassed all of the positive aspects of YardBird’s career.
Charlie Yardbird Parker is a very important member of the jazz community for he uncovered new horizons with his speed, creativity, and skill in the instrument of the alto sax. By the age of 15 he quit school to fully immerse himself in his sax. In Parker’s 20’s he made the key discovery to the bebop sound. Parker found that using higher intervals in cords greatly increased the music’s melodic range, improvisations, and originality. Sadly, like many jazz musicians Parker had a substance abuse problem and this marriage to heroine eventually killed him. He lost his cabaret license due to his drug problem and died on March 12, 1955. Parker had reinvented jazz and gave back to the its community musical ideas that are considered gospel by many of his contemporaries.
Jazz, the only true American music, is difficult to master and wonderful to hear. So what is jazz? Jazz is a lone musician’s constant improvisation over an original melody creating brand new melodies where there were none before accompanied by a trio, or greater, of instruments connected in rhythm and harmony. Jazz, like most American pastimes, has a worldly following not because it is authentic American but because it is authentically origin.