Mercurial Essays

Free Essays & Assignment Examples

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.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

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
and early 20th century composers make use of a very large orchestra
with all the fully developed wind instruments. Some of the master
orchestrator/composers of this time were: Wagner, Rimskey-Korsakov,
Ravel and Stravinsky. Currently, composers also make use of the full
orchestra but with the addition of increasingly larger percussion
sections which add many unique and unheard of sounds than in earlier

Early Jazz music was played in small ensembles making use of
clarinet, tuba, cornet, baritone, drums, and piano. Dixieland groups
of New Orleans had similar instrumentation. During the Swing era,
larger groups were employed to achieve more of an orchestral sound.

The Big Bands of the this era were predominantly wind orchestras
containing alto and tenor sax sections, trumpet and trombone sections,
along with piano and drums. When Bop music arrived, the alto saxophone
and trumpet were the preferred instruments of the major soloists who
were backed up by piano, string bass and drums. With the advent of
Fusion, electric instruments such as the electric guitar and keyboard
synthesizer became prominent.

How has each of these kinds of music been transmitted to later
generations of musicians? Early in the evolution of classical music, a
system of notation was gradually developed which for the most part
remained stable from the Renaissance on. This gave the composer
control over how his compositions were to be played. Throughout the
history of Jazz, however, notation was more like a rough sketch. This
was because the syncopated rhythms of ragtime and the melodic riffs of
the blues were not easily notated. Also, early Jazz musicians were not
formally trained; they usually learned by ear. Some songs were
transcribed and written down, but not in precise ways. Jazz music
became more of a passed on tradition that a musician learned through
interaction with other players. In a similar way, the modern Jazz
musician must rely on previous recordings to get a feel for the
style and technique which he desires to learn from. But in classical
music, one composer can learn from an older composer by looking at and
analyzing the music that the previous composer wrote down. Likewise,
classical musicians can master the parts they must play by practicing
the music that has been written or published beforehand. These two
approaches to passing on tradition are both valid. However, without
the recording medium Jazz music might have developed much differently
than it has.

The cohesive element that keeps a musical group together is also
an interesting contrast. In Classical music, the conductor uses a
baton and plays the orchestra as if it were his instrument; he looks
at a complete score of all the events happening in the composition and
interprets these events based on his knowledge and intuition of what
the composer intended. Jazz groups rarely utilize conductors. The
swing era employed them for the sake of keeping the larger sized group
together but other jazz styles did not and do not to this day. The
drummer of the Jazz ensemble provides the beat that keeps the group
together but even he is interacting with the other soloists as the
song is performed.

Perhaps the most interesting point of comparison between the two
types of music is in improvisation. Improvisation is the ability to
play and compose spontaneously “on the spot” while the music is
playing. This has been an important element of Jazz from it’s
inception. Although improvisation was less prominent during the swing
era, it regained importance with Bop and onward. Early Jazz was
improvised, using ragtime and blues as a loose structure. In the swing
era, popular songs were arranged by an arranger and soloists played
improvisations over the repeating sections in order to lengthen the
song for dancing. With the advent of Bop, improvisation assumed great
importance. The musicians memorized the chord changes to a song, along
with the melody, but then played very loosely and in the end
substituted new chords along with greatly embellishing the original
melody to the point of being unrecognizable. These factors, along with
the ability to interact with each other, became important and remains
so in the Fusion music of today.

In Classical music, modern listeners are mostly unaware of the
fact that many of the great composers of the past were not only
excellent performers but also great improvisers. Starting with J.S.

Bach (1685-1750), the greatest composer of the Baroque era, he in fact
made his living through his great skill as an improvisor. It was
common for the Lutheran Church organist of his day be able to
improvise on choral melodies and Bach was considered one of the
greatest at this. There are written accounts of other composers
improvisational abilities including Mozart (1756-1791), Beethoven
(1770-1829), and Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Yet, as time went on,
improvising gave way to the composer’s desire to exert complete
control over his music. By the late 19th century, improvising was rare
and not used at all in public performances of classical music.

In summation, we can say that Jazz and Classical music represent
two approaches to Art Music. The Classical composer or performer has a
long and rich body of music in written form that he uses to learn from
while the Jazz musician uses a body of recorded music to learn.

Because of it’s small size, the modern Jazz ensemble allows loose
interaction while the symphony orchestra’s large size and diversity of
instruments provides many different sounds and wide dynamic range. In
classical music the composer strives for control; he uses printed
music to guide and direct the musicians through the conductor. In Jazz
music, the songs are loosely composed, thus forming a basis for
individual expression within an ensemble. When you go to hear a
symphony, you hear an orchestra conducted by the conductor playing a
composition. When you go to a Jazz club you hear a small jazz ensemble
interacting and improvising a song. Both of these kinds of music
provide rich expression and detail to the serious listener. They take
different paths to reach their final form but give a person equal
opportunities to appreciate the creative output of each.


I'm Belinda!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out