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Owen Martinez
Owen Martinez

Play Your Own Thing A Story Of Jazz In Europe

  • Jazz was born in New Orleans about 100 years ago (early 20th century), but its roots can be found in the musical traditions of both Africa and Europe. In fact, some people say that jazz is a union of African and European music.From African music, jazz got its:rhythm and "feel"

  • "blues" quality

  • tradition of playing an instrument in your own expressive way, making it an "extension" of your own human voice

  • From European music, jazz got its:harmony -- that is, the chords that accompany the tunes (the chords played on the piano); jazz harmony is similar to classical music's harmony

  • instruments -- most of the instruments used in jazz originated in Europe (saxophone, trumpet, piano, etc.)

  • Musical improvisation came from both traditions.

play your own thing a story of jazz in europe

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The most important jazz originator and first truly great jazz soloist (improviser) was trumpet player Louis Armstrong. Listen to "Dippermouth Blues" on The Instrumental History of Jazz or "Working Man's Blues" by clicking below.

These productions are further aestheticized, in a way, by graphic designer Barbara Wojirsch's famously austere landscape cover art. The packaging has lent itself to what Eicher has called "a certain kind of personality in our work... something that speaks to you in the image, usually things that are enigmatic, or dry, or weird, dark or cold, images that go well with the music."2 For partisans on both sides of the Atlantic, ECM productions can and have been seen variously as distinctly European or Euro-American; anti-modern or ultra-modernist; anti-commercial or the gold standard of slick jazz marketing. For some, the music amounts to aural wallpaper. For others it whispers an invitation to listen more closely.

Of course, the "silence" aesthetic is hardly the exclusive property of Norwegians, or even Northern Europeans. As jazz scholar David Ake has shown in a recent Jazz Perspectives article on the "rural" ideal in American jazz, ECM's American artists Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny were no less important to the development of a similar style of jazz playing in the U.S. (e.g., Jarrett's "Country" fromMy Song or Metheny's "(Cross the) Heartland" from American Garage).3 In his article on cool jazz for theOxford Companion to Jazz, historian Ted Gioia called ECM the "clear heir" to the cool jazz tradition, noting that although the sound would never be confused with that of Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, or Stan Getz, its valueswere essentially the same: "clarity of expression, subtlety of meaning, a willingness to depart from the standard rhythms of hot jazz and learn from other styles of music; a preference for emotion rather than mere emoting; progressive ambitions and a tendency to experiment; above all, a dislike for bombast."4

In what may seem to some like a cop-out, Garbarek makes a play here for a kind of jazz egalitarianism (an emphasis on playing what comes natu- rally) which, considered alongside his influential "nature-evoking" sound, resonates with the strongest values in Norwegian political culture. The famous photo of King Olav the Fifth, taken in an Oslo subway in 1973, at the height of the oil crisis, illustrates what many have cited as the three pillars of Norwegian political identity: Egalitarianism, Moderation, and Closeness to Nature. He is seen traveling with ordinary people and wants to pay for his own ticket (equality). He sports an old, worn-out jacket (moderation) and he is on his way to a nearby skiing area (nearness to nature).

Although virtually all of my younger Norwegian informants understood what I meant when I asked them directly about the role of silence in their playing, few, if any, wanted to be identified exclusively with this jazz sound, suggesting that there are real social issues in Norway for which musical silence does not provide all the answers. As I discovered, many Norwegian jazz musicians still find the "bombastic" American jazz sound quite useful for differentiating themselves, projecting irreverence, or ruffling feathers in the Norwegian context. One such musician is pianist Anders Aarum. In 2004, Aarum secured money from both the Norwegian government and his label, Jazzway Records, to record a silent-themed album at Rainbow Studios in Oslo. According to Aarum, Rainbow's exquisite sound and cavernous environment inspired him and his trio to play "less" and listen "more." The result was the aptly titled album Absence in Mind. In 2007, however, Aarum surprised everyone by earning a Norwegian Grammy nomination for the album F.A.Q., which featured remarkably busy and American jazz-savvy music, including his send up of the standard, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," humorously entitled, "My Hart Belongs to Rodgers."

Coming from a Scandinavian jazz musician whose powerful backers included the Norwegian government, ECM records, Kongshaug, and influential journalist Stuart Nicholson, Gustavsen's emphasis on silence and listening may disguise a distinctively Scandinavian luxury, defending a conception of jazz as the province of a relatively privileged few who needn't have anything at all to "say," individually, in order to be "heard" together. Most of the African American artists with whom I spoke were painfully aware that such groups now provide popular alternatives to their own challenging historical dialogism, rhythmic subterfuges, timbral contrasts, and soulful complexities. They sense that fewer and fewer in Europe have the ears to listen for these things.

Jazz has always been a fertile ground for filmmakers, but the last few years in particular have seen a flurry of jazz documentaries being made. Whilst some of these films profile individual musicians, others opt for a broader angle, focusing on a record label, or a particular social issue across jazz history.

Some have had interesting or important things to say; others have played jazz despite incredible challenges; others have had their lives cut tragically short. These are just some of the reasons that jazz has inspired has inspired so many great documentary films over the years.

Baker was enjoying living Europe and actually having something of a musical renaissance around this time, recording some of his most impressive trumpet playing, but he would sadly die in mysterious circumstances only a few months later.

The film gives a hugely detailed chronological overview of jazz history but, as is probably to be expected given the breadth and complexity of the subject matter, it did receive criticism for what some felt were unfair omissions and biases.

Featuring clever editing, and narration from Marian McPartland and Roz Cron, both of whom played jazz as far back as the swing era, the film focuses on musicians who, in the face of exclusion from all-male outfits, formed female bands like The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, which was on the receiving end of extra prejudice as a racially integrated ensemble.

This stylish film tells the story of the legendary record label, and how two Jewish German immigrants, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, built an institution that produced some the best jazz albums of all time.

Researchers and historians are still learning about jazz history; there are many and various opinions about what is important in the history of jazz. What follows is an overview of jazz history that provides a foundation for this study.

A review of New Orleans' unique history and culture, with its distinctive character rooted in the colonial period, is helpful in understanding the complex circumstances that led to the development of New Orleans jazz. The city was founded in 1718 as part of the French Louisiana colony. The Louisiana territories were ceded to Spain in 1763 but were returned to France in 1803. France almost immediately sold the colony to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

New Orleans' unusual history, its unique outlook on life, its rich ethnic and cultural makeup, and the resulting cultural interaction set the stage for development and evolution of many distinctive traditions. The city is famous for its festivals, foods, and, especially, its music. Each ethnic group in New Orleans contributed to the very active musical environment in the city, and in this way to the development of early jazz.

But earthier vernacular dance styles were also increasing in popularity in New Orleans. Over the last decade of the 19th century, non reading musicians playing more improvised music drew larger audiences for dances and parades. For example, between 1895 and 1900 uptown cornet player Charles "Buddy" Bolden began incorporating improvised blues and increasing the tempo of familiar dance tunes. Bolden was credited by many early jazzmen as the first musician to have a distinctive new style. The increasing popularity of this more "ratty" music brought many trained and untrained musicians into the improvising bands. Also, repressive segregation laws passed in the 1890s (as a backlash to Reconstruction) increased discrimination toward anyone with African blood and eliminated the special status previously afforded Creoles of color. These changes ultimately united black and Creole of color musicians, thus strengthening early jazz by combing the uptown improvisational style with the more disciplined Creole approach.

The instrumentation and section playing of the brass bands increasingly influenced the dance bands, which changed in orientation from string to brass instruments. What ultimately became the standard front line of a New Orleans jazz band was cornet, clarinet, and trombone. These horns collectively improvising or "faking" ragtime yielded the characteristic polyphonic sound of New Orleans jazz.

Most New Orleans events were accompanied by music, and there were many opportunities for musicians to work. In addition to parades and dances, bands played at picnics, fish fries, political rallies, store openings, lawn parties, athletic events, church festivals, weddings, and funerals. Neighborhood social halls, some operated by mutual aid and benevolent societies or other civic organizations, were frequently the sites of banquets and dances. Early jazz was found in neighborhoods all over and around New Orleans - it was a normal part of community life.


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