Posts Tagged ‘jazz’

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The Life and Legacy of Glenn Miller

September 14, 2011
This photo from a US Government website (http:...

Image via Wikipedia

By Devin Grant

There are some incredible jazz musicians alive today who astound us with their sound, their originality and their skill. Artists like Wynton Marsalis and Sonny Rollins blow us away, but we should be careful not to forget the people who came before, who laid the groundwork to help jazz develop to what it is today, and who are legends in their own right. One such jazz legend is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, band leader to ever live, Glenn Miller.

Early Life

Son of Lewis and Mattie Lou Miller, Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1st, 1904. Moving from Clarinda to North Platte, Nebraska, and then on to Missouri and Fort Morgan, Colorado, Miller’s musical start came in North Platte around 1914 when his father bought him a mandolin, which – as any good brass player would – he promptly traded for an old horn. In 1916 in Missouri Miller switched – as any good brass player would – to the trombone, and by the time he was going to Fort Morgan High School in Colorado he was practicing almost non-stop, to the point where due to the difficulty of making it in the music business his mother once said “It got to where Pop and I used to wonder if he’d ever amount to anything.” For a time her fears seemed justified; after enrolling at the University of Colorado, but spending more time on the road auditioning and playing gigs, Miller dropped out after failing three out of five courses one semester, deciding instead to focus entirely on his music.

Beginning of a Career

After touring with several orchestras, Miller ended up in Los Angeles, in the band of Ben Pollack (playing alongside future fellow band leader Benny Goodman). It was with this group that Miller began distinguishing himself as a composer and arranger, arranging songs for Pollack and co-writing his first original composition, “Room 1411”, with Benny Goodman. After Ben Pollack’s band moved to New York Miller married his high school sweetheart Helen Burger, and in 1934 Miller joined the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, playing with the group for a year. In 1935 Ray Noble approached Miller to assemble a band for him, resulting in the Ray Noble orchestra containing such members as trumpeter Charlie Spivak and saxophonist Bud Freeman.

Building His Own Name

In 1937 Miller decided to break out on his own, and formed his own band. Despite a couple of recordings for Decca and Brunswick, Miller’s band mainly only played a few one night stands and was unable to distinguish themselves among the multitude of big bands at the time. After parting ways at the end of 1937, Miller realized he needed to give his band an original sound, and used a technique he had first developed for the Ray Noble Orchestra of having a clarinet holding the melodic line while the tenor sax plays the same note, supported by the harmonizing of the other three saxophones. This sound, particularly thanks to lead clarinet Wilbur Schwartz, was something completely original that no other band seemed to be able to copy, and in March of 1938 the Glenn Miller Orchestra was born.

The Golden Years

The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s big break came in 1939 with an engagement at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York, where they set an attendance record with an opening night crowd of 1800 listeners. This became a bit of a trend for Miller, attracting the largest dancing crowd in Syracuse history at the New York State Fair, and topping Guy Lombardo’s all time record at the Hershey Park Ballroom in Pennsylvania, capped off by a performance at Carnegie Hall with other greats Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and, you guessed it, Benny Goodman.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra had found mainstream success, and it showed in the charts. Miller had 17 Top 10 hits in 1939, followed by another 31 in 1940, and 11 in each of 1941 and 1942. These hits included such jazz standards as “In The Mood” (the original theme of which was written by Miller himself), “Moonlight Serenade” (written by Miller) and a number of well-known Miller arrangements such as “A String of Pearls”, “Little Brown Jugs”, and “Tuxedo Junction”. This success culminated in two film deals for the band, 1941’s Sun Valley Serenade (which introduced the hit song “Chattanooga Choo Choo”) and 1942’s Orchestra Wives (featuring “(I Got A Gal In) Kalamazoo” and using “At Last” as a motif throughout the movie).

A Call To Arms

With the introduction of the United States to the war in 1942, Miller decided to serve his country in the way he knew best, and convinced military higher-ups to allow him to enlist, eventually taking control of the Army Air Force Band. Miller modernised the group, constructing a 50 piece jazz group with marching band influences, and obtained permission to tour the group around England entertaining the troops. In the span of a little under a year, Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band made over 800 performances, including 500 broadcasts heard by millions and over 300 personal performances including concerts and dances. Sadly Miller was absent for the last six months of these activities.

Tragic Death

Just before Christmas of 1944, the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band was scheduled to do a six week tour of Europe, operating out of Paris, France at that time. As such, on December 15th, 1944, Miller boarded a flight for Paris to set up the accommodations for his band. This was the last time that Miller was seen alive, and his official status is missing, presumed dead on December 15th, 1944. While it is possible that weather caused the crash, reports suggest that it is possible Miller’s plane was accidentally struck by bombs jettisoned by British aircraft over the English Channel, after returning from an aborted mission. Whatever the cause, that day the world lost one of the greatest musical minds of its time.

Legacy

The impact that Glenn Miller has had on jazz, and music in general, is undeniable. He was awarded the first ever gold record for his recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and was a charter inductee into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. Three of his recordings have made their way into the Grammys Hall of Fame: “In The Mood” in 1983, “Moonlight Serenade” in 1991, and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1996. Miller was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Miller’s writing and arranging had a very distinct style, which was different from that of the time. Taking some importance away from featuring a solo artist, which many groups would do, Miller focused more on having a precise, tight sound from his entire band, believing that melodies and a perfect background were more important. Many critics criticized Miller for this at the time, claiming that he was straying from real jazz, but in retrospect Miller is widely regarded as one of the best band leaders of all time, creating an incredible sound and showing just how much a band can come together and play as a single entity, a wish that any jazz band player will recognize coming from their conductor. Miller’s iconic tunes are seen as excellent indicators of the music of the time; his songs “In The Mood” and “Moonlight Serenade” are jazz classics, and his recording of “Jukebox Saturday Night” even references notable names of that era, with friendly parodies of Harry James (at that time the trumpet player for the Benny Goodman Big Band and a future band leader himself) and the Ink Spots (an excellent male vocal group of the time – I highly suggest you give them a listen if you’ve never heard them before). The jazz world has a lot to thank Glenn Miller for, not the least of which is the incredible music that we continue to listen to, and will for years to come.

Related Links:

http://www.glennmiller.com/index.php – Official Site of Glenn Miller

http://www.glennmillerorchestra.com/ – Official Site of the Glenn Miller Orchestra

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Jazz in the Education Field

September 7, 2011
Eckstein Middle School Jazz Band performing at...

Image via Wikipedia

By Alex Abbott

In today’s school systems music has become an integral part of the curriculum and a large part of school life itself.  Opportunities for students to get a good education in music are endless thanks to the help of well-developed music programs in our schools that provide plenty of instruments for students to learn on.  Not to mention that Newfoundland in general is home to some very highly skilled and experienced teachers.  Thanks to this system of resources, a child in Newfoundland can very easily get an education of applied study, music history, music theory, and many other aspects of music.  However, this marvellous education is centered almost entirely around classical, pop, or concert band music.  Other genres, like jazz, it seems have been put on the backburner or deemed unimportant in the process of getting a good musical education.  To me, this is very strange indeed.

Although classical and big band music are excellent for teaching technique, and pop music can certainly help stimulate a child`s interest in music, jazz also has many things to offer the young budding musician.  Jazz is a genre very different from any other taught in school systems as it challenges musicians in many areas and provides unique opportunities in performance.  Jazz music, no matter what style, offers a player with complex rhythms, the opportunity to learn how to work together with other musicians, and most of all the opportunity to improvise.   These are skills that often go completely undeveloped in many musicians because they have never had to deal with situations like these before, however these skills are absolutely essential for someone who wishes pursue music as a career or just as a pastime.

Complex rhythms for example are impossible to avoid once you reach a certain level of music, and often when people reach this level they face a very steep learning curve.  However if students were taught jazz from an early age, the learning curve would be almost non-existent as these skills would have been developed over many years of practise.  Not to mention that simple rhythms then would become second nature, allowing the performer to focus more on technique and musicianship.  An education of jazz rhythms, not only in ensembles but in the music curriculum in schools would also make the lives of music teachers much easier as they would not need to spend countless hours of ensemble rehearsals going over simple rhythms.  The level of performance throughout a teacher’s ensembles would be very likely to increase.

Another daunting task that musicians have to face as they progress is the ability to play with an ensemble.  No matter how talented you are and no matter how much you wish to be a solo performer, being able to work with other musicians is a skill that every musician needs to develop.  Whether you are playing in a high school band or being accompanied by a single collaborative pianist, it is essential to know how to perform with another musician.  In my opinion, jazz teaches this skill better than any other genre because of the intricate part writing which is so common in jazz music.  If every single person in a jazz ensemble is not in sync with their counterparts, the piece runs the risk of being a complete train wreck.  This forces students to learn to work together with their fellow musicians to pull off a good performance.  These skills translate very well over into everyday life as well, as the ability to trust and work together with fellow students, co-workers, etc. is essential in real life.

Finally, we come to one of the most crucial components of jazz: improvisation.  While a musician probably could get by their entire life without knowing how to improvise, it is still an incredibly valuable skill to have.  Not only does it teach musicians an understanding of key and chords, and help them think on their feet, but it is simply a lot of fun!  It is a great skill for any musician to have even if they do not plan on pursuing jazz.  Improvisation can be, and is, used in any number of mainstream styles.  It is a great tool for members of any band to have, and it can lead to some great song writing as well.

Jazz is a wonderfully unique genre of music with so many skills and opportunities to offer a young budding musician, but sadly it seems that schools and post-secondary institutions alike in Newfoundland do not see the value in this style of music.  While a lot of schools in Newfoundland do now offer jazz bands as well as a limited amount of jazz in other school ensembles, in my opinion it is still not given the recognition as a teaching tool that it deserves.  It has been my experience that some high schools for example will offer a jazz band, but will not allow students to obtain a credit for it as a course; students will only receive credit if they participate in the concert band.  This absolutely should not be the case.  Speaking personally as a saxophone player who has played in multiple concert and jazz bands, I found that my skills improved far more while playing in my high school jazz band than they did throughout many years of playing in concert bands.  A similar trend is seen even throughout post-secondary institutions.  Even though Newfoundland is home to many great jazz musicians and ensembles, it remains impossible for a musician to get a degree specializing in jazz music.  This to me is astounding, considering that our neighbours in NS have one of the best jazz programs in the country at St. Francis Xavier University.

Music is certainly ripe throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in all forms: classical, pop, rock, folk, jazz, etc. and it is certainly not hard to get an education in music in this province.  However, the merit of jazz music is still being overlooked time and time again.  Jazz is an extremely beneficial genre for musicians of any age to take up.  With the opportunity to learn so many great techniques and skills that can transfer over into real life, it would make sense for any musician no matter how old or experienced to take up jazz.  “What if you don’t have an interest in jazz?” you may ask.  Not to worry, jazz is a constantly expanding genre of music.  With so many sub-styles and branches off of jazz, there is sure to be something for everyone.

For more information on the St. FX Jazz program visit http://www.stfx.ca/faculties/arts/music/ and for more information on ensemble performance in schools visit http://mpsh.ca/curriculum/course-descriptors/Ensemble%20Performance%20MAY%2006.pdf

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Guitar Lessons with Brad Jefford. Jazz Lessons Begin September 7th

September 1, 2011

Jazz Lessons begin Sept. 7th
Registration now.

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Brad Jefford Trio+ Early Jazz show @ The Rose and Thistle This Friday September 2nd

September 1, 2011

Brad Jefford Trio+
Early Jazz show @ The Rose and Thistle
This Friday September 2nd
8:00PM start
$7 Cover for 2 sets

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Jazz Styles Family Tree (Post-World War II) Part 2

August 30, 2011
American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman

American jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman Image via Wikipedia

In part one we featured Vocalese, Cool Jazz /West Coast Jazz, Hard Bop and Bossa Nova. In Part two we continue our journey through the post World War Two jazz family tree. (To read part one click here)

Some artists, most often but not always those following in the Bebop-Hard Bop progression, wished to continue the train of freedom of improvisation that these genres had started. It is due to this wish that Modal Jazz and Free Jazz were born. Modal Jazz moves past the Western tradition of major and minor scales, opening their music, and particularly their improvisation, to entirely new sounds. The followers of Free Jazz, led by Ornette Coleman, took this progression even further, creating songs not necessarily based on any preset melody or even chord progression. This allowed artists a complete range of originality to work with, enabling complete spontaneity in the music. This could often be seen in the form of group improvisation, where an entire group (generally smaller combos) would improvise together to create something completely original. John Coltrane is perhaps the most famous Free Jazz player, also contributing to the development of Modal Jazz.

Splitting from Hard Bop in the opposite direction, Soul Jazz was perhaps the most popular style of the 1960’s. Relying on simpler, bluesy melodies and dance-like rhythms it distanced itself from the more complex improvisational techniques being developed in Free Jazz. It was greatly influenced by rhythm and blues, as well as gospel elements, and was often driven by – and is the reason for the popularity of – the Hammond organ, seen in the playing of Les McCann as well as many others. Tenor saxophone and guitar were often featured as well, a prime example being the saxophone stylings of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.

The 1970’s were a difficult period for jazz. Due to the growing popularity of the television, and the access that provided to the popular music of the time, Rock & Roll was quickly overshadowing the jazz scene, with the help of Disco later on. As such, many jazz artists, particularly those from the progression of Hard Bop, transferred their skills to the Fusion school of jazz, which combined jazz improvisation with the new, high energy rhythms of Rock & Roll. Fusion is interesting in that not much of its influence is seen in today’s jazz; it has actually influenced rock to a much greater degree.

Moving into the 1980’s, the biggest addition to the scene was that of Afro-Cuban or Afro-Latin jazz. A blend of jazz improvisation and infectious rhythms from South and Central America, this genre is related to the earlier Bossa Nova but with much more influence from the traditional Bebop, as seen in the Afro-Cuban recordings by Dizzy Gillespie. This style was pioneered by trumpeter Mario Bauza and percussionist Chano Pozo, and can be seen in the works of artists like Arturo Sandoval.

The final addition to an already diverse repertoire of jazz genres came in the 1990’s, by the way of Smooth Jazz. Growing out of Fusion, and adopting the mindset of their Cool Jazz forerunners, Smooth Jazz leaves behind the energetic solos and wild dynamics of Fusion, focusing more on its polished, slick sound. This results in a very unobtrusive style, including the abandoning of improvisation, leading some jazz “purists”, often fans of the Bebop and Free Jazz schools, to question whether Smooth Jazz can truly be counted as a subgenre of jazz. Aside from Smooth Jazz however, the 90’s saw a resurgence of older jazz styles, often referred to as the Hard Bop Revival, Retro Swing, and Neoclassicism (For the resurgence of Bebop, Swing, and New Orleans Jazz, respectively). This occurrence, along with the continuation of Free Jazz and Afro-Cuban, accounts for the variety of jazz seen today, resulting in a rich jazz culture that can be seen all around the world.

View our previous articles on the Jazz family tree;

Jazz Styles Family Tree (Pre World War II)

Jazz Styles Family Tree (Post-World War II) Part 1

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Celebrate Hump Day with Brad Jefford Trio+

August 24, 2011

Brad Jefford Trio+
Early Evening Jazz Show
Standards and Originals
Rose and Thistle
8:00PM
2 sets
$7

Brad Jefford – Guitar
Josh Ward – Bass
Andrew McCarthy – Drums
Greg Bruce – Saxophone

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Jazz Styles Family Tree (Post-World War II) Part 1

August 2, 2011

By Devin Grant

Dave Brubeck in 1954.

Dave Brubeck was a key figure in post war jazz music. Image via Wikipedia

At the end of our article Jazz Styles Family Tree (Pre-World War II), we left off in the history of jazz with the Gypsy Jazz (or Jazz Manouche) of Django Reinhardt and the Swing music of such greats as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. However with many band leaders and members serving in World War II (and some, such as Glenn Miller, losing their lives in the war effort), this period saw the breakup of the “Big Bands”, leaving the field open for smaller groups and a new style of jazz, called Bebop. Led by such jazz legends as Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie, this style moved away from the melody-based improvisation seen in most big bands and toward chordal improvisation, the style most readily seen today. In Bebop an artist would be free to explore whatever improvised melody they saw fit, as long as it fit within the chord structure of the piece.

This era also saw the birth of Vocalese, a rather unique style of jazz in which pre-existing melodies, and even solos, would be given lyrics and then sung by artists in the style of the previous instruments. Considered by many to have been invented by Eddie Jefferson, Vocalese did not see much success until more recently, with more well-known artists such as Jon Hendricks and The Manhattan Transfer (who won a Grammy for Best Jazz Fusion Performance for their Vocalese performance of Birdland).

Descending directly from Bebop in the 1950’s was Cool Jazz, also known as West Coast Jazz due to the heavy influence out of the western states, especially California. A mixture of Swing and Bebop, Cool Jazz is most easily recognized for its harmonic tones combined with much more smoothed out dynamics, avoiding the more aggressive styles and tempos of Bebop. Such artists as Lester Young and Miles Davis are considered to have contributed heavily to the feel of Cool Jazz, and many successful recordings have come out of this style, such as The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Time Out”.

While the Cool Jazz style was growing in recognition, some artists wished to recapture both the excitement and the audience of the Hot Jazz and Swing era. An extension of Bebop, Hard Bop filled this need, partially returning to both the Bebop and Hot Jazz of the past while drawing inspiration from Rhythm and Blues and even Gospel to a degree. Hard Bop tunes often had simpler melodies than its Bebop predecessor; with an emphasis on its now more sophisticated rhythm section. Horace Silver and Art Blakey of The Jazz Messengers are well known for their work in Hard Bop, with a prodigious talent for innovation keeping their pieces interesting for the audience. Both Funky Jazz and Gospel Jazz can be seen as natural extensions of Hard Bop.

Moving back to the other end of the spectrum, Cool Jazz had been mixing with the more European sensibilities and styles of South America, and by the time it worked its way up to North America in the 1960’s we had the new style of Bossa Nova. A lighter genre of jazz, even in comparison with that of the West Coast musicians, this “Brazilian Jazz” relied heavily on samba rhythms and acoustic guitar, often with English or Portuguese vocals. Bossa Nova gained popularity as an alternative to the Hard Bop of the time, and also due to the contributions of such artists as Charlie Byrd (Not to be confused with Charlie “Bird” Parker) and Stan Getz.

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