Exam Review – Unit Four
Discography: The science of record classification.
Flatted Scale Degree: Note played a half step lower.
Big Bands: Large jazz orchestras featuring sections of saxophones, trumpets, and
trombones, prominent during the Swing Era (1930s).
Head Arrangement: A flexible unwritten arrangement created by a band.
Standard: A popular song that has become part of the permanent repertory for jazz
Swing: (1) Jazz from the period 1935-1945 usually known as the Swing Era (2) A
jazz specific feeling created by a rhythmic contrast within a particular rhythmic
framework (usually involving a walking bass and a steady rhythm on the drummer’s
Riff: A short, catchy and repeated melodic phrase. This term is the most relevant to
big band Swing. A riff is a short, repeated, and persistent phrase. They can be altered
a little upon repetition in order to take into account changes in the underlying
harmony, but they don't change very much. Arrangers often use riffs in big band
arrangements both as the main melodic content and as background material. They
often function to build up momentum in the music.
Motive: A short melodic or rhythmic idea. Jazz musicians rarely use the word
"motive" although music theorists and historians use the term. Motives are short
phrases all right, but they are often used as a basis for melodic development in some
logical way. That is, the features of the motive, melodic or rhythmic, are used as a
basis for the development of other phrases. Composers use motives in this way all
Licks: Short melodic ideas that form a shared basic vocabulary for jazz improvisers.
Licks are small phrases that "are the building blocks of improvisation". A memorized phrase is only the beginning. Jazz musicians creatively modify licks constantly,
depending on the musical context and the spirit of the moment, to create unique
solos. These modifications need not be "logical" in that they are systematically
transformed based on the musical features of the original musical idea, the way
motives are. If a jazz musician uses licks in a mechanical way, that is, using them in
strings of memorized phrases without any creative input.
Groove: A general term for the overall rhythmic framework of a performance.
Grooves include swing, funk, ballad, and Latin. In most African American music
there are a number of layers of music. There are the melodic, the harmonic and
rhythmic layers. The rhythmic layer is further divided into sub-layers carried by a
number of instruments, usually bass, drums and piano (or guitar). Both the bass and
guitar serve pitch-related as well as rhythmic-related functions. A swing groove
consists of a rhythmic gestalt (an organized whole that is perceived as a unitary
phenomenon although it is made up of a number of individual parts) played by the
right hand on the ride cymbal of the drum set, with the high-hat on beats two and
four, the bass drum lightly played on every beat, and the left-hand playing (often
improvising) other rhythms mostly on the snare drum. A groove happens when
these are put together in one stream of rhythm.
Soli: A passage for a section of a jazz band (saxophones, trumpets, trombones, in
Introduction to Unit Four
In the 1930s jazz was known as swing. It’s called the Swing Era to distinguish
it form the jazz of the 1920s. It was mostly Big-Band music performed by large
dance orchestras divided into sections of trumpets, saxophones, and trombones as
well as rhythm. Swing retained the basic elements of jazz like polyrhythm blues
phrasing, timbre variation. Swing used written music more then previous forms of
jazz it continued to balance composition against spontaneous improvisation. The
size of the bands transformed dance music into an orchestral music but the style was not complex. Swing was a commercial phenomenon. Swing was central to a
nationwide system of mass entertainment. With the advent of Swing, jazz became
THE POPULAR music of America.
Swing was defined by two crucial events in American history and culture.
The first is the Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash of
October 1929 and deepened slowly until in reached its peak in the 1930s. The crisis
ruined the banking systems, and left thousands without jobs and shifted America’s
political landscape. Swing came of age during the Depression but it hardly caught
the era’s deep anxiety. Swing was a counterstatement to reality – it was upbeat and
could distract people from their daily lives, swing inspired action. It was a teenager’s
music, the first in America’s history. Swing was loud and brash and demanded
exuberant dance steps. Its improvisatory flair and buoyant energy encouraged
American to recover from the country’s economic disaster.
World War II
The second crucial event defining the Swing Era was Word War II (1939-
1945) a global conflict that transformed America into a powerhouse of strength. The
bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 launched American into World War II and all of its
industries, resources, manpower, even entertainment – were drawn into the
worldwide fight against fascism. For many people, swing exemplified what
Americans were fighting for: compared with authoritarian Nazi Germany, the casual
participatory quality of swing, bringing together people from different backgrounds,
was a rousing statement of democracy. At the end of the war thousands of soldiers
returned home to their families and jobs shutting down the hyperactive dancing
culture that had formed the basis for hundreds of large swing orchestras. It was the
end of an era – and with the explosion of the atomic bomb, the beginning of a new one.
Swing and Race
Swing was situated on the fault line of race. It emerged out of African
American culture, its dance steps worked out on the floor of black ballrooms and its
arrangements mimicking the black church in call-and-response patterns. Its success
boosted the careers of hundreds of musicians and pushed a handful of black
bandleaders (Ellington, Armstrong) into stardom. Much of white American was
dancing to an African American beat. Swing did not dissolve racial barriers. The
white audience was enthusiastic about the music, but indifferent as to its origins.
Most of them probably did not know that the hit tune “Stompin’ at the Savoy”
referred to Harlem, or that their “jive” talk was black slang. Behind the scenes, racial
bigotry was as alive as ever. Black and white musicians played together backstage in
jam sessions, but racially mixed bands were not tolerated. As most of the money
from swing went into white pockets, many black musicians felt that the music had
been “stolen” from them – a feeling that would later help fuel the musical revolution
known as bebop.
Swing and Economics
The Depression nearly destroyed the recording companies. At a time when
people could barely afford food and rent, the price of a record was too much to bear.
Sales of records plunged – from over 100 million in 1929 to only 4 million in 1933.
Familiar jazz labels like Gennett, OKeh, and Columbia went bankrupt or were bought
up by speculators. Commercial excitement made jazz possible. Musicians poured
into the field from all over: from Georgia (Fletcher Henderson), Washington D.C.
(Duke Ellington), Iowa (Glenn Miller), and New Jersey (Count Basie). As a
competition for the best jobs increased, musical standards rose precipitously.
Musicians were now expected to play their instrument flawlessly, to sight-read efficiently, and to improvise. Dance bands offered steady work at a respectable
salary; making music one of the few skilled crafts open to African Americans.
Swing and Dance
At the core of swing style was its groove: a steady, unaccented four-beats-to-
the-bar foundation, perfect for dancing. This was neither revolutionary nor new:
One could hear the same groove in recordings by Louis Armstrong, or emerging
from passages by Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. But in the early 1930s – the
same time that Duke Ellington immortalized it in the title “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If
It Ain’t Got That Swing”) – the four-beat groove became firmly established as the
standard for hot dance music.
The swing dance style emerged from New York’s Savoy Ballroom, which
opened for business in 1926. The Savoy was an enormous space, filling an entire
block in Harlem. Like many new dance halls, it offered a luxurious environment for a
modest fee. Two bands were hired on a given night, alternating sets on opposite
sides of the hall. Harlem was proud of the Savoy, and opened its door to white
visitors from downtown and around the world; but unlike the Cotton Club, its
primary constituency was the black neighborhood surrounding it. In the Savoy,
social dancing was an intense, communal activity; the Savoy dance style came to be
known as the Lindy Hop – named after Charles Lindbergh, whose dramatic flight
across the Atlantic in 1927 startled the nation. The steady four-four beat opened up
The Rhythm Section
To help bands adjust to the new groove, major changes were made in the
rhythm section. While the bass drum continued to play a rock-solid four-beat pulse, the tuba, commonly used in large dance bands of the 1920s, was replaced by the
string bass. During the early years of recording, the tuba was able to project a clear,
huffing sound. But the string bass had always been a specialty of New Orleans, and
many players, including Wellman Braud with Duke Ellington’s band, showed that
the instrument had a special percussive flavor when the strings were given a
pizzicato “slap” (plucked rather than bowed). Change came gradually in the late
1920s, once word had gotten around about how well the string bass worked; many
tuba players realized that they’d better switch instruments or lose their jobs.
To fit the new groove, dance-band arranging became more inventive. To
some extent, this was a belated influence of Louis Armstrong, whose rhythms
continued to be absorbed by soloists and arrangers through the 1930s. Arrangers
learned to write elaborate lines for an entire section, harmonized in block chords
called soli. They were conversant with chromatic (complex) harmony and knew how
to make the most of their flexible orchestra. Arrangements could arise
spontaneously out of oral practice. This approach was popular in Kansas City. But in
New York where bands prided themselves on their musical literacy, musicians could
take improvised riffs and harmonize them on the spot. The result, known as a head
arrangement created by the entire band.
Both kinds of arrangements, written and unwritten, could be heard in the
hundreds of recordings made in the 1930s by Fletcher Henderson. For flashy pieces,
Henderson relied on experienced arrangers, from his brother Horace to Don
Redman and Benny Carter. But his biggest hits emerged from the bandstand. His
genius for rhythmic swing and melodic simplicity was so effective that his music
became the standard for numerous swing arrangers. Henderson was fond of short,
memorable riffs – simple, bluesy phrases – in call and response: saxophones
responding to trumpets for example. In some passages, he distorted the melody into ingenious new rhythmic shapes, often in staccato (detached) bursts that opened up
space for the rhythm section. Henderson was shrewd and efficient. He wrote only a
few choice choruses, leaving the remainder of the arrangement open for solos
accompanied by discreet, long- held chords or short riffs. As each piece headed
toward its climax, the band erupted in an ecstatic wail.
The early Henderson band was dramatically effective in person but notoriously
imperfect in the studio. Some of the best-known records from the early 1930s
sounded like cats and dogs fighting. By 1936, the band had perfected its public
presentation, and is in particularly splendid form on “Blue Lou.” The piece was
composed by Edgar Sampson, a saxophonist and arranger with the Chick Webb
band who also wrote for Henderson and later for Benny Goodman (among his tunes
are “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Don’t Be That Way”). It was arranged in the
Henderson style by Fletcher’s brother Horace, who oriented it toward the band’s
chief soloists: the brilliant trumpeter Roy Eldridge band one of Coleman Hawkin’s
gifted followers on tenor saxophone, Chu Berry. Like many swing tunes, “Blue Lou”
is built around a simple idea. The tune is in major, but the opening riff- a descending
two-note figure-introduces a flatted scale degree from the minor mode. Although
“Blue Lou” begins with a relaxed two-beat feeling, the four-four-dance g