AoS 3 covers popular broad in the broadest sense of the word. Below is Miles Davis’ All Blues, from the 1959 album, Kind of Blue.
Very basic facts on...'All Blues' - by Miles DavisFrom 'Kind Of Blue'Set Work 7 for GCSE Music EdexcelFrom Area Of Study 3 - Popular Music in ContextGenre: (...
Jazz music is so broad, and encompasses such a large range of influences, but the task below tries to enable you to understand the different styles in chronological order.
(Please note, because Grooveshark requires Flash Player to be installed on your device, these tracks won’t work on an iPad/iPhone, but should be fine on other devices, PC, Mac etc.)
The eight tracks above are stereotypical examples of the following styles of jazz. Can you put them in order, with one piece to match each of the jazz eras in the table below?
|Pre 1900||Early Blues|
The dates are loose, and need taking with a bit of a pinch of salt. All the styles overlap with each other to some extent, and all styles are still popular now, but the dates in the table represent when the concept of the style began, and it was in its ‘heyday’.
For a bit of help defining the different eras, try this website for some clues.
The Genre – Cool Jazz
Cool jazz is a style of jazz pioneered by Miles Davis in the album Kind of Blue. It has a laid-back rhythmic feel, and usually fairly simple, repetitive chord sequence. This allows for lots of free, extended solos, using modal scales. It was the predominant new form of jazz during the 1960s, but was probably overshadowed by more mainstream musical developments in pop music, including most obviously, The Beatles!
Musicians Performing on the Kind of Blue Album
- Miles Davis (trumpet)
- Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (alto saxophone)
- John Coltrane (tenor saxophone)
- Bill Evans (piano)
- Paul Chambers (bass)
- Jimmy Cobb (drum kit)
It is generally considered to be one of the finest line-ups of jazz musicians to ever step into a recording studio together. Each of them is a titan of jazz in their own right!
All Blues is the greatest selling jazz album of all time, no matter which of the various lists you look at, and it is currently (March 2014) in both the UK and US Top 10 Jazz Albums on iTunes:
Musical Features of All Blues
There are specific roles for each instrument within the sextet:
Frontline – this group is the three melody instruments, trumpet, alto and tenor saxophone. They mainly play melody, which is improvised for the most part. They take it in turns to play. Occasionally the trumpet uses a mute.
IMPORTANT – you need to be able to hear the difference between the alto and tenor saxophone – basically they have a slightly different tone, and the tenor is lower in pitch than the alto, but spotting the difference will take practice.
Rhythm section – these instruments provide backing. The bass plays either short riffs, or a walking bass pattern (moves up and down on the beat, often by step). The kit provides a swing beat, and plays using brushes (instead of sticks). The piano comps – this means it provides harmonic backing, based on the 12-bar blues sequence. The chord shapes, or voicing changes constantly, often missing out the root of the chord (because it is played by the bass). The piano does have a melodic solo in the middle of the piece.
The harmony is incredibly simple. The whole of the piece is based on the 12-bar blues chord pattern. This is a basic harmonic sequence that has been used to create a massive amount of jazz, rock, pop, funk, r ‘n’ b – in fact you name a modern style, it will have used 12-bar blues within it at some point, probably. Try this for a quick, varied list (each linked to YouTube videos which will open in a new window): Austin Powers theme, Rock Around the Clock – Bill Halley and the Comets, Mercy – Duffy, Candyman – Christina Aguilera.
This is what a version of a basic 12-bar blues in G (the key of All Blues) might look like (on the left). It has a turnaround in bar 12, finishing on a dominant chord, which leads neatly back into the tonic chord to kick-start the next repeat of the pattern:
However, Miles Davis’ All Blues (on the right) uses a modified version of the chord sequence. Notice that bars 9 and 10 are more sophisticated harmonies, and that bar 10 has two chords, moving in parallel.This building block of 12 bars is repeated throughout the piece.
All the chords contain an added 7th, and bars 9-10, an added 9th. The addition of extra notes on top of the triad is what gives the harmony its jazz sound.
Notice also that there is a very limited range of chords, based on I, IV and V.
The chords are played by the piano, which provides harmonic support.
This is very simple too, and relies on lots of repetitions of the 12-bar blues. There are three basic sections:
Intro/Link – four bars, based on the first four bars of the 12-bar blues.
Head – this is a main melody, which is repeated a few times during the piece. The melody is played on the trumpet, and it lasts 12 bars.
Solos – these are improvised, and last different lengths, but always multiples of 12. The trumpet, alto and tenor saxophone, and piano take it in turn to solo.
Melody and Rhythm, and other Musical Elements
- The melody is arguably the most important aspect of the whole piece. The simple harmony pattern allows the players freedom to improvise fluently, mainly using the mixolydian scale. This sounds like a major scale, but has a flattened 7th, and in the key of G looks like this:
- A normal G major scale would have an F# in it. The use of a flattened 7th is what gives the melody a ‘jazz sound’, along with other chromatic notes, such as a flattened 3rd and raised 4th.
- The head and all the solos use a variety of ornaments, such as mordents and appoggiaturas, which provide melodic decoration.
- The head and solos use lots of rhythmic syncopation, or off beat patterns. The head and many ideas in the solo start with short riffs, some of which have a pick-up (upbeat). This is all performed in 6/4, using a basic jazz waltz swing quaver feel.
- Dynamics are used freely and expressively in all the solos, but the whole piece generally has a relatively quiet dynamic level. Some hairpin crescendos and diminuendos are used.
As with all the pieces, there is a three-way process to learning everything you need to know about the piece:
- Know the basics (C) – title, composer, key, time signature, instrumentation etc. This needs learning to start with.
- Understand the detail (B/A) – the technical details of the piece, and how they relate to DR G SMITH. This needs you to have written up all the detail onto your score. Listening to the piece lots whilst following through the score is what is needed here.
- Hear the detail (A/A*) – being able to recognise the sound of all the technical language in the pieces, with no score in front of you. Listening to the piece without the score is what you need to do here.
This checklist document should help you with this process.