What’s Wrong With Jazz
There is lots right with jazz, of course: a robust range of timbres, rhythmic vitality, cool extended melodies, and moods starting from the velvety to the steely. But for me, jazz has always lacked something that may enable it to get truly great musical compositions and it’ll be interesting to probe why which may be. Intuitively, I’m not deeply drawn to jazz, although I enjoy the occasional piece. I used to be just taking note of a pair of classic Duke Ellington numbers, “In a Sentimental Mood” and “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing” which are both charming pieces. But, charming though they’ll be, they don’t have the items that keep bringing me back to the good classical compositions.
Here is why I believe so: the roots of jazz are in musical style with the restrictions that imply. Harmonies are extended by adding 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths, melodies are ornamented with glissandi, shorter grace notes, and sequential extension. Rhythms are extensively syncopated. Timbres are extended. ‘Blue’ notes are wont to increase expression, and so on. But while some modulation may well be used, as in “In a Sentimental Mood”, the essential harmonies available in popular songs don’t seem to be departed from significantly. Later on, be-bop and other jazz styles focused on what’s unique to jazz: the rhythmic intricacy and melodic complexity at the expense of harmony. As in many world music, the greater the tendency toward melodic and rhythmic complexity, the greater the tendency there’s for harmony to be reduced to an unchanging drone. for instance, see the classical Indian raga.
Why haven’t jazz musicians engaged with the issues and possibilities of harmony as classical composers do? I believe that the solution needs to do with the function of jazz music. one of the foremost important components of jazz is the freedom to improvise. The satisfaction of playing jazz contains a lot to try to do with letting yourself roam, letting the mood unfold, and being within the moment. These are good items, of course, but they’re contrary to the subtle and deep, long-range harmonic structure. Composers of successful jazz standards cannot limit the players to the extent that they’ll now not be liberal to improvise.
Many of the foremost interesting aspects of harmony must do with the relationships between voices, which is what counterpoint is. the inspiration for the study of harmony for the last 2 hundred plus years has been the chorales by Bach, which are harmony and counterpoint in their purest form. Each voice in a very chorale, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, is independent, and therefore the relationship between them is harmony. Jazz, coming because it does out of genre, doesn’t have strong independence between the voices. Typically there’s a predominant tune, a bass line (considered a part of the ‘rhythm section’), and chords filling within the textures. True, Dixieland jazz features polyphonic improvisation, but a classical musician would be tempted to call it heterophony instead of polyphony thanks to the improvised nature of the parts. Or, perhaps a far better description would be of two melodic instruments delivering a melody in two-part harmony with a third—often the clarinet—doing a decorated obbligato above. In any case, the deeper, structural relationship between counterpoint and harmony isn’t present. Also, Dixieland, aside from an occasional revival, has not persisted and developed in jazz.
Just a touch side note: I regard a number of the music of the Beatles as being of an awfully high order. Perhaps in time, that body of labor is going to be accepted as being, in some sense, ‘classical’. Why that and not jazz? The clue comes from their methods, I think. after they really started rolling, around the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver, they developed a replacement way of working. They wont to write songs head to go in hotel rooms or wherever they were. But by Rubber Soul, they began to actually compose within the studio. they might be available in with lyrics and chords but the arrangement and therefore the structure of the song, especially in terms of how it’d be placed on tape, evolved within the studio. They visited great lengths to induce precisely the right effect. Often they might use a transformer to slightly impede or speed up a tape within the recording in order that when it had been played back at normal speed it’d sound slightly different. Usually, the instrumental tracks were recorded at the next speed in order that they would sound ‘fatter’ on playback, and therefore the vocal tracks were recorded at a slower speed in order that they would be more ‘forward’ on playback. They used many other devices furthermore. the ultimate product was a highly structured, finely tuned composition.
Incidentally, one every of the few classical composers to jot down pieces inspired by jazz was Igor Stravinsky—the Ebony Concerto for clarinet and orchestra is an example.