Music 131 – Lecture 3

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~ Basic elements of swing era big band jazz ~ Written arrangements and improvisation ~ Early big bands of the 1920s ~ Benny Goodman ~ Duke Ellington ~ Count Basie ~ Other swing era jazz innovators and big band vocalists

The Swing Era

~ The Swing Era, or Big Band Era was largely associated with popular bands roughly between 1930 and 1945 ~ Swing music represents the period where jazz became America’s popular music ~ Some jazz musicians became pop stars ~ Many important big band leaders came out of the Chicago jazz scene of the 1920s -> Benny Goodman -> Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey -> Glenn Miller ~ Swing evolved our of New Orleans and Chicago jazz and New York society bands (e.g. Paul Whiteman) ************************** Jazz began to take on several new characteristics in the mid 1920s into the 1930s, allowing the music to cross over into the world of popular music. By the mid 1930s, jazz entered a ten-year phase where it became America’s most popular music. This period of cultural turbulence–when much of the world was at war or preparing for it–is now referred to as the Swing Era. The most striking change in the sound of jazz during the Swing Era involved the size of bands, which increased dramatically from six or seven musicians to fourteen or more. It is not surprising that this period in popular music is also referred to as the Big Band Era. Swing music, or big-band jazz, evolved smoothly out of the New Orleans and Chicago jazz styles. The concept of the big band was born in New York when popular society orchestra leaders (such as Paul Whiteman) decided to add jazzy elements to their polite ballroom music in response to the rising popularity of jazz sparked by Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and other early musicians. By the end of the 1920s, several young Chicago jazz musicians including Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and the Dorsey Brothers had relocated to New York, where they began organizing their first swing bands, modeled commercially after the popular success of Paul Whiteman, but musically tied to Fletcher Henderson’s band, universally cited by historians and musicians as the first jazz-based swing band (more discussion about Fletcher Henderson a bit later in Lesson 3).

The Two Types of Swing Bands

~ Sweet bands (pop-based, little jazz improvisation) and hot bands (loud, swinging with aggressive improvisations by notable jazz soloists) -> Both sweet bands and hot bands played for dancers (jitterbugs) -> Both sweet bands and hot bands played written or pre-planned arrangements of pop songs or original compositions ~ Three important terms: -> Composer: A creator of music -> Arranger: One who takes existing music and writes it out for a band or singer to perform -> Composer/Arranger: One who creates and arranges the music for a band or singer ************************** In addition to the size of the bands, the most important difference between swing music and early jazz styles centered around the use of written arrangements. Musicians, for the first time on a large scale, used notated or written music in combination with improvised jazz solos. This allowed non-improvising players to participate alongside those that specialized in jazz improvisation in creating the new jazz of the thirties and beyond. Many musicians and critics felt then, as today, that this constituted a severe compromise in the music that had so emphasized improvisation–collectively and solo–during the previous decades. Because jazz became more structured, or arranged, ensemble playing and written notes were emphasized at the expense of improvisation; and, therefore, improvised solos were kept at a minimum in frequency and length. However, despite the cutback of improvisation in the music, several important jazz improvisers appeared during the Big Band Era, including a few that would influence succeeding musicians in later years–such as tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, electric guitarist Charlie Christian, and vocalists Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. The 1930s was a decade of turmoil in the United States, suffering a severe economic depression coupled with political instability in Europe. Swing or big-band jazz provided an escape from these social and political pressures; by the beginning of World War II, the Swing Era, and jazz itself, had become largely associated with the big bands that played in large ballrooms for scores of dancers (commonly referred to as jitterbugs). There were two primary types of swing era big bands identified by the press, musicians, and music fans alike: sweet bands and hot bands. Bands performing exciting, hot arrangements and featuring the most innovative improvisers were known as “hot bands” contrasting with the more commercial “sweet bands” who focused on easy listening melodies with little or no jazz improvisation. This course will concentrate on the important hot bands, who remained the closest to the traditions of jazz performance and improvisation set down by the previous generation of musicians.

Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers

` Morton was one of the first to combine written music with improvisations in the 1920s ~ He is cited as the first important jazz composer ~ His band, The Red Hot Peppers, was based in ChicagoL Recorded for Victor Records ~ Morton experimented with arranging techniques: -> Used different combinations of instruments throughout the arrangement -> Arranged 3-part written counterpoint (from New Orleans jazz tradition) ~ Early use of the string bass playing walking lines taken from the left hand of stride pianists. *************************** Besides being an important innovative stride pianist, Jelly Roll Morton was the first significant jazz composer, and one of the pioneers in combining improvisation with written music. After settling down in Chicago in the 1920s, Morton formed a small band called the Red Hot Peppers, similar in scope to Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, but a septet instead of a quintet. Unlike the Hot Five however, Morton wrote notated music for the band members to read; and within the written music, he inserted areas of improvisation. Morton experimented with different combinations of instruments played by the Red Hot Peppers. For example, at various points in his arrangements, he might have the banjo and string bass play alone, or the clarinet and piano accompanied only by the banjo. He included a lot of composed or arranged call and response segments between various instruments within the band, or between an improvising soloist and the rest of the group playing a written response. Morton also transferred the left hand striding bass lines of his piano playing to the string bass to fortify the rhythmic groove of the music. This was the forerunner to modern walking bass lines played by contemporary jazz bass players.

The Black Bottom Stomp (1926, Chicago) – Jelly Roll Morton

~ Composed in 2 sections: -> Section 1: Focus on a call and response between written and improvised parts -> Section 2: Focus on solo improvisation with various accompanying instruments. *************************** Jelly Roll Morton’s Black Bottom Stomp was a model example of an early attempt to combine written or arranged music with jazz improvisation. Recorded in 1926 by his Red Hot Peppers, Morton’s composition was structured in two basic sections. The first section focused on call and response segments of composed and improvised phrases, while the second part of the piece featured individual solo improvisations with various combinations of accompanying instruments. Near the end of the recording, Morton’s arrangement had the whole band kicking into gear in the style of New Orleans jazz with some instruments playing written-out parts and other instruments simultaneously improvising. This collectively performed part of the piece was the forerunner to what would be called a shout chorus, the most exciting part of a swing era jazz band arrangement.

Fletcher Henderson (1897 – 1952)

~ Established the instrumentation for the modern big band (multiple saxophones, brass and rhythm section) ~ Set the early standards for jazz arranging -> Pitted saxophones against the brass -> Developed effective block chord voicings -> Introduced the concept of soli (plural of solo) -> Introduced the shout chorus into jazz ~ Two type of shout choruses -> Tutti shout chorus: the whole band plays the same thing in unison -> Call and response shout chorus: multiple riffs simultaneously played by each horn sections in the band (creating up to 3-part counterpoint). ************************** Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers cannot be considered the model from which the modern big band was drawn, since it was a relatively small group with only one of each instrument. The musician credited with establishing the instrumentation of and arranging techniques for modern jazz bands was Fletcher Henderson. Often cited as the “Father of the Modern Big Band”, Henderson formed his first large jazz ensemble in 1923 by modeling the instrumentation of New York society orchestras as well as vaudeville pit bands. Henderson, a pianist, broke into the New York music scene by organizing various bands for the Pace-Handy Music Company to accompany blues singers performing in vaudeville theaters. This experience led him to form his own band, using multiple saxophones doubling on clarinet, trombones, trumpets, and a rhythm section comprised of piano, guitar, bass, and drums. The instrumentation of his first 1923 band remains relatively the same for twenty-first century big bands. Henderson developed jazz band arranging methods still in use today, including concepts of pitting the saxophones against the brass instruments in call and response segments, techniques of block chord voicings, effective use of instrumental soli (the plural of solo), and expanding the effectiveness of the shout chorus. Henderson’s arrangements always seemed to set up a sort of conversation between the saxophones and the brass instruments (trumpets and trombones). For example, he would have the saxophones play a short phrase with a response by either the trombones or trumpets–or vice versa. Or, whenever a saxophonist was improvising a solo, the brass section would provide the accompaniment, while the saxophones would do the same behind a trumpet or trombone solo. Since a single saxophone, trombone, or trumpet cannot alone play a chord (since it takes a minimum of three notes to make a chord), multiple instruments are needed to establish harmony or chords in a performance. The technique of have a group of instruments playing a chord is called block chord voicing. Fletcher Henderson is credited for developing the early models for effective block chord voicings within a section of the band; for example, the saxophone section playing block chords or harmony behind a brass soloist. Remember that the plural of “solo” is “soli.” In conjunction with his use of effective block chord voicing techniques, Henderson introduced the concept of an entire section in the band playing the same line, usually in harmony with itself, as though it were one large solo instrument. For example, Henderson would write a jazzy chorus for the trumpets in order to showcase the whole section as though they were one large harmonizing trumpet, hence the term “soli”–since more than one musician was actually functioning as the soloist. Fletcher Henderson also expanded the concept of the shout chorus in jazz. Shout choruses were common in New Orleans and Chicago jazz and were the crowning highlight of a song’s arrangement–for example the ending chorus of Bix Beiderbecke’s Jazz Me Blues. Henderson used two types of shout choruses: the tutti shout chorus and the call and response shout chorus. Tutti is an Italian music term meaning “everyone” and was used in orchestral music to denote the whole orchestra playing the same thing. Therefore, a tutti shout chorus in jazz refers to the whole band playing the same thing–sometimes in harmony, sometimes in unison. On the other hand, a call and response shout chorus would have the trumpets, trombones, and saxophones all playing simultaneously, but each section playing a different melody line–very similar in concept to New Orleans collective improvisation, but written down or arranged.

The Stampede

~ Increasing demands as a bandleader led Fletcher Henderson to hire a “schooled” composer arranger, Don Redman (1900-1964) to write for the band. -> Expanded Henderson’s writing concepts -> Refined black chord voicing techniques -> Expanded complexity of shout choruses ~ The Stampede contains numerous examples of -> Call and response between saxophones and brass -> High-pitched clarinet soli after the cornet solo -> Complex shout chrus near the end of the piece ~ Features two brilliant solo improvisations -> Rex Stewart cornet solo -> Coleman Hawkins tenor sax solo (more on Hawkins later in this section) *************************** Fletcher Henderson featured several innovative soloists in his first band including Louis Armstrong who had just arrived in New York from Chicago in 1924, and the first great jazz tenor saxophone soloist Coleman Hawkins. We will spend more time discussing Coleman Hawkins later in Lesson 3. Increasing demands as a bandleader led Fletcher Henderson to hire a “schooled” composer and arranger, Don Redman to write for the band. In addition to his saxophone playing duties, Redman, who studied music in college, expanded Henderson’s arranging concepts, refining block chord voicing techniques and expanding the complexity of the shout chorus. Redman’s 1926 arrangement of Fletcher Henderson’s composition The Stampede contained numerous examples of call and response conversations between the saxophones, trombones and trumpets. A high-pitched clarinet soli performed by the saxophone section doubling on clarinets was another highlight of the recording. Redman’s arrangement concluded with a complex shout chorus utilizing both tutti and call and response techniques. However, without the brilliant improvisations by cornetist Rex Stewart and star soloist Coleman Hawkins, Henderson’s composition and Redman’s writing would have been missing the soul of jazz.

Benny Goodman (1909-86): “The King of Swing”

~ Clarinetist Benny Goodman was a product of the 1920s Chicago scene -> Studied classical clarinet -> Jam sessions with New Orleans musicians ~ New York studio musician 1929-1934 ~ Started his own band in 1934 with help from John Hammond (1910-1987), wealthy jazz fan ~ Big break: NBC radio program “Let’s Dance” ~ Good Example: King Porter Stomp -> Composed in 1905 by Jelly Roll Morton; arrangement purchased from Fletcher Henderson; considered the first swing era big band hit recording. **************************** Benny Goodman was known as the “King Of Swing” during the Swing Era and his band was one of the most popular of that period. Goodman, one of the young Chicago jazz musicians of the 1920’s, was a classically-trained clarinetist who brought high musical standards to jazz and insisted on performing with the finest musicians, black or white. Goodman arrived in New York from Chicago in 1929 and spent the next several years performing in various bands as well as being a first call musician in the recording studio scene. However, his ambition was to become the leader of his own big band, not an easy thing to organize during the height of the great depression in the early 1930’s. In 1933, he was befriended by John Hammond, the son of wealthy New York patrons of the arts. With Hammond’s connections in the New York music scene and some timely financial help, Goodman was able to realize his dream of leading his own band. His big break occurred in 1934 when Hammond secured a spot for the band on a nationally broadcast radio program on NBC entitled Let’s Dance. The national exposure resulted in a record contract and transcontinental tour catapulting Goodman into pop stardom and jump starting what was about to be called the swing era. Benny Goodman’s first hit recording was a Fletcher Henderson arrangement of an old Jelly Roll Morton composition, King Porter Stomp. Henderson had run into financial difficulty during the depression and was eager to sell his arrangements to keep his own band afloat. Goodman became a good customer knowing full well the quality of Henderson’s writing. The arrangement recorded by Goodman’s band was classic Henderson: lots of call and response between saxophones and brass, terrific improvised solos backed by interesting block chord harmonies concluding with an exciting, loud shout chorus at the end of the performance. In addition to Goodman’s clarinet playing, King Porter Stomp featured two key musicians in the band: trumpet soloist Bunny Berigan and drummer Gene Krupa who would become an important band leader in his own right a few years later. A final note about John Hammond. Over the years, he became a recording company executive with Columbia Records and discovered and molded the early careers of several important popular musicians. Besides Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen were a few of his discoveries!

More on Benny Goodman (Goodman’s band and Carnegie Hall Performance)

~ Benny Goodman’s bands featured several important jazz musicians -> Gene Krupa, drums -> Bunny Berigan, trumpet -> Fletcher Henderson, staff arranger ~ John Hammond arranged for the band to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1938 -> Primarily reserved for classical music concerts -> Jazz was not originally conceived as concert music ~ Also appearing: Members of Count Basie’s band -> First time black and white musicians performs together on stage in public: considered culturally and politically wrong in 1938. **************************** At first devised as a publicity stunt, John Hammond booked the Goodman band to play a concert at Carnegie Hall in January, 1938. Jazz had never been presented in such a formal concert hall and Benny Goodman wasn’t all the excited about it at first. However, Hammond and Columbia Records launched a big promotion campaign about the concert, how Goodman was going to present jazz from a historical perspective by performing examples of early styles leading up to his latest recordings. Goodman finally agreed to the Carnegie Hall concert provided he could share the stage with his favorite black musicians. In 1938, having black and white musicians perform together in public was culturally and politically not acceptable for many people, especially in certain areas of the country. However, Goodman insisted that since jazz came out of Afro-American culture and because he learned the art of jazz by hanging out with and jamming with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory in Chicago, the historical theme of the concert needed to include the best available black jazz musicians. Carnegie Hall was sold out with extra seats placed on stage behind the musicians to handle the overflow audience. Goodman and Hammond were on pins and needles over what the audience reaction would be when the stage was shared by members of Count Basie’s band and members of Goodman’s. The concert was a rousing success without any significant racially charged incidents. One of the highlights of the concert was the first public performance of the Benny Goodman Quartet – two white musicians, Goodman and drummer Gene Krupa paired with pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, two significant black jazz soloists. It should be noted that the integration of black and white musicians performing in public together happened nine years before professional sports took that step in allowing Jackie Robinson to play major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Columbia Records captured the whole concert by using two disc cutting machines to record the music without interruption. Don’t Be That Way featured the well-rehearsed Goodman band with terrific solos by its leader, trumpeter Harry James, tenor saxophonist Babe Russin and maybe the star of the whole night, drummer Gene Krupa whose loud, aggressive playing supercharged the band’s performance. Note the reaction of the audience every time Krupa played a drum solo or loud drum fill.

More on Benny Goodman

~ Goodman organized small group recordings -> Terrific Improvised solos -> Preplanned, polished arrangements -> Some observers labeled it “chamber jazz” ~ Featured black and white musicians -> Goodman was a superstar: he could play and record with anybody he wanted -> Goodman respected the history of jazz and wanted to embrace that legacy ~ His sextet introduced two significant black jazz musicians: -> Lionel Hampton (1908-2002) vibraphone: later a major jazz and R&B star -> Charlie Christian (1916-1942) the first grate electric lead (solo) guitarist Good Example: Seven Come Eleven *************************** Benny Goodman performed most often with his big band, although he received the most critical and artistic praise with his small group or combo–known first as the Benny Goodman Quartet, and later expanded to a sextet by 1939. John Hammond had already discovered vibraphonist Lionel Hampton in Los Angeles and brought him to New York to record with Goodman in 1936, joining pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa. In 1939, Hammond found an incredible electric guitarist playing in a local club in Oklahoma City: Charlie Christian. Christian was brought to Los Angeles to audition for Goodman, who was absolutely knocked out by his brilliant improvising skills. By adding Christian and bassist Artie Bernstein to the Quartet, the famed Benny Goodman Sextet was born. Charlie Christian’s life was cut short at the age of 25 in 1942 by tuberculosis, a deadly disease at that time. However, in less than four years in the national spotlight, he revolutionized the role of the guitar in jazz and popular music by not only being an early user of an amplified instrument, but by playing lead lines and incredible horn-like improvisations. He took the guitar out of the rhythm section and placed it squarely in the front row as a lead instrument. Every lead guitarist in jazz or rock music owes much of their heritage and role in music to Charlie Christian. That alone would rate Christian an important place in music history. However, he had even more to offer in his short life by being one of a group of New York musicians who were in the early stages of a revolution in jazz that would become known as bebop, the first modern jazz style. Had he lived beyond 1942, Charlie Christian would undoubtedly be listed among the great modern jazz players like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Precious few recorded examples of Charlie Christian’s playing exist, but his best work can be found on the Benny Goodman Sextet recordings between 1939 and 1941. The Benny Goodman Sextet was often referred to as a “chamber jazz” group, meaning that they played with the precision of a tight-knit classical string quartet or woodwind quintet while performing some of the best solo improvisations by anyone in the swing era. They appealed to both popular and jazz audiences. Pop audiences preferred the polished sound of the group while jazz audiences marveled over their brilliant spontaneous improvisations. Seven Come Eleven, jointly composed by Goodman and Christian, was one of the Sextet’s most famous recordings. A Count-Basie-like riff tune, Seven Come Eleven was based on the harmony and structure of I Got Rhythm and featured outstanding solos by the three lead instrumentalists, Goodman, Christian, and Hampton. Sitting in on piano for this recording session was the famous big band arranger, Fletcher Henderson.

Benny Goodman’s Legacy to Jazz

~ Popularized swing music more than anyone else ~ forced the use of racial integration in music: first bandleader to perform in public with an integrated band ~ Brought jazz out of the bars, clubs and taverns into the finest concert halls in the world: first to present a formal jazz concert ~ The first jazz musicians to have success in the classical world: recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major with the Budapest String Quartet, 1938; Aaron Copland wrote clarinet concerto for him in 1948. *************************** Benny Goodman accomplished much during his lifetime in music, but the most important contribution he brought to American culture was forcing the issue of integration in music. Growing up in Chicago and learning the art of jazz directly and personally from significant transplanted New Orleans musicians taught Goodman about the music’s true heritage. Throughout his career, he insisted on playing with the best musicians, regardless of race. As a pop superstar, he was in a strong enough position culturally and politically to be able to break down racial barriers by sharing the Carnegie Hall stage in 1938 with the finest black jazz musicians in New York. He became the first white bandleader to not only perform with black musicians in public, but the first to hire blacks to play in his band–most notably, former Duke Ellington trumpeter, Cootie Williams, in 1940. Goodman was among the first jazz musicians to perform in theaters and concert halls, away from bars, clubs, and dancehalls, where the music had been traditionally played. He was also the first jazz musician to have success in the classical music world. His early classical music studies on the clarinet provided him with the discipline and technique needed to record Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major with the Budapest String Quartet in 1938, as well as having a concerto written for him by the famous American composer Aaron Copland, ten years later. At the time of his death in 1986, Benny Goodman was preparing to play a series of classical music concerts with several European symphony orchestras, a tour that unfortunately never took place.

Chick Webb (1909-39)

~ Spinal tuberculosis left him with a hunched back and minimal use of legs -> Learned drumming as therapy -> 16 year-old studio musician in New York ~ In 1931, bandleader at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem -> Recurrent winner of “Battle of the Bands” ~ Set the early standard for jazz drumming -> Propelled his band with energizing “fills” -> Strong four beat groove for dances -> First to play rhythms on hi-hat cymbals ~Good Example: Harlem Congo -> Webb’s drum solo set the standard for everyone else: Benny Goodman’s drummer, Gene Krupa, derived much of his style from Chick Webb. **************************** Despite suffering from spinal tuberculosis as a child, which left him with a hunched back and minimal use of his legs, Chick Webb became the most influential drummer of his generation, as well as the leader of Harlem’s most popular band in the 1930s. Webb originally took up drumming as physical therapy for his condition, but by the time he was sixteen, he was a first-call musician in the New York Studio scene. He formed his own band in 1926. The Chick Webb Orchestra was so good, they reigned supreme in numerous “Battle of the Band” competitions held at their home base, the Savoy Ballroom. As a drummer, Chick Webb set the early standards for big-band drumming technique, propelling his ensemble with energizing fills and creating strong rhythmic grooves based on the four-beat style of the blues–much to the delight of Harlem ballroom dancers and jitterbugs. Webb was also the first jazz drummer to play rhythmic patterns on his high-hat cymbals (two smaller cymbals brought together by a foot pedal in an open and closed position still commonly used by contemporary jazz, rock, and pop drummers). Chick Webb’s recording of Harlem Congo in 1937 provided a showcase for his powerful drumming style, as evidenced in one of the earliest extended drum solos in recorded jazz. Webb had a profound influence on the other drumming star of the 1930s, Gene Krupa who always maintained that he learned everything about jazz drumming from Chick Webb.

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974)

~ Parents ran the household of a prominent Washington D.C> physician ~ Professional pianist in his teens ~ Music director at New York’s Kentucky Club, 1924 ~ Publishing/Management partnership with Irving Mills in 1926 ~ Music director at famed Harlem Cotton Club, 1927 -> Whites only club with black entertainers -> Jungle theme; fostered vile stereotypes of black culture Good Example: The Mooche -> Composed by Ellington as a dance number for the Cotton Club Floor Show *************************** Long considered one of America’s most unique musical treasures, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington brought a sense of class and dignity to a musical style that had mostly been identified with brothels, taverns, and dance halls during its short history leading into the Swing Era. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis once said; “All musicians should get together on one certain day and get down on their knees to thank Duke.” A stride style pianist, Duke Ellington considered his primary instrument to be the one that he himself invented and perfected: the Ellington Orchestra. Unlike other bandleaders who chose the hottest musicians to play in their bands, Ellington carefully selected his musicians based upon their empathy for his music and whether or not they fulfilled his musical expectations in the performance of his music. As a result, Ellington’s band was filled with the highest quality musicians–maybe not the hottest stars, but the best musicians for his music. Duke Ellington was born in the lap of luxury. His family ran the household of a prominent Washington D.C. physician who attended to important political figures and dignitaries. In his autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, Ellington talked about his childhood: “I was raised in the palm of the hand. I was pampered and pampered and spoiled rotten by all the women in the family, aunts and cousins. My parents were very strict; very strict about seeing that I got everything that I wanted. Ellington had formal piano lessons beginning at age seven, but he was also an emerging track star in high school. In making the choice between music and sports, Ellington explained in Music Is My Mistress: “After performing at various parties, I learned that when you were playing the piano, there was always a pretty girl standing down at the bass clef end of the piano. I ain’t been no athlete since.” In 1922, Duke decided to give the New York music scene a try, but after a few months of unemployment, he returned to Washington D.C. His second journey to New York with his own group, The Washingtonians, resulted in his first important music job, leading his band at a sleazy Times Square nightclub known by many names, but most famously as The Kentucky Club. The Washingtonians made their first commercial recordings in 1924; and by 1926, the group had grown in size. After he signed a management contract with a New York music publisher and part-time mobster, Irving Mills, Ellington’s career took off. In 1927, he was named music director at the famous Harlem nightclub, The Cotton Club. Located in the heart of New York’s vibrant black neighborhood, the club was operated by a Broadway show producer and featured black musicians, singers, dancers, and comedians performing in a floorshow with a jungle theme. To make matters worse for the surrounding community, the Cotton Club had a policy of admitting whites only; and the jungle theme of the show only served to foster racist stereotypes of black culture. Despite those culturally vile circumstances, the musicians and entertainers who performed there gained exposure to important music industry people. Several well-known stars were discovered performing at the Cotton Club, including Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Dorothy Dandridge, and Sammy Davis, Jr.–not to mention Duke Ellington. The Cotton Club shows were broadcast nationally on network radio, providing further exposure for the musicians and entertainers. As music director of the Cotton Club, Ellington had to compose and arrange music for his band to accompany the floorshow entertainers, as well as provide music for dancing. Constantly arranging all types of music, Ellington was able to quickly develop his writing skills and, with the jungle theme of the club, create new instrumental textures that would complement the show. Throughout his career, Ellington kept experimenting with sound textures and how to best express his ideas through creative arranging techniques. The Mooche, was originally composed by Ellington as a dance number for the Cotton Club show. The piece featured two contrasting themes: a melancholy melody written in a minor key and an uplifting theme written in a major key. Recording in 1928, Ellington was already trying to portray the irony of the Cotton Club in The Mooche, with the melancholy theme representing Duke’s commentary on the racist policies of the club and the uplifting theme representing the career opportunities through national radio exposure for the club’s performers. The message in his music probably passed by unnoticed by the club’s white clientele. Ellington wrote a comment on the sheet music of The Mooche published by Irving Mills: “I feel in this piece a conflict of two elemental forces: (1) The violence of nature, which is an eternal struggle with the other (2) the force of man, a more melancholy, restrained, and mental force.” Duke relied on the improvisational skills of his musicians to take some of the pressure off of having to write down every note of music for the Cotton Club shows. Improvised sections were inserted into the piece, based on the 12-bar blues, while the song’s composed melancholy melody was extended into a 24-bar AAB blues form. Another outstanding feature of The Mooche was the sound of Bubber Miley’s trumpet. By using a mute stuck in the end of the bell of his horn and by incorporating a vocalistic throat sound while playing, he was able to create a “growling” effect on the trumpet, further enhancing the jungle theme of the music.

Duke Ellington, the Composer

In Jazz styles, Mark Gridley discusses he seven “books” comprising Ellington’s repertoire: 1. Impressionistic book, or tone poems: pieces that describe places, moods, people, culture, etc. 2. Romantic Ballads 3. Exotic Book 4. Concert Book 5. Concertos 6. Scared Concerts (3) 7. Popular Song Book ************************** Duke Ellington was one of the greatest composers of American music during the twentieth century. The experience of writing music for the Cotton Club shows opened his imagination for exploring new sounds and compositional techniques. In your textbook, Mark Gridley discusses the seven “books” that eventually comprised Ellington’s repertoire. While the scope of this course doesn’t allow us to examine each book, we will take a look at some of his more interesting compositions. Duke wrote dozens of popular songs that remain standards in the American songbook. One his more unique popular songs was It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) from 1932. Every swing band before and during the big-band era featured at least one vocalist, and Ellington’s band was no exception. Ivey Anderson never achieved the same popular fame as other big band vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra, but she was perfectly suited for Duke Ellington’s music. Unlike other bandleaders, Duke utilized Ivey’s smoky-flavored voice beyond the normal role of singing popular songs. He often wrote parts for her that blended into the texture of his music, essentially adding another tone palette for him to draw from in creating the band’s sound. This technique was used quite effectively in It Don’t Mean a Thing. From his earliest days as a composer and arranger, Ellington was fascinated by the use of mutes on brass instruments. Mutes of various shapes are placed in the bell of a trumpet or trombone, and were commonly used in classical music but rare in jazz until Duke came along in the 1920s. Photos and descriptions of the various types of brass instrument mutes can be found in the Gridley textbook in Appendix B. In the recording of It Don’t Mean A Thing, trombonist Joe Nanton used a plunger mute to create the illusion of his horn actually speaking. Affectionately called “Tricky Sam” by Ellington, Nanton added further texture to the sound of his muted trombone by creating the same “growling” effect played by trumpeter Bubber Miley on The Mooche. It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) also featured a terrific saxophone solo by Johnny Hodges who spent nearly all of his career playing in Duke Ellington’s band. Hodges was the premier alto saxophone soloist during the swing era, and Duke effectively used his big, full sound and bluesy lines to full advantage.

Duke Ellington’s Concertos

A concerto is normally linked with classical music and features a musician performing a solo with accompaniment by an orchestra, chamber group, or simply a piano. All of the great European master composers including Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven composed concertos for soloist and orchestra. Duke Ellington began writing pieces as showcase numbers for various members of his band. Using the basic format of a classical concerto, Ellington managed to compose concertos that would still allow for swing dancing–not to mention fitting within the three-minute time limit of a 78-RPM phonograph record. In the most basic form of a classical concerto, the composer introduces two contrasting themes, followed by a developmental section that showcases the soloist’s musical abilities. Sometimes the solo accompaniment stops and the soloist plays alone, referred to as a cadenza, before the accompaniment resumes and the piece concludes with a return to the main theme followed by a coda or ending. Concerto for Cootie was composed in 1940 by Ellington for his brilliant solo trumpet star, Cootie Williams. The structure of the piece follows the same format as the basic classical concerto: two contrasting themes followed by a developmental section and ending with a partial statement of the main theme concluding with a coda. Duke did not include a solo cadenza for Williams. After all, this music had to be danceable, and stopping the whole band for a cadenza would have been disruptive. Furthermore, Ellington had to consider the limitations of a 78-RPM phonograph record, which allowed for approximately three to three and a half minutes of recording time. Cootie Williams had replaced an ailing Bubber Miley in the band and in doing so, expanded the “growl” trumpet technique of Miley. In the concerto, Williams was required to change the sound of his trumpet several times by using a plunger mute over the top of a straight mute, or using a plunger mute over an open bell, in addition to an open trumpet sound and, of course, the growling technique that so identified his style. Concerto For Cootie: -> Use of mutes dictated in the wrtten music -> Form: A1-A2-B3-C-A4-coda ->> A = theme 1 (10 bar phrase, slight variations on repeats) ->> B = theme 2 (8 bar phrase, change of trumpet mute) ->> C = development (improv) section (unmuted growl trumpet)

Ellington’s Tone Poems

The first book of Duke Ellington compositions discussed by Mark Gridley in your textbook is labeled “impressionistic” by the author. A more appropriate musical term would have been tone poem, since the impressionistic label is more commonly applied to art and music of French painters and composers around the turn of the twentieth century (including the aforementioned Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy). Gridley is not referring to the influence of the impressionists in his labeling of Ellington’s music. He is talking about music that is descriptive in nature–music that emotionally describes a place, an idea, colors, even a person. That type of music is more commonly referred to by musicians and musicologists as tone poems. For this course, we will re-label the first book of Ellington’s compositions discussed in your textbook as tone poems rather than impressionistic. Duke Ellington composed dozens of tone poems throughout his career. The earlier example of The Mooche would easily fall under that label, since it was music that Ellington intended to project specific feelings about Harlem and The Cotton Club. In 1940, Ellington composed another tone poem about life in Harlem, entitled Harlem Air Shaft. As you listen to Harlem Air Shaft, you are immediately transported to an apartment in the middle of a vibrant African-American neighborhood in New York, complete with the sounds of the people who inhabit the building. (By the way, an air shaft is an open courtyard in the middle of an older apartment building, allowing the residents to open their windows to get the air flowing through their apartments in the summer heat.) Ellington so strongly felt the need for all to experience this apartment building that he wrote the following program notes, which appeared on the sheet music and the record album in 1940: “So much goes on in a Harlem air shaft. You get the full essence of Harlem in an air shaft. You hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people making love. You hear intimate gossip floating down. You hear the radio. An air shaft is one great big loudspeaker. You see your neighbor’s laundry. You hear the janitor’s dog. The man upstairs’ aerial falls down and breaks your window. You smell coffee. A wonderful thing is that smell. An air shaft has got every contrast. One guy is cooking dried fish and rice and another guy’s got a great big turkey. Guy-with-fish’s wife is a terrific cooker but the guy’s wife with the turkey is doing a sad job. You hear people praying, fighting, snoring. Jitterbugs are always jumping up and down, always over you, never below you. That’s a funny thing about jitterbugs. They’re always above you. I’ve tried to put all that in Harlem Air Shaft.” Ellington’s composition contained many standard big-band arranging techniques including a saxophone soli, lots of call and response between the saxophones and brass, and a driving shout chorus near the end. He also incorporated musical sound effects, such as having drummer Sonny Greer choke the sound of his cymbal from time to time representing someone banging on radiator pipes to signal the building custodian in the basement to turn up or turn down the heat. Harlem Air Shaft also featured two impressive solo improvisations, one by trumpeter Cootie Williams and the other by clarinetist Barney Bigard. Through tone poems like Harlem Air Shaft, Ellington brought to mainstream America and the world the experience of African-American culture. His music helped to close gaps in the understanding of black society in America; and without his tone poems, which vividly captured the spirit of African-American culture, the world would be much poorer in understanding the complexities of a unique and creative society.

Ellington’s Arrangements

Duke Ellington’s band always sounded bigger, with a richer overall tone, than other swing era big bands–even though Duke’s band contained the standard number of musicians and used the same instrumentation as everyone else. A lot of that had to do with Ellington’s arranging techniques and his use of creative combinations of instruments. Ellington also employed a different approach to arranging chords by using a technique, commonly found in symphonic music, known as cross-section voicings. Where Fletcher Henderson established effective block chord voicing techniques whereby a chord was voiced by one section of the band (for example, the saxophone section), Ellington began voicing chords across different sections of the band. For example, the root of the chord might be played by the baritone sax, the third of the chord by a trombone, the fifth of the chord by a tenor sax and other chordal tones by another trombone or trumpet. By using cross-section voicings, the unique overtones of the different instruments seemed to create a bigger, fuller sound than voicing chords within the same family of instruments. With more instruments available to build chords, Ellington was able to use more complex harmonies, such as altered 9th, 11th, and 13th chords. During his tenure at The Cotton Club, Ellington developed an ear for exotic sounds and music from other cultures. His 1940 composition Ko Ko was built on the traditional 12-bar blues form; but the melody of Ko Ko evoked Middle Eastern flavorings, a far cry from traditional Mississippi Delta blues songs. His cross section voicing of altered 9th, 11th, and 13th chords effectively supported the exotic nature of the melody and brought more tension to the music. Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton’s unique technique of speaking through his trombone, along with Sonny Greer’s use of tomtoms, added further textural interest to this unusual swing era performance.

Duke Ellington’s Legacy to Jazz

More than any other jazz composer, Duke Ellington brought the essence of African-American urban culture to middle class America and the world through his music, and more specifically, his tone poems. Duke’s compositions were complex and sometimes based on classical music forms, such as the concerto or suite (a style beyond the scope of this course). Ellington brought a sense of dignity and class to jazz, and he raised the perception of the music in the eyes of the public. His arranging techniques took off where Fletcher Henderson left off by exploring the textural possibilities of standard musical instruments, creating “moods” through his exotic melodies and tone poems, and adding musical tension through creative cross section voicings of complex, altered chords. Duke Ellington became the most decorated jazz musician of the twentieth century, receiving honorary doctorate degrees from Yale, Columbia, Brown, and many other universities, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor, and serving as the first black member of the National Council for the Arts.

Kansas City Jazz

Kansas City was another center of significant jazz activity during the 1920s and 30s, although culturally and politically different than the jazz scenes in Chicago and New York. Kansas City was unrefined, culturally speaking, compared to Chicago and New York. After all, the biggest thing in Kansas City at that time was the massive Stockyard where beef, hogs, and sheep were processed for sale and distribution across the country. During this time, prohibition was in full force, making it a federal crime to manufacture and sell alcohol. Of course, many books and films have been produced over the years about the Chicago mobsters who kept alcohol flowing in that city throughout the 1920s and early 30s. Where Chicago was divided into territories by the mob gangs, Kansas City’s underground alcohol business was firmly under the control of one man, city manager, or mayor, Tom Pendergast. Pendergast bribed the police to allow clubs to serve alcohol, and he effectively eluded several attempts by federal prosecutors to convict him under the Volstead Act. Because alcohol was flowing freely in Kansas City, as it was in Chicago and New York, musicians found steady work in the local bars and clubs. Most of the music heard in Kansas City was blues, although jazz became more popular as the 1920s came to a close. Many of the jazz musicians stayed in Kansas City instead of moving on to Chicago or New York because they lacked the musical skills necessary to survive in the bigger cities. Therefore, Kansas City jazz tended to sound rougher and less polished than Chicago or New York jazz and the music was much more blues-based. When the first Kansas City big bands were organized in the late 1920s, most of the musicians couldn’t read music very well or not at all. That didn’t stop them from creating jazz arrangements that sounded as if they were pre-planned or written down. Instead, they relied on building their jazz arrangements around two basic song forms: naturally, the 12-bar blues, and interestingly, the 32-bar form of a popular song composed by George Gershwin, I Got Rhythm. The harmony of that tune is quite simple and easily assimilated by musicians who have limited technical skills on their instruments. Like the blues, the form of I Got Rhythm has become universal; and hundreds if not thousands of jazz, popular, and even rock songs have been based on its form. The term “rhythm and blues” came about as a direct reference to the blues form and shortening I Got Rhythm to just “rhythm.” In other words, rhythm and blues were songs that used either the 12-bar blues form or the rhythm form. Nearly every tune the Kansas City big bands played was based on rhythm and/or blues. Once the form was settled on by the musicians, each section in the band made up their own riffs, or short melodic fragments, to play behind improvising soloists. If a saxophonist was improvising, either the trombones or the trumpets would play their riff behind the soloist. If a brass player was improvising, the saxophones would play their riff behind him. At the end of the piece, the saxophones, trombones, and trumpets would play their riffs simultaneously creating an exciting shout chorus. It was a simple formula that worked, and it really caught on with the public. Since the musicians memorized their own riffs, these arrangements were called head arrangements, because the music was stored in their heads, not written down on music paper.

William “Count” Basie (1904-84)

William “Count” Basie led perhaps the greatest jazz band in history; and, according to most musicians, the most swinging band of all. Benny Goodman may have been called the “King Of Swing,” but even his band was no match for the rhythmic drive of the Basie band. Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and at one time, he took a few lessons from Fats Waller. Basie arrived in Kansas City as part of a traveling vaudeville show in the late 1920s. When the show folded, Basie remained there and was soon the most active pianist in town. By 1929 he was the featured musician in the Bennie Moten band, Kansas City’s most popular jazz group and he played and recorded with the group until 1935 when Moten died suddenly. Basie then formed his own band with some of Moten’s musicians but adding more competent players including tenor saxophonist Lester Young. In 1935, John Hammond, Benny Goodman’s manager, heard the Basie band on the radio performing at the Reno Club in Kansas City. At the time, Basie was still going by his given first name Bill, but by the time Hammond arrived in Kansas City to hear the band in person, Basie had acquired his royal nickname, Count. What drew Hammond to the Basie band was the Kansas City big band style which was all about head arrangements of tunes based on 12-bar blues or I Got Rhythm chord changes and blues-laced improvisations by Lester Young, Basie and other inspired members of the band. After Hammond brought the band to New York, Count Basie’s career caught fire with local audiences and subsequent recordings on Decca Records brought them national fame and much critical acclaim. One O’Clock Jump was one of the first recordings made by the Basie Band in New York in 1937 and one of his biggest selling phonograph records. The performance was pure Kansas City jazz: a head arrangement of a riff-based 12-bar blues tune featuring exciting solos by tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, trombonist George Hunt, trumpeter Buck Clayton and one of the most significant tenor sax soloists of the swing era and beyond, Lester Young.

More on Basie

The secret to the popular and critical success of the Count Basie band during the Swing Era was his rhythm section consisting of Basie on piano, bassist Walter Page, guitarist Freddie Green, and drummer Jo Jones. The energy and consistency of these four rhythm players was superior to the rhythm sections in other bands. The Basie rhythm section rightly earned the title “All-American Rhythm Section” during the late thirties and early forties. In your textbook, Mark Gridley discusses each member of the All-American rhythm section in his chapter on Count Basie. The outstanding characteristic of Basie’s piano style was his extreme use of space as a dramatic effect. Basie would sometimes play just one note in a solo fill but that one note was perfectly timed and just as effective as if he were playing a complex line. Basie’s piano style in one word could best be described as economical. He could make one note swing if he had to. Jumpin’ At The Woodside, recorded in 1938, was a rhythm tune based on the 32 bar AABA form of the pop song I Got Rhythm. The A melodies were built on a single riff while the middle B melody of the tune was improvised by tenor saxophonist Lester Young on the first chorus and Basie on the second chorus, but never permanently written down. Besides blues-laced improvisations by Young, Basie, trumpeter Buck Clayton, and tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, the real musical stars of this recording were the All-American Rhythm Section. Listen especially to the jazz swing patterns being played on the cymbals by Jo Jones. He was the first to do that. And then, during the exciting call and response shout chorus, Jones propelled the band with powerful drum fills while bassist Walter Page and guitarist Freddie Green drove the four-beat pulse into the ground, making all the jitterbugs extremely happy.

Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)

Until Coleman Hawkins legitimized it in the mid-1920s, the saxophone wasn’t a seriously recognized jazz instrument. It had been used on occasion by New Orleans clarinetists as a novelty and Sidney Bechet performed on the instrument in Europe in the early 1920s. Young Chicago musicians were the first to incorporate the saxophone on a regular basis in their music, about the time Hawkins arrived in New York from Topeka, Kansas in 1923. When Fletcher Henderson began featuring Coleman Hawkins as a solo artist, however, the popularity of the saxophone in jazz soared. After a while, other saxophonists started referring to Hawkins as the “Father of The Tenor Saxophone,” a title that followed him the rest of his life. Hawkins had the good fortune of joining Henderson’s band about the same time Louis Armstrong was hired to play. Being exposed to a master of improvisation like Armstrong on a daily basis had a major impact on Coleman. Over the next year, his improvisational skills improved by leaps and bounds. Hawkins was also developing his own stylistic voice on the tenor sax during the short time Armstrong played with the Henderson band. By the mid-1920s, Coleman had created a “school of saxophone playing” that remains influential even today. His approach to playing the instrument involved creating a big, full-bodied tone with an expressive vibrato, improvising angular or non-lyrical melodic lines that tended to outline chords, and developing densely packed phrases with few breaks in the music except to take a breath. After several years with the Fletcher Henderson band, Hawkins spent five years in Europe in the mid-1930s before returning to the United States in 1939, when he recorded a landmark version of the popular song, Body And Soul. The song had been a big hit with pop audiences prior to Hawkins’ recording, so it was a familiar melody to a large audience by 1939. What set Coleman’s recording of Body And Soul apart from all the others was his jazz-based approach to the song. He played only the first few bars of the original melody before taking off on an extended improvisation over the structure of the tune, never to play any of the original melody again. Incredibly, the recording became a commercial success, selling over 100,000 copies even though his performance contained only four bars of the original melody. Some jazz historians and many tenor saxophonists compare the impact of Coleman Hawkins’ version of Body And Soul to the impact that Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues had on the development of jazz eleven years earlier.

Lester Young (1909-59)

Ten years after Coleman Hawkins arrived on the New York scene, Lester Young came to town as the star tenor saxophone soloist with the Count Basie Band. Young also arrived with a different approach to saxophone playing that he developed in the Kansas City jazz scene, away from the influence of Hawkins. Young’s style was virtually the opposite from Coleman’s. He played the tenor sax with a softer, more buoyant tone, with little use of a vibrato. His phrasing featured smooth, flowing, bluesy lines that were quite lyrical, and he used space as a dramatic device instead of a chance to take a breath. Where Coleman Hawkins relieved musical tension by using brief periods of space while improvising, Young created musical tension by employing longer periods of space in his solos. Both Hawkins and Young were aggressive players, but Young’s approach to improvisation was much more blues-based than Hawkins’s–not surprising, considering the Kansas City environment that shaped his musical sensibilities. Lester Young spent a good portion of his career playing with Count Basie. One of his best recordings, Lester Leaps In, was made in 1939 with Basie’s small group, the Kansas City Seven, modeled somewhat after the Benny Goodman Sextet. Lester Leaps In was pure Kansas City jazz: a riff tune based on the AABA form of I Got Rhythm, relying primarily on terrific improvisations by Young and Basie to make the recording work. Sparked by the All American Rhythm Section, the easy, flowing performance on the recording was highlighted not only by Young’s exquisite solo, but also by the call and response duet between Basie and Young, with Basie throwing out sparse or economical ideas that were answered by Young’s bluesy responses. At the time Lester Leaps In was recorded, Young had acquired his own title: President of the Tenor Sax, or Prez, for short. Like Hawkins’ approach to the tenor sax, Lester Young’s school of saxophone playing is still influencing young tenor saxophonists today.

Django Reinhardt (1920-53)

By the mid 1930s, jazz had become very popular in Europe, with important American musicians touring the continent regularly, including Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, and Louis Armstrong. A young Belgian guitarist, Django Reinhardt, had the opportunity to play with those musicians on tour; and with their encouragement, formed his own band in Paris in 1934: Quintette du Hot Club de France. Reinhardt was born and raised in gypsy camps outside of Paris and learned to play the banjo at a young age. However, a devastating fire in the camp severely burned his left hand, leaving him with permanently crippled fingers and forcing him to adopt a new technique with the hand. After hearing recordings of Louis Armstrong, Reinhardt switched to the guitar and settled into the growing jazz scene in Paris, where he soon established himself as a formidable jazz soloist. The Quintette du Hot Club de France was an unusual jazz group. Instead of the standard instrumentation of one or two horns and a rhythm section, the quintet was comprised of three guitars, a string bass, and violin. Despite the lack of drums and horns, Django’s group swung as hard as any American ensemble, and his improvising was on par with the best American soloists. Violinist Stephane Grappelli, a classically trained musician, was also a terrific improviser, and he provided a one-two soloing punch with Reinhardt that resulted in some of the best jazz anywhere. Rose Room, recorded in Paris in 1937, was one of the Quintette du Hot Club de France’s most memorable recordings. The driving beat laid down by the two rhythm guitars and string bass perfectly set the foundation for Reinhardt’s and Grappelli’s respective solos. Jazz had truly become an international phenomenon.

Mary Lou Williams

In the male dominated world of jazz, Mary Lou Williams was sometimes dismissed as a novelty, although musicians generally respected her talents as a pianist, composer, and arranger. Born in Atlanta but raised in Pittsburgh, Mary Lou taught herself to play the piano at a very young age; and by the time she was seven, she was giving local performances, billed as “The Little Piano Girl of East Liberty.” At fourteen, Williams had become a ragtime vaudeville pianist in New York and received much praise from those who saw her, including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong–both of whom offered words of encouragement that inspired her to begin writing and arranging her own music. By the time she was 19, Mary Lou was playing stride, and had become the pianist and primary music arranger for a well-known New York band led by Andy Kirk. By the mid 1930s, Kirk had recorded several of William’s arrangements and compositions with his band, The 12 Clouds Of Joy, and she was providing most of the material that the band played for dancing. As her reputation spread, other bandleaders started commissioning her to write arrangements for their bands. While still under the employ of Andy Kirk, Mary Lou sold arrangements to Tommy Dorsey, Earl Hines, and Duke Ellington. Benny Goodman was so thrilled with the music she wrote for his band, he wanted to buy out her contract from Kirk. Mary’s Idea, an original composition by Mary Lou Williams, was recorded in 1938 by Andy Kirk’s 12 Clouds Of Joy. The song’s melody was built on a simple motif repeated with clever pitch and rhythmic variations. Her arrangement, designed for dancing, featured an easy but effective rhythmic groove with a boogie woogie style counterline played underneath the melody. After the Clarence Trice trumpet solo, Mary Lou’s piano improvisation contained no traces of her ragtime roots, and featured a sophisticated style of stride more in the manner of Earl Hines than of James P. Johnson.

More about Mary Lou Williams

After leaving Andy Kirk’s band in 1942, Mary Lou Williams returned to Pittsburgh for awhile before joining Duke Ellington’s band as a non-performing music arranger. She wrote several tunes for him and traveled with the band until 1945, when she resettled in New York and began a new phase of her career. While redefining her piano and writing styles, she became one of the earliest female musicians to host a weekly radio program on WNEW, the Mary Lou Williams’ Piano Workshop. That same year, Williams composed an ambitious 12-movement concert piece, entitled Zodiac Suite. Scored for piano, bass, and drums, the 12 movements were each based on a sign of the zodiac and each dedicated to a close friend musician or entertainer. “Gemini” from Zodiac Suite was built around two contrary motion melodic lines, one played by the piano and the other by the bass. Both lines, played simultaneously, represented the Gemini twins. A contrasting boogie woogie middle section was dedicated to her husband, trumpet player Shorty Baker, who loved boogie woogie. The Gemini motifs were dedicated to Benny Goodman. In composing Zodiac Suite, Mary Lou Williams had once again redefined herself as a musician and composer, as she had done fifteen years earlier when she made the transition from ragtime to stride.

Billie Holiday (1915-59)

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagen in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lived a tragic childhood laced with poverty, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. Her absent father, Clarence Holliday, was a guitarist with Fletcher Henderson, and her mother was a local prostitute. Eleanora became a prostitute call girl by the age of ten, and at twelve years of age she moved to New York City, where she and her mother found work as prostitutes. The one positive element in her early life was music; she became a great admirer of blues singer Bessie Smith, and learned all of her recordings. In 1930, 15-year old Eleanora auditioned for and won a singing job at a Harlem nightclub where she soon became a favorite, earning as much as $50 per night in tips. It was at the request of the nightclub owner that she change her name from Eleanora Fagen to something more memorable. She chose Billie Holiday, after her favorite actress Billie Day and the last name of her father (dropping one of the l’s in Holliday). In 1933, she was discovered by John Hammond, who was Benny Goodman’s manager at the time; and she made her first recordings with members of Goodman’s band that same year and again in 1935. In 1937, Hammond had her singing with the Count Basie Band (whom he also managed), although that relationship only lasted a short time. However, while singing with Basie, she developed what would be a lifelong friendship with tenor saxophonist Lester Young. Young had a major impact on her singing style. She influenced his playing as well, and the two of them recorded together many times over their respective careers. All Of Me, recorded in 1941, is a representative example of Billie Holiday’s singing style. All her primary vocal techniques can be easily heard in this classic recording. First of all, Billie Holiday loved to paraphrase a song’s melody. Paraphrasing a melody would be the equivalent of paraphrasing a person’s speech or statement. Instead of quoting the exact words that a person spoke, you might give an overview of what was said without losing sight of the message. The same thing in music. Holiday would change the melody just enough to make it her own song, but not enough that the listener didn’t recognize the tune. She did this by inserting blues notes in place of the original melody notes or by keeping the contour of the melody line but singing it in a different part of the scale. Nearly every popular singer after Holiday, regardless of genre, has used her technique of paraphrasing melodies. Another outstanding characteristic of Billie Holiday’s singing was her employment of melismatic phrasing. Melismatic phrasing is a technique where the rhythm of the melody is altered from its original state. For example, an opera singer might hold a dramatic note longer than its notated value to create musical tension; the orchestra has to stop until the opera singer decides to continue with the music. In popular music, especially music for dancing, it would be very disruptive for a singer to hold a note longer than usual for dramatic purposes, causing the band to stop and wait until the singer resumed the song. However, Billie Holiday used melismatic phrasing without having the band stop to wait for her. Instead, she would hold a note out and then catch up with the band by leaving one or two words out of the lyric, or by singing the next phrase with a faster rhythm to get back on with the beat. This technique, popularized by Holiday, has been used by nearly every pop and jazz singer since including Frank Sinatra who once stated (and I’m paraphrasing here) that without Billie Holiday, there would not have been a Frank Sinatra.

Ella Fitzgerald

Born in Newport News, Virginia but raised in Yonkers, New York, Ella Fitzgerald first gained recognition as a singer by winning the famous amateur night competition at Harlem’s Apollo Theater when she was a 17-year-old high school student. One year later in 1935, she was singing with Harlem’s most popular band, The Chick Webb orchestra. When Webb passed away in 1939, Ella took over leadership of the ensemble until it disbanded in 1942. Fitzgerald broke away from the big bands after World War II ended and sang with smaller groups, changing her style to include extended scat solo improvisations in her recordings and live performances. Her scat singing had its roots in Louis Armstrong’s vocal style, although Fitzgerald sang in a more contemporary bebop style, creating melodic lines that were horn-like and quite virtuosic. Because of her more contemporary approach to scat singing, she was never considered a blues stylist in the mold of Billie Holiday. Additionally, Fitzgerald’s scat improvisations broke completely away from a song’s original melody–unlike Holiday, who merely paraphrased original melodies without losing sight of them. However, Ella used many of the same vocal techniques as Billie Holiday. She often paraphrased a song’s melody, inserted blues notes into key parts of a phrase; and, like Holiday, she was a master of melismatic phrasing techniques. Unlike Billie Holiday, Ella projected an upbeat feeling into her music. Her career path was filled with rewarding experiences that came through in her singing style. Furthermore, she had an incredible vocal range allowing her to sing extremely high notes as well as rough-sounding lower pitches, resulting in a wider variety of vocalistic textures available for her to draw from. One of the most incredible recordings of scat singing by anyone, anywhere at anytime was a 1960 live performance of Ella Fitzgerald singing How High The Moon. Not only was she improvising like a horn player, she was also improvising lyrics to go with her scatting instead of simply using nonsense syllables–leaving no doubt that she took off where Louis Armstrong left off when it came to scat singing.

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