What sorts of jazz bands can be booked

When somebody books a jazz band for their wedding ceremony or hires a jazz soloist for the birthday party, it is unlikely that they think much about the long and sometimes painful history of jazz. They just booking it because they really enjoy the music and they know that will make a huge contribution to their event. But jazz has a very long and tortuous history, involving the slave trade, racial prejudice and then racial integration.

The many faceted jazz world consists not only of the sounds that are generated by a particular combinations of instruments that are being played in a characteristic way. Jazz consists also of the musicians who play it, both coloured and white, American (where the genre originated) and non-American. It consists of the venues in which they play, the recordings they make, the books that are written and the publicity material that promotes the music and the huge collection of modern popular entertainment and commercial music which has been profoundly transformed by the influence of jazz. Jazz is also entangled with a history of racial prejudice, racial injustice and the misery and rebellion that resulted. Perhaps at doesn't flourish without suffering, and perhaps even now there is plenty of prejudice in some parts of the world to feed this aspect of art creation.

Jazz has become ubiquitous. There is probably no major city in the world in which someone is not playing a track of Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker, or of players influenced by these artists, or improvising on the theme of the St Louis Blues, or Indiana, or Cherokee. And jazz and just about entertainment, is being used for advertising, as with Boss Crump, whose election campaign in 1909 produced the Memphis Blues.) Jazz became globalised when an 'international band', composed of players from virtually all European countries between Portugal in the West, Czechoslovakia and Poland in the East, played at an American Jazz Festival. Jazz bands and skiffle groups have been used to accompany the marchers of opponents of the nuclear arms race to Aldermaston. A novel has been published, designed to symbolise the fate of the 'beat generation': it is symbolised largely in terms of 'cool' jazz. A fashionable novelist and literary figure reviews jazz for the most intellectual of the London Sunday papers. Jazz is alive and well in the originating country of its musicians, where in Johannesburg: in Sophiatown and the rest of the South African ghettoes the 'jive bands' play what is patently jazz, derived from American records of the 1930s. So the music has gone full circle. The Birmingham Mail's 'Jazz Panorama' column of all days, reported on the latest jazz clubs to be opened among and by the youngsters of the British Midlands, and records the fact that the most popular jazz records in Birmingham were at one time by Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis.

Jazz has relatively short history compared with folk music or Classical music, even if you go back to its origins. More recent history shows that it is an integral part of a lot of pop music. Had been going on for a long time before it became popular, and when it did hit the big time it was so new to people that when the original Dixieland Jazz Band performed in New York in 1917, the organisers had to put up notices making it clear that people were supposed to dance this music, not just listen to it as if it was a concert. Of course, people now know that it is dance music as well as listening to music, so is ideal for a wedding reception where some people don't get up onto the floor and dance the night away, while other wedding guests were probably exhausted from a long day starting with wedding ceremony itself, or just sit back and enjoy the music for its own sake, rather like being at cabaret.

We can argue that jazz was a local southern states of America musical form that hit the big time,but is not alone as Hungarian, Spanish, Latin American music have at various times had tremendous impact, an example being the Tango is often played by our string quartets at wedding drinks receptions, and the Hungarian, Eastern European gypsy music that is part of repertoire of many ceilidh bands and barn dance bands, and is a musical idiom on its own standing with gypsy jazz and gypsy jazz guitarists.

Modern society is one that needs regular blood transfusions to rejuvenate music and art forms which are continually dumbed down and overexploited by commercial interests. This has made the spreading tree of jazz styles grow and expand. Of course, jazz has changed tremendously over a period of time. Some people would argue that this is different barn dance music or classical music, this is not the case, both change continually but as with jazz keep the best of the all alive. So string quartet at a wedding military dinner may play Haydn and Handel, and end up with pop covers, going through like jazz music from the shows in between. Jazz indeed, changes continually, as it's very essence is that is not mass produced or standardised in its original form, although the jazz has been influenced by popular classical music has become very standardised in its diverse branches.

Jazz was born into the beginning of industrialised age, and one would have expected it to have reflected this in some way, but if one looks at Detroit, the home of Motown, it's very strange that the large black American population produced very few jazz musicians of quality. The only kind of industrialisation that seems to have been taken in by the jazz genre, the railway engine, the steam railway engine that is, where a number of jazz pieces have been about railways and the symbolism of America's conquest of the country by the railways, and integration of the rhythm of the locomotive and the carriages into the music. Jazz pianists in particular in jazz bands in general, have reproduced works that relate to the railway engine, are shown by the examples Meade Lux Lewis's Honky Tank Train Blues or Red Nelson-Clarence Lofton's Streamline Train .

Although jazz has become respectable and is considered by many as a high level art form, this is not where it began, and music critics spent their time reviewing the relatively few American classical composers of note in the early days, rather than intellectualising about the wonderful and varied American barn dance folk music and jazz traditions. But then to put in a quote, "you play jazz for the kicks in it, not to make up history.."

Where jazz got its initial straight from what is common tradition of culture. At the beginning of the jazz idea, it was a culture that was vigourous and lively, self-made music and folk song and dance. Sadly, with television and recorded music, this social culture is fading in many parts the world. However people are still in reality keen for it, as witnessed by the number of ceilidhs and barn dances that are booked for weddings, which bring people together even more than having a jazz band at the wedding. This of course has changed, as jazz event was as much a social occasion as a barn dance or ceilidh is today. In my father's day, people go to dance halls and dance to music which were various forms of the jazz idiom. The trouble is that such generalisations leave out everything which might help us to understand the world of jazz, and a great deal about the problems of popular culture.

One could say that jazz was a folk tradition, the folk tradition of the black American which we will consider in more depth later evolved in an industrial urban environment. So although it might not be immediately obvious that this is folk music when you compare it to the music that a ceilidh band may play, in its original form it is. However it's been latched onto, manipulated and mass produced by the entertainment industry, particularly in the world War two era where the big bands developed and became part of the music of the film industry. Despite this, the core of jazz has been strong enough to forge a separate life of its own making, so the trunk of the jazz tree keeps sprouting upwards, even though there are many branches. There are good reasons why this music, originating from an Afro-American mixture, and being integrated into American culture has become an integral part of a lot of pop genres. It began as protest music, religious music, and folk music so it had the right mixture to become a popular art, it is common people always have something to protest about and always have their dreams of a better way the better life.


For the young generation there are always wanting to take part in some form of social entertainment and jazz has the ability to provide the passion and folk authenticity that commercial pop music has ironed out. Is developed as music that is a social activity both in his playing and his enjoyment, and although people do go to jazz concerts, is not really for passive listening, his for getting involved with. Jazz is a very personal art form for the performer and not some sentimental or ritualised activity.

One branch of jazz led to the commercial popular entertainment industry, developing it in other directions, but in the sense of heartfelt jazz, has watered it down. Jazz has for a long time been a part of the pop world, as a special flavour in an increasingly jazz-influenced pop music, although the introduction of electronic music and midi type systems has perhaps watered this down. But jazz has also made its way independently, as a separate art, appreciated by special groups of people quite separately from, and generally in flat opposition to, commercial pop music. However, pop music has never quite let jazz out of the reach of its tentacles and so long as it remains part of the popular tradition in the arts it is difficult to see how it can. Jazz has been kept in this complicated relationship with popular music for another reason, due to it being in part a rebellion against the values of minority culture. But now jazz has passed through the rebellious stage, and this is generally accepted and comfortable musical form. But only the history of jazz that is that of rebellion. But there is no doubt that the long relegation of jazz to a world below that of the official arts has had its effect. For one thing, it has caused jazz to have much less influence on the other arts, and to be much less seriously studied and analysed than one would have expected.

you go back to the time that jazz developed, one finds that average working man was very musical. A lot of people place a musical instrument or other, perhaps not very well, but nevertheless could bash out quite a few tunes. Playing music for him was just relaxing. He gets as much kick out of playing as other folks get out of dancing. The more enthusiastic his audience is, the more spirit the working man's got to play. This is always the case with music, that the audience reaction is an integral part of the performance, or at least it is with most music except classical music which is little different. If you're playing with a barn dance band and the dancers are really up for it, dancing all the dancers wildly enthusiastically, then the band's performance rises to a new level. The audience about faced and just shuffle around, the band will do their best but the music will never sound as good. Classical music is somewhat different. If you're giving a concert with a string quartet, you can expect to see everybody looking very serious and some people looking downright miserable. If you're playing with a string quartet at the church wedding ceremony, then normally it's a very serious event. Civil wedding ceremonies can certainly be different, and quite often they're very jolly and quite humorous. When this happens, the quartet can rise to the occasion and will play in a much more upbeat style. However, when playing with classical duo or trio or string quartet at a formal concert, one doesn't expect interaction from the audience. This means that the player has to cut themselves off from the audience and focus entirely on the music. The audience ceases to exist, and this can be important if you're struggling to play a very complex passage and there's somebody who's got a fit of the coughs. Where the satisfaction for the musician comes from his the end of the performance, where enthusiastic applause raises them to a new level of satisfaction, which they've already got from the performance and involvement in the music itself, whereas a desultory reaction from the audience can leave the musicians feeling quite flat. A jazz duo all jazz quartet would expect the same sort of reaction from their audience is a ceilidh band would expect, where the string quartet would on the whole expect a much more muted response. Some classical musicians prefer the muted response because it lets them focus on their music, whereas others, myself included, prefer to get some sort of interaction with the audience and that is why people like myself enjoy playing for wedding receptions, drink receptions wedding breakfasts or military dinners, where there is often a lot of interaction with the guests in the audience.

 It would be wrong to think that jazz is able to achieve some magic bullet in the music were, having gone down so many different paths; indeed, much of it has gone down one or other of the blind alleys which bedevil the arts in our world: either into commercialised pop music, or into esoteric art music. But always its roots are music from the heart of the performers. We can see how one genuine and exceptionally vigorous and resistant popular art actually works and changes, and what its achievements and limitations are.

This fiddler's fantasy is just a wild rambling that might be interesting to anyone interested in jazz but know nothing whatever about jazz, are unable to recognise a jazz record when they hear one, and do not care to consult friends or relatives on the subject. It contains a fairly hazy run through of jazz, and a brief list of some of the most prominent artists. There is no definitive definition of jazz, except in the most general or non-musical terms, which are of no help in recognising it when we Hear it.  As I've said, jazz is neither self-contained nor unchanging. There is no cut-off point between jazz and something else, there's just a huge area where drifts towards popular music or classical music, with no fixed borders on that side, nor with the folk music that it originated from. It is very short history, jazz has changed tremendously and is going to keep changing. Now that it's exists, it just won't go away.

Orthodox arts are doing it all the time - but because jazz, being a modern popular art, has so far lacked the authorities and institutions which can make such definitions stick. The music colleges, the Army musical schools, singing masters and ballet academies may impose a 'correct' way of playing cornets, singing coloratura or moving one's feet, which can be broken only by deliberate technical revolution or secession. Tradition, in custom-bound pre-industrial societies, can impose an equally 'correct' repertoire for the player, dancer or singer. But jazz is in the position of the famous Hollywood producer who, when told he could not put a rendering of Mozart playing the Blue Danube Waltz into a film biography of that composer, said: 'Who's going to stop me?' Nobody. There is a difference between jazz in the strict sense and commercial pop music. There may well be a point in the evolution of jazz where it might be better to stop calling it by that name. But it is in its nature a music without precise boundary lines.

Nevertheless, as a rough guide it may be said that jazz, as it has developed up to the present, is music which contains the following five characteristics; jazz-coloured pop music contains some of the first three or four but not the last, or the last only in considerable dilution:

Jazz has certain musical peculiarities, which arise mainly from the use of scales not usually employed in European art music, but derived from West Africa; or from the mixing of European and African scales; or from the combination of African scales with European harmonies. Jazz leans heavily, and probably fundamentally, on another African element, rhythm. Not indeed in the African forms, which are normally rather more complex than most jazz. However, the element of constant rhythmic variation, which is quite vital to jazz, is certainly not derived from the European tradition. Rhythmically jazz consists of two elements: a steady and unchanging 'beat' - normally two or four

how to know when it's jazz that you listening to? The interplay of the various jazz instruments, each of which has rhythmic as well as melodic functions, complicates the matter further. Rhythm is essential to jazz: it is the organising element in the music. Jazz employs peculiar instrumental and vocal colours. These derive in part from the use of instruments uncommon in art music, for though jazz has no specific instrumentation, it happens that the jazz orchestra has evolved out of the military orchestra, and therefore normally uses, e.g., string instruments very little and brass and woodwind for purposes unusual in symphony orchestras. It also uses exotic instruments from time to time, e.g., vibraphones, bongo-drums and marracas. However, in the main the colour of jazz comes from a peculiar and unconventional technique of playing all instruments, which developed because many of the pioneer jazz musicians were entirely self-taught. They therefore escaped the long-established conventions of European art music as to the 'correct' way of using instruments or trained voices.  Particular jazz styles and periods have very characteristic instrumentations, and some instruments lend themselves better to jazz playing than others. But there is no reason why someone should not play jazz on any instrument, and someone generally has done so; even on the organ and the flute.

There is no such thing in jazz as a wrong or incorrect tone, as there is with the prevailing style of playing piece of classical music of Mozart saw Beethoven's: vibrato is just as legitimate as pure tone, 'dirty' tones as clean ones. Some players, influenced by orthodox music, have from time to time - notably in 'cool' jazz - experimented with orthodox instrumental tones, but so far as jazz is concerned this is merely another proof that any sound which comes out of the instrument is a legitimate sound. Jazz players are also great experimenters, who try to explore the utmost technical resources of their instruments, for instance, by trying to play a trumpet with the flexibility of woodwind, or a trombone in the normal register of the trumpet, and such pieces of often excessive craftsman's bravura, produce their own unorthodox tone-colours. But what is happening is that jazz has used instruments as voices for most of its history. Since the voices in which the instruments based themselves, and what they had to say or felt, belonged to a particular people living in specific conditions, the colours of jazz all tend to belong to a particular and recognisable spectrum. Jazz has developed certain specific musical forms and a specific repertoire. Neither are of very great importance. The two main forms used by jazz are the blues, and the ballad, the typical popular song adapted from ordinary commercial music. The blues, an extraordinarily powerful and fruitful foundation of jazz, is normally in music a unit of twelve bars and in words a rhyming couplet of iambic pentameters (the blank verse line) with the first line repeated.

Both, in simple or complex forms, serve as the basis of musical variation. The repertoire consists of so-called 'standards' - themes which, for one reason or another, lend themselves to profitable jazz playing. They may be drawn from any source, the traditional blues and the current popular song being the most important. 'Standards' tend to vary from one style or school of jazz to another, though some have proved suitable for all. The listener who hears a band announce the title of one of these - either a blues, say, or a pop song from the past which have been given permanent life as jazz standards - can be pretty certain that the band at least intends to play jazz. By now a body of more elaborate jazz compositions or 'arrangements' is also in existence.

Last, and most important, jazz is a players' music. Everything in it is subordinated to the individualities of the players, or derives from a musical situation when the player was supreme. A musician or impresario who wishes to get together a jazz band looks round not merely for so many trumpets, trombones, reeds, etc., but like a producer casting a play, or a selector of a good sports team, for a Buck Clayton on trumpet, a Henry Coker on trombone, a Sonny Rollins on tenor sax. Until recently the composer, the key figure in Western art music, was, with rare exceptions, a wholly secondary figure in jazz. The traditional jazz 'composition' is merely a simple theme for orchestration and variation. A piece of jazz is not reproduced, or even recreated, but-ideally at least - created and enjoyed by its players every time it is played.

Every jazz player is a soloist, and just as the operatic listener ought to be able to recognise the voice of Flagstad or Schwarzkopf after a bar or two of an aria, so the jazz listener ought to be able to identify Armstrong, or Hodges, or Miles Davis - or, if he is very expert, some scores or hundreds of lesser recorded players - after a few notes.

It is therefore natural that individual and collective improvisation plays an immense part in jazz. Jazz musicians play a limited repertoire far too often, and the possibilities of improvisation on a given theme are in practice too limited for their performance not to become standardised to some extent. Literate musicians find scored music too convenient not to use it. To talk as though the only legitimate jazz was the one which was never heard before is silly romanticism. Jazz is not simply improvised or unwritten music. A piece of jazz, unless recorded, copied by ear, and checked against the record (which in jazz takes the place of the score) time and again, cannot be reproduced by anyone else even in approximately identical form. Most jazz scores, if they exist at all, are therefore rather simple and rough approximations, which leave at least the detail of tone, rhythm, inflexion and the like to the jazz instincts of the players. It is extremely unlikely that anyone has escaped the constant bombardment by barrages of such music from theatres and cinemas, records, dance bands, radio and television. Much of such music, though disavowed by the strict jazz lovers, claims to be jazz - generally by adopting one of numerous trade names such as 'jazz', 'hot', 'swing', 'jive', 'cool', 'ragtime', 'blues', 'bop', 'syncopation', 'rhythm', 'dixie land' and the rest, not counting the names of dances. (Such names change rapidly with fashion: a dance band  wishing to advertise its connexions with jazz would, in the early 1920s have said it played 'jazz' or 'syncopation', in the late 'twenties 'hot' or 'dirty', in the 'thirties 'swing' and so on.) Just as there have always been people who disliked the very idea of jazz, so there has always been one, including the j jazz lovers but much more numerous, which is strongly attracted by the idea of jazz. Since pop music exists by selling itself on the market to buyers, the jazz trade mark has been a distinct selling point from time to time. And as pop music go through phases, gradually becoming more computer-driven and rhythmic and less tuneful, there are regular backlashes of nostalgia, where popstars rise up who are singing the successful's pop songs of the past eras, and even pure jazz numbers, perhaps very close to their original form, or sometimes in a modernised format, but in general to get back to having music with recognisable tunes, rather than rapidly repeating rhythmic and harmonic micro-phrases, that barely changed throughout the whole piece. Of course, this kind of hybrid and diluted jazz has a perfect right to the name.

The world of jazz as a cultural phenomenon includes anything that calls itself  jazz, or borrows enough from the jazz idiom to be significantly affected by it. Jazz emerged as a recognisable music around 1900. Before that lies its pre-history, the period when the various social and musical components of the future jazz emerged, and fused. After that comes the double story of the evolution of jazz and of its unique and triumphant expansion.

There is not much disagreement about the African components of jazz. Most of the slaves that were taken to the Southern states of the USA were West Africans, the French (in whose Louisiana territory jazz first emerged) having a special preference for slaves from Dahomey. In the Protestant areas, African cults went underground, or were transmuted into shouting revival music with far greater European admixtures. Among the musical Africanisms which the slaves brought with them were rhythmic complexity, certain non-classical musical scales-some of them, like the ordinary pentatonic, familiar in non-classical European music.  There is disagreement about the characteristic 'blue tonality of American coloured American music, which does not seem at all general in pure West African music.

The most characteristic musical patterns of jazz are the 'call-and-response' patterns which dominate the blues, and indeed most of jazz, and are preserved in their most archaic form (as one might expect) in the music of primitive coloured gospel congregations, with its echo of 'shouting dances'. Certain types of functional songs were no doubt also brought over by the slaves: 'field-hollers' and work-songs in general, satirical songs and the like. Such characteristic African musical practices as vocal and rhythmical polyphony, and the ubiquitous improvisation also belong to the slaves' musical heritage. The only instruments they brought with them from Africa were rhythmic or rhythmic-melodic ones, and voices; but the characteristic timbres and inflexions of the African voice have coloured every jazz instrument since.

One has only to listen to West African music of any sort to see the difference, and as a matter of fact, modern West Africans have been rather slower to take to jazz than South Africans or young Englishmen, who have no traditional link with it. They prefer, if anything, the Caribbean forms of Afro-American music. Reasonably pure African music survived in America, partly in ritual music, pagan and more or less christianised, and in such things as work-songs and hollers.

Jazz developed at the point where three different European cultural traditions intersected: the Spanish, the French and the Anglo-Saxon. Each on its own had produced a characteristic Afro-European musical fusion: Latin-American and Caribbean music, Caribbean-French music (as in Martinique) and various forms of Afro-Anglo-Saxon music, of which the spiritual, gospel song and country blues are, for our purposes, the most important. Afro-Spanish influence affected jazz only as a 'Spanish tinge', to quote the pioneer New Orleans musician Ferdinand 'Jelly-Roll' Morton: an admixture of certain rhythms such as the tangana, or the habanera which, roused a particularly vivid response among continental black Americans. The deliberate adoption of Afro-Cuban rhythms in modern jazz, which included the importation of Afro-Cuban ritual drummers such as Chano Pozo, does not belong to the pre-history of jazz. It is fair to say that Afro-Latin-American music, which is probably the only modern musical idiom which can rival jazz in its capacity to conquer other cultures, went its own way, and only overlapped at the edges with jazz.

The instrumentation of early New Orleans jazz, which is essentially that of the military band, the instrumental technique, particularly obvious in that French speciality, the woodwind, the repertoire of marches, quadrilles, waltzes and the like - all are unmistakably French, as indeed are the dialect and the names of many of the early (Creole) New Orleans musicians: Bechet, Dominique. Martinique, where similar conditions prevailed, has developed a musical blending which is remarkably similar to that of New Orleans Creole music.

Equally important, probably, is the Frenph-or perhaps more exactly the Mediterranean or Catholic social tradition Of New Orleans: the profusion of public festivals, carnivals, fraternities (which merged easily with the strong African penchant for secret societies) and parades, in which New Orleans jazz grew up. The jazz band, after all, is the most characteristic product of jazz, and only an area with a very large and constant demand for bands was likely to produce it.

After the emergence of jazz a fourth component became important: commercial popular music, which is itself a mixture of all sorts of elements, including, even before the triumph of the diluted jazz idiom, some coloured ones.

The English language provided the words of coloured American speech and song, and in it coloured Americans have created, with the jazz idiom, the finest body of English folk-poetry since the Scots ballads: the work-song, gospel song and secular blues. The secular music of the colonists - perhaps mostly the Scots-Irish poor whites of the South - provided a mass of songs many of which, taken up and modified by the coloured American travelling minstrels, entered the jazz repertoire. The harmonies of the blues, as distinct from semi-African melodies and rhythms, are those of Moody and Sankey's type of hymn.

Development of jazz took European and African music in the USA outside of New Orleans. More: it did not even subordinate European folk-music to European art-music. It ensured that religious music, white and coloured, should remain a people's music, just as the defeat of Hamilton's by Jefferson's ideals ensured that American secular music should remain a people's music. From our point of view the important thing about this was that even coloured American music thus won its right to independent development.

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