December 1995 – February 1996

Beginning in the fall of 1994, The University Libraries and the Jazz Studies Program of the School of Music have cooperated in presenting an ongoing series of concerts by various of the jazz ensembles in the Libraries’ North Exhibition Hall.

Jazz is a uniquely American phenomenon, part and parcel of the twentieth century. A lthough attempts to define jazz have been made to varying degrees of success, there are three distinctive characteristics which contribute to its appeal. These are: 1) swing a rhythmic characteristic; 2) what may be called “individual code,” i.e. those subtle factors that make a jazz player instantly recognizable to knowledgeable listeners, and 3) the ecstatic function, in that the players do not merely reproduce prescribed sequences of notes, but interact with the audience and one another.

The origins of jazz include elements of African musical traditions combined with European elements, as well as folk (spirituals, work songs) and popular styles (ragtime, blues, and the music of brass bands and other instrumental groups). Little documentation exists of the earliest jazz bands. New Orleans was a focal point in the early development, partly due to having a musical tradition that reached back well into the 18th century, and also because the city provided many outlets for jazz at parades, funerals, on advertising wagons, at picnics, and in dance halls and cabarets. It was in New Orleans that the earliest-known coherent jazz ensemble style and method of improvisation developed, known as NEW ORLEANS JAZZ. The early spread of jazz across the country is demonstrated by the fact that the first recordings of jazz by a white band (Original Dixieland jazz Band, 1917) took place in New York, and the earliest by African-Americans (Kid Ory, 1922) in Los Angeles.

By the early 1920s, in the music of bands such as King Oliver’s Creole Band, New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and Ladd’s Black Aces, the music of jazz began to show an organic expansion, leading to more individual and thus more private attitudes. The differences among these underline a diversity of outlook which has remained characteristic of jazz ever since.

Jazz, perhaps more than any other music, does not lend itself to a neat sequence of styles. There has been an evolutionary succession of styles, which have maintained the continuity, logic, and inner necessity that characterize real art. However, the emergence of a new phase has never rendered others musically less valid. All jazz styles remain viable, with creative work being done in each.

Jazz as an orchestral music originated at least in part from the ragtime recorded by Sousa and others, and, by the 1930s, had developed primarily through the efforts of Don Redman, chief arranger for Fletcher Henderson. Duke Ellington was perhaps the first to make a genuinely personal use, for exclusively jazz purposes, of the large ensemble. His music is distinctive for the creation of an ensemble sound composed of many highly personal instrumental voices.

Jazz musicians have from the earliest times developed their own ways of playing, achieving considerable extensions of technical ability, and using virtuosity as a means of emotional and technical exploration. In the 1920s, two of the most creative musicians were Louis Armstrong, originally from New Orleans, who in 1924 joined Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra in New York as a jazz specialist; and Bix Beiderbecke, from Davenport, Iowa, who played in Chicago with the Wolverines.

The 1930s were known as the SWING era, culminating in the big bands of Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Although soloists remained an important part of these bands, they were heard to best advantage in smaller ensembles; this prompted many bands to organize small groups to perform special jazz “spots” during the course of an evening. In the late 1930s a revival of interest in early jazz led to the seeking-out and recording of older musicians, and to the desire on the part of performers to re-create the music of the earlier bands such as Oliver, Morton, and early Armstrong.

Perhaps the most remarkable development of the 1940s was the postwar emergence of BOP (rebop, bebop). As with many of the “innovations” of different jazz styles, the harmonic and rhythmic traits characteristic of bop had long been present in the music of Art Tatum, Coleman l1awkins, and others. Bop is perhaps best regarded as a final intensification of swing, with an essentially traditional nature, as seen in the work of its greatest exponent, Charlie Parker.

Running parallel to bop from the mid-1940s was a movement, mainly among white musicians, to adopt more advanced harmonies and musical procedures suggested by European art music. This style became known as COOL JAZZ. The contrast between bop and cool jazz was another Manifestation of the ongoing tension between African-American elements working in a forceful, spontaneous, improvised mode and the European-American style, more thoughtful and carefully constructed. Notable figures of the “cool school” included Miles Davis on the East Coast, and on the West Coast, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan.

During the 1950s, in part as a reaction to cool jazz, African-American bop, groups developed a hard-swinging simplified form of bop, known as HARD BOP. Leaders of this movement were Art Blakey and Charles Mingus; both were quite overt in their attempts to return jazz to what they considered its roots.

By the early 1960s, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and others were moving in the direction of free non-harmonic playing, or FREE JAZZ. Taylor, a classically trained pianist, experimented with stringing together passages of sound which acted as patches of color rather than as parts of a whole. On the other hand, Coleman, acting on instinct rather than training, played music which ignored chords and bar fines, and frequently departed from the equal-tempered chromatic scale.

Along with free jazz, other approaches continued to be explored, among them the MODAL JAZZ of Miles Davis. P erhaps the most important impact of jazz of the 1960s and 1970s came from rock music. By the end of the 1960s a number of rock performers were drawn to jazz, particularly through the influence of John Coltrane. Conversely, a few jazz musicians (including Miles Davis) turned to JAZZ-ROCK as a means of capturing part of the enormous rock audience. Among the leaders of this fusion movement were Chick Corea and Herbie Ibncock.

The 1970s saw a resurgence of jazz. The revival of bop was part of a larger movement that included jazz-rock and free jazz, and the continuing cultivation of dixieland, swing, and even the original New Orleans jazz. This new enthusiasm for jazz resulted in an extraordinary increase in reissues of early jazz recordings. jazz criticism reached new levels of sophistication in term of musical analysis and sound scholarship. It was during this time that schools and colleges began to institute courses in jazz studies.

In recent years, various players have drawn into their performances elements from entirely disparate sources, including Indian music, South American forms, and features of African music. This eclecticism is perhaps best seen in the work of Keith Jarrett.

Jazz has traveled a long way in its almost century-long existence. It has gained respectability as a musical genre, and continues to attract a following that is genuinely involved in it continuing development.

This exhibition was prepared by Grace Fitzgerald, Joyce Barker and Pam Barta-Kacena, with assistance from Pam Spitzmueller.