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Why does jazz SOUND the way it does?

VirusKiller

Member
Messages
449
Obviously jazz is a huge genre; what I'm referring to is some of the classic jazz - Miles Davis, Coltrane, Cannonball, Parker, etc. I'm not talking about the more "tuneful" stuff like Getz's latin jazz or Desmond's "Take Five".

Am I just talking about modal jazz?

My question has probably been answered implicitly throughout many threads, but not having done a jazz theory course, I'm struggling to find the technical vocabulary to explain why jazz sounds the way it does.

- Is it the rhythm? (think double-bass pounding out the rhythm in 4/4 together with brushed percussion).

- Is it the cadences (chord progressions?) which differ from non-jazz genres like rock and blues?

- Is it the use of non-"classical" modes and chords - e.g. heavy use of dorian minor? (though I found out recently that Eleanor Rigby is in dorian mode).

- Is it all of the above?

- Is it something else?

I ask this as I'm trying to work out why I'm still not sure if I like (modal?) "jazz" or not. I wouldn't be alone in suggesting that the majority of solos, whilst they can be technically brilliant and full of emotion, lack the traditional tunefulness that is pleasing to the/my ear.

Is it because, growing up listening exclusively to the pop/rock, blues and classical genres, the jazz modes and cadences are essentially alien to me?

Or are non-jazz modes and cadences more popular for a reason: they genuinely sound nicer? And that jazz aficionados position themselves on the intellectual high ground "above" the more popular genres. A case of "The Emperor's New Clothes"?

I'm not a jazz hater. I like "Kind of Blue". I think that "Persuance" on "A Love Supreme" is an amazing example of the conveyance of emotion, even though it is not "tuneful".

Given my existing musical exposure, I'm sure that I will appreciate jazz the more I listen to it, become familiar with it, and understand it. But will I like it?
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
It's just that the melodies are faster and are more complicated (not to mention the rhythm and harmonies also being more complicated). To use some of your examples, Pursuance is very "tuneful" playing to my ear, and Bird played ballads (and everything else, ftm) very melodically.

From the 40s through the 60s some jazz got progressively more divorced from the dance music it almost exclusively was before the war, and in every way -- melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically. Best example of this is to listen to Miles's band playing a standard like If I Were a Bell or All Of You, or a blues throughout the years. Early 50's it's comparatively simple, laid back, easy to hear, and has a lot in common with the way Getz and Desmond played standards. By 1965 it's nearly incomprehensible -- incredibly great music, but very, very demanding listening.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Three words: Sidney Bechet, Summertime

Various recordings, all good. If you don't like this, I suspect you'll never like jazz. I don't understand how he makes such weird-sounding playing move me so much, but it just bowls me over every time. I can't cope with hard-core bebop either. On the other hand, I don't get why rock is still going after 50-odd years. It does nothing for me and all sounds the same. I think I must just be really un-cool.
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
I have no clue about the jazz. But I recently started learning to play the drums. I started off learning the simple rock beats, which are indeed pretty simple and straight forward. Then I moved onto learning to play Jazz drumming. That's a whole different thing altogether. Jazz drumming is based both on quarter notes and triplets simultaneously mixed together. And the right-hand (snare and hi-hat) play syncopated complementary rhythms against those quarter notes and triplets (being played on the bass drum and ride cymbal). Just learning to play Jazz drumming grooves is a totally different thing from rock for sure.

Of course, I'm sure that the drum grooves isn't the only thing that make Jazz, Jazz. But clearly it plays a large role. It's just not going to be jazz if you're playing a typical rock groove behind it. That's just not going to cut it.

I think one of the keys that makes Jazz, Jazz, is indeed the combination of quarters and triplets. You can play off either beat and jump back and forth between the "squareness" of the quarter beat, and the "roundness" of the triplets. So you have that interweaving of two different baseline beats to play against. And then you have the additional "comping" rhythms on top of that, and there is an endless variety of comping rhythms that are played against the basic quarters and triplets. So it leaves a lot of room for improvising. This is probably why jazz is considered to be a highly improvisational genre.

So after having written this post I think my answer now would simply be to say that what make Jazz, Jazz is the comping rhythms, and the fact that they are often improvised over those quarters and triplets which opens the door wide to endless improvisational journeys. Not just for the drummer, but clearly for anyone who's improvising a melody against a jazz groove.

Thanks for the question, you made me think about this in some depth for myself.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
Messages
4,625
Isn't it claimed that the original Be-Bop guys deliberately set out to play in a way that stopped anyone else sitting in with them at jam sessions- very fast, odd key signatures, assymetric rhythms.
 

Clivey

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,023
This thread puts me in mind of Rex Stuart`s book "Jazz Masters of the Thirties". I used to borrow this from the library all the time in my late teens. It`s an awesome read. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=...ook_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA

He describes "cutting sessions" Which were really job interviews and also explores a lot of the types of music which eventually became known as Jazz .



I think now 30 odd years later I might actually buy this book;}
 

Mikec

Member
Messages
196
I think jazz sounds like jazz because of a combination of stylistic and technical elements. The variations in timing are paramount I believe, i.e. it must swing or it ain't jazz! I remember an interview with Wynton Marsalis in which he says much the same thing. Instrumentation is another major factor; you don't hear much jazz played by string quartets, though Nigel Kennedy has gone a long way in that direction. Harmony has to be a huge part of it, and perhaps the use of "jazzy" scales, modes, or chords is an indication of Jazz's influence on popular music over the decades? Jazz also has a large amount of music that is deliberately non-melodic relying on rhythm and texture for its emotional impact. Sweet Dreamers post about drumming is enlightening; the importance of drumming in jazz should not be underestimated. A good jazz drummer not only keeps time and rhythm he/she frees up the rest of the rhythm section to be more creative adding to the overall stylistic impression, (or muddying the waters, depending on your point of view).
As for liking something I tend to give music two plays, if it hasn't moved me by then, I don't give it three. There are exceptions, and my taste has definitely changed over time, and will change again, no doubt. For me, the best thing about jazz is that you can't pin it down!
 

VirusKiller

Member
Messages
449
Two things:

1) Last week I saw a repeat of an interview with Daniel Barenboim (on The Culture Show), who tackled the "music" ;} of Schönberg earlier this year. In addressing the Schönberg's inaccessibility, he used the analogy of having to re-read a great book again and again to understand it and appreciate it. I think that certain jazz sub-genres fall into this category: I may come to understand and appreciate them, but I'm not sure I'll ever enjoy them. I have never been interested in music as an academic appreciation exercise: that smacks to me of The Emperor's New Clothes. YMMV.

2) On the other hand, this thread reveals "the power of the pentatonic scale"; which does suggest that some music falls more naturally on the ears than others, and why many forms of jazz aren't mainstream today.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Two things:

1) Last week I saw a repeat of an interview with Daniel Barenboim (on The Culture Show), who tackled the "music" ;} of Schönberg earlier this year. In addressing the Schönberg's inaccessibility, he used the analogy of having to re-read a great book again and again to understand it and appreciate it. I think that certain jazz sub-genres fall into this category: I may come to understand and appreciate them, but I'm not sure I'll ever enjoy them. I have never been interested in music as an academic appreciation exercise: that smacks to me of The Emperor's New Clothes. YMMV.
Me too. I've tried Goethe, Tolstoy, but life's too short to have to force myself to finish it. I want music that talks to me, that I can tune into - and this means melody, rhythm, mood..... But..... I felt the same about Stravinsky's Rites of Sping. Then I saw Leonard Bernstein discussing/rehearsing it with the European Youth Orchestra on Tv. Now it makes sense and I enjoy it a lot. Before that it was just noise. But I'm not sure that many of the drug fuelled Jazz genres would really stand any more than a technical analysis.

It's not the excess note count - I really enjoy listening to Oscar Peterson for instance - it's the lack of emotion...

And for me music is first and foremost an emotional art - not a technical one. The analysis helps us lean how a composer achieved something, but it doesn't convey the emotions - this is something that only comes from listening - either to a live perfomance, or if you have the skill, hearing the music in your head from the score. And it's this listening that should drive analysis - how did the composer expect/wish this to be played?

I don't think much of Jazz will last this century out - but some will. Just the same way that earlier music has largely faded away, except for the master works. Fo isntance how many of us can name/play/sing a piece of mediaeval music except Greensleeeves? Similarly, without wishing to tread on toes, how much from modern composers like Messaein, Boulez will last? To me it's experimentation, but not appealing to people outside a very small circle.

Music only lasts if it appeals to a big enough audience to sustain it's playing. And many older genres/modern genres don't do this. Although it would be a brave person who could realistically predict what will last and what won't. How much of Antoni Salieri's music gets played today? Virtually none, but he was much more highly thought of than Mozart at the time.

Anyone for madrigals? Thought not, but you get the picture...
 
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BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Two things:

1) Last week I saw a repeat of an interview with Daniel Barenboim (on The Culture Show), who tackled the "music" ;} of Schönberg earlier this year. In addressing the Schönberg's inaccessibility, he used the analogy of having to re-read a great book again and again to understand it and appreciate it. I think that certain jazz sub-genres fall into this category: I may come to understand and appreciate them, but I'm not sure I'll ever enjoy them. I have never been interested in music as an academic appreciation exercise:
Try Berg or Webern. They couldn't have written what they did without Schoenberg but, to my ears, Schoenberg invented a beautiful language but had had nothing much to say in it. Berg's music (eg, Violin Concerto, Wozzeck) is far more passionate. Webern is dryer in a way, but the pieces are mostly short and bear repeated listening. Some of the sounds he brings out of different combinations of instruments are just gorgeous.

Here's some Bach arranged by Webern:
 
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jayx124

Member
Messages
30
I think jazz sounds the way it does for 2 reason:
rhythm - its all about swing
chromaticism - the extensive use of chromatic non diatonic notes IMHO is what gives jazz that sound
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
I think jazz sounds the way it does for 2 reason:
rhythm - its all about swing
chromaticism - the extensive use of chromatic non diatonic notes IMHO is what gives jazz that sound
Not sure about your first point as free jazz swings about as much as music concrete and there was a 12 note 'classical' or 'serious' school, categorise it as you will, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Guess this means that jazz tends to follow the West European trends on the other hand the chromatic argument might be down to African scale systems.

Usual apology for being serious.
 

Mack

Senior Member
Messages
518
When I first started trying to listen to jazz (Coltrane/Marsalis - what a place to start - I'm surprised I stayed the course...) my question was how they could improvise for so long without at least accidentally stumbling across a melody. Then I started somewhere more sensible (Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else) and later went back to Trane and Shorter and all the rest. Now when we have the radio on in the office I find that modern so-called R&B and other X-Factor stuff drives me mad - too much easy melody is like eating nothing but ice cream. Jazz forces unused parts of your brain to wake up - its "awkward" avoidance of traditional melody frees your mind up somehow - it's not meant to be easy listening. I need some AC/DC or Metallica every now and again of course.
 
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