Monday Music Quote: Lee Evans

Monday Music Quote: Lee Evans

"The word irony is defined on one internet dictionary as, "the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning." Teaching my college class in jazz history about the Swing Era-also known as the Big Band Era-contains a large element of irony, so let me explain wherein the irony lies." -- Lee Evans is professor of music at NYC's Pace University.
I found this very cool article on the Swing Era and wanted to share much of it with you. I hope you find it interesting and useful in your piano studies.

The Role of Improvisation

Improv is considered by jazz experts and by authors of jazz history textbooks to be the sine qua non of jazz, the essential ingredient without which many might question whether the music is even jazz at all. An example to illustrate this point would be the ragtime piano music of the 1890's and early 1900's. Because this was a body of composed rather than improvised music, many consider it to be a precursor of jazz rather than jazz itself.

The same may be said of George Gershwin's 1920's "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Piano Concerto in F," as well as the "Blues" movement from Morton Gould's 1945 ballet score, "Interplay".  All are composed pieces devoid of even one note of improv. Nevertheless all are quite jazzy sounding, as they contain an abundance of musical elements ordinarily associated with the jazz idiom, such as blue notes, syncopated rhythms and offbeat accents, and jazz harmonies. 

The Swing Era, the most popular jazz era of all with the general public during its heyday in the 1930s, featured the least amount of pure improvisation of any period in jazz history. For the most part, at that time the general public couldn't care less about the jazz inventiveness of a big band practitioner's execution of an occasional short improvised jazz solo within the band's written arrangement. Yet most, if not all, jazz history textbooks concentrate their attention on those relatively few bands that featured more than a modest amount of improvisation-including such bands as those led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman...

So, when I say that there's a certain irony in teaching my jazz history students about swing era big band jazz, I'm implying that despite the era's great popularity with the general public, there was not all that much pure jazz being played by those groups in those days; certainly nowhere near the amount of improvisation (both solo and collective) that characterized the playing of the many early small combo Dixieland jazz bands, that existed immediately preceding the swing era, and the fantastically inventive solo improvisations performed by the innovative bebop groups that followed on the heels of the glamorous big band era.

How about you? Are you a fan of Big Band music and the Swing Era? I'd have to say, Duke Ellington is one my my favorites!

 If interested, HearandPlay offers some great Monthly Music Programs

All the best,





"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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