Jazz and Classical Music


Upon entering a modern record store, one is confronted with a wide variety of
choices in recorded music. These choices not only include a multitude of artists,
but also a wide diversity of music categories. These categories run the gamut
from easy listening dance music to more complex art music. On the complex side
of the scale are the categories known as Jazz and Classical music. Some of the
most accomplished musicians of our time have devoted themselves to a life-long
study of Jazz or Classical music, and a few exceptional musicians have actually
mastered both. A comparison of classical and Jazz music will yield some
interesting results and could also lead to an appreciation of the abilities
needed to perform or compose these kinds of music.

Let\'s begin with a look at the histories of the two. The music called classical,
found in stores and performed regularly by symphonies around the world, spans a
length of time from 1600 up to the present. This time frame includes the
Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods. The
classical period of music actually spans a time from of 1750 to 1800; thus, the
term Classical is a misnomer and could more correctly be changed to Western Art
Music or European Art Music. European because most of the major composers up
till the 20th century were European. Vivaldi was Italian, Bach was German,
Mozart and Beethoven were Austrian; they are some of the more prominent
composers. Not until the twentieth century with Gershwin and a few others do we
find American composers writing this kind of art music. For the sake of
convention, we can refer to Western Art Music as Classical music.

Jazz is a distinctively American form of music, and it\'s history occupies a much
smaller span of time. Its origins are found in the early 1900s as some dance
band leaders in the southern U.S. began playing music that combined ragtime and
blues. Early exponents of this dance music were Jelly Roll Martin (a blues
player) and Scott Joplin (ragtime). The terms "Jazz" and "Jazz Band" first
surfaced in the year 1900. Some say this occurred in New Orleans, although
similar music was played at the same time in other places. The most prominent
exponents of this early music, called Dixieland Jazz, included Louis Armstrong
and Sidney Bechet. After World War I, Jazz music had evolved and was aided by
the development of the recording industry. The small dance band ensemble grew
into the larger orchestra known as the "Big Band". The music of the Big Bands
became known as "Swing." Two of the more famous Swing band leaders were Tommy
Dorsey and Harry James. In the late 40s and through the 50s, a different kind of
Jazz became popular. This music, played by a very small ensemble, was much more
sophisticated and complex . Its rich harmonic changes and melodic counterpoint
were not conducive to dance. It became known as "Bop," with Charlie Parker and
Dizzie Gillespie being the early proponents. In the last twenty years there has
been a combination of Jazz with popular music of the US and Latin America. This
modern Jazz music has been called "Fusion." Present day exponents include Pat
Metheny and Chic Corea. There has also been a return to the sound of Bop in the
last ten years by such musicians as trumpeter Winton Marsalis and his brother
Branford, a saxophonist.

Let\'s focus on the instrumentation of the two kinds of music. In Classical music,
both large orchestras and small ensembles are used. But generally, the greatest
and most prominent compositions are for the larger symphony orchestra. The
largest part of the orchestra is the string section consisting of violins,
violas, cellos and string basses. These instruments were invented very early in
medieval times but really matured into their present form during the late 18th
century. The wind instruments, comprised of brass and woodwinds, took longer to
mature. The brass section in particular did not posses the ability to play
chromatically (in all keys) until the advent of valves which allowed the length
of the instrument to be changed while playing. This occurred around the middle
to late 19th century. Consequently, the brass instruments are less prominent in
the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven along with their contemporaries. Late
19th and early 20th century composers make use of a very large orchestra with
all the fully developed wind instruments. Some of the master
orchestrator/composers of this time were: Wagner, Rimskey-Korsakov, Ravel and
Stravinsky. Currently, composers also make use of the full orchestra but with
the addition of increasingly larger percussion