Tag Archives: Jazz

More Music of the Decade: Jazz, World & Classical

I’ve gone through the “Best Music – Year by Year” meta-lists from 2010-2019 and separated out the best in jazz, world music, and classical.  You can add these to the meta-lists of the best music (albums), best songs, best books, and best films of the 2010s decade.

Here are the links:

Best Jazz Albums of the 2010s
Best World Music of the 2010s
Best Classical Music of the 2010s

 

 

All That Jazz: Introducing the New Improved Jazz Meta-Lists

If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know. – Louis Armstrong (www.brainyquote.com)

I’ve completely revised the jazz meta-lists on Make Lists, Not War, removed an outdated list and added three new lists.  Here are the links:

Best Jazz Albums of All Time – Ranked
Best Jazz Albums of All Time – Chronological
Best Jazz Musicians and their Best Work – Ranked
Best Jazz Musicians and their Best Work – Chronological
Best Contemporary Jazz Musicians

In this post introducing these new lists, I’ve decided to forego writing an essay about jazz from my limited perspective and instead to include some quotes and definitions from other, more authoritative sources, as well as a very short jazz history timeline.

Jazz is the most significant form of musical expression in American culture and outstanding contribution to the art of musichttp://www.apassion4jazz.net

Jazz: American music developed especially from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre. – merriam-webster.com

The real power of Jazz is that a group of people can come together and create improvised art and negotiate their agendas… and that negotiation is the art Wynton Marsalis in Ken Burns’ Jazz.

Although jazz is considered highly difficult to define, at least in part because it contains so many varied subgenres, improvisation is consistently regarded as being one of its key elements. The centrality of improvisation in jazz is attributed to influential earlier forms of music: the early blues, a form of folk music which arose in part from the work songs and field hollers of the African-American slaves on plantations. … [J]azz is often characterized as the product of group creativity, interaction, and collaboration, which places varying degrees of value on the contributions of the composer (if there is one) and performers.In jazz, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition the same way twice; depending on the performer’s mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will.  Wikipedia.com

Jazz, to me, is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul – the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. – Langston Hughes (www.brainyquote.com)

Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time. – Ornette Coleman (www.brainyquote.com)

Jazz stands for freedom. It’s supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist – leave that to the classical musicians. – Dave Brubeck (www.brainyquote.com)

A Very Short History of Jazz

1890s-1910s: Jazz is born in New Orleans from a mix of pre-existing musical styles: ragtime, early blues, spirituals, marching bands, vaudeville, dance bands.

1900-1930: New Orleans Jazz, Trad Jazz, Dixieland Jazz (Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, etc.)

1920s-1930s: Classic female blues (Bessie Smith, etc.)

1930s-1940s: Swing and big band jazz (Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Billie Holiday)

Mid-1940s: Bebop arrives (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell)

Late 1940s-early1950s: Cool jazz and West Coast jazz are born (Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck)

1950s-1960s: Bebop evolves into hard bop (Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan,
Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane)

1950s: Third stream mixes cool jazz and classical music (Gil Evans, Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis)

1950s: Modal jazz appears (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans)

1959: Free jazz appears (Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane)

Late 1950s-early1960s: Soul jazz arrives (Jimmy Smith, etc.)

Late 1960s-1970s: Jazz-rock fusion and funk-jazz arrive (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report)

1980s-Present: Revival of older styles (neo-bop), continuation of newer styles. Crossover jazz.

Enjoy the lists, jazz lovers.  And please remember: These are meta-lists, which are compilations of lists I collected, not lists I made.  THESE ARE NOT MY PERSONAL OPINIONS.  I HAVE NOT LISTENED TO ALL THIS MUSIC.

Authors and Auteurs: The Individual As Creative Force

There appears to be a human impulse to attribute a work of art to a single creator.  Maybe this is a consequence of the monotheistic religions that so many humans embrace (or perhaps monotheism is a result of the same human impulse).  We honor and celebrate the skill and imagination, the creative power of book authors, playwrights, poets, painters, sculptors, songwriters, musicians, and film directors.  The underlying theory, I suppose, is that it takes the creative vision of a single mind to produce a fully-realized work of art.  The most controversial application of this theory is the auteur theory developed by French film critics in the 1950s and championed in the U.S. by Andrew Sarris.  According to the theory, a film’s director is its author, in the same way that the single person who writes a book is its author.  The trouble with the theory is that movies are also a collaborative art – an enterprise involving the coordinated artistic and technical skills of many individuals in addition to the director, such as the screenwriter, the cinematographer, the editor, the sound crew, the set designer, costumers, as well as the actors.  The auteur critics used their theory to champion lesser-known directors like Samuel Fuller and Douglas Sirk by showing how they used the relative obscurity of genre and “B” movies to put forth a personal artistic vision.  But the theory works less well for many of the films produced by the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s and 1940s, when the director may have been just another cog in the machine.  Gone With the Wind seems more a product of its producer, David O. Selznick’s vision, than than of its director, Victor Fleming.

Music can also be a collaborative art, especially in the ensembles of rock and jazz, where songwriting and performing are often spread among a number of talented individuals, working together but also taking opportunities to “solo” and improvise, temporarily elevating the individual above the ensemble.  Even classical music, in which the composer’s manuscript is usually sacred, conductors and musicians “interpret” the piece, bringing something of their own style and personality to the final performance.

Painting and sculpture, which are now seen as extremely individualistic, were not always so (and, for massive public art projects, are not so even now).  A painter or sculptor in the Renaissance, for example, had many assistants, who often executed some of the work. Painters were even known to charge higher rates depending on the percentage of the work they did themselves.  Furthermore, those clients commissioning paintings and sculptures often had very specific requirements about the content of the work.  The notion of a painter sitting down to a blank canvas and painting whatever he or she pleased is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Are book authors (and poets and playwrights), then, the only true auteurs?  In many cases, the author sits down, writes his or her book alone and then sees it published in substantially the same form.  But in other cases, this image ignores the reality of publishers and editors who influence not just the subject of books but the style.  (Thomas Wolfe is one famous example of a writer who delivered a mass of disorganized writing to his editor, who then whipped it into shape.  Yet the editor is not considered a co-author.)  There are also ‘authors’, like Homer and those to whom many ancient manuscripts are attributed, who are merely symbols for the centuries of oral tradition that led to the Iliad, the Odyssey and other works handed down over time.  And all artists are influenced by other artists – some steal directly, others unconsciously.  Some are rebels; some are reformers, and some wish to return to times gone by.  They are influenced by the market – what will sell, what will not.  The political climate affects them as well as their personal circumstances.

I have raised all these complications as a preface to introducing a number of new lists.  Actually, they are mostly reworkings of older lists (although a few of them dig deeper than the lists I’ve already published).  These new lists all have one thing in common: they are organized by artist (as in performer, author, director).  Some are alphabetical; some are chronological.  The main idea is to see the lists in a different way: through the lens of the individual creator and their body of work.  They are particularly useful in answering the question: “Which one should I try first?” (E.g., Which David Bowie  or Charles Mingus album?  Which Titian painting?  Which Dickens book?  Which Godard film?)  Or, for those who have dabbled already, “Which should I try next?”

Rock, pop, R&B, etc.:  Musicians and Their Best Albums
JazzJazz Artists and their Best Recordings
BooksGreat Authors and their Masterworks, Part 1: 850 BCE – 1870
BooksGreat Authors and their Masterworks, Part 2: 1871-Present
FilmFilm Directors and their Best Films
Visual Arts: Great Artists and Their Masterpieces 

Check It Out – My Personal Checklists

As you may already know, I don’t just make lists, I also like to play with my lists.  (Contrary to popular belief, this does not lead to blindness.)  I have been wanting to take my best music, literature and film of all time lists and set them up so you can see which items I’ve checked off, and so you can do the same.  If you’ve ever spent any time on listsofbests.com, you know what I’m talking about.  Unfortunately, WordPress (at least here in the cheap seats) doesn’t allow for such sophisticated programming.  Undaunted, I have found an alternative ‘check-off’ method.  Instead of checking off each movie I’ve seen, book I’ve read and and piece of music I’ve listened to, I have highlighted it in blue – Royal Blue, I might add.  (See below.)  So now, if you care (and, honestly, why would you?), you can find out which of the “best evers” I have partaken of so far.  And to make the fun last longer, you can make a copy of each list and do the same.  Happy listing!

My Film Checklist
My Literature Checklist
My Music Checklist