Charlie Parker Term Paper

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Charlie Parker


The music of United States changed significantly during the twentieth century, and each generation went on to develop its own music. These were all immensely popular, had strong rhythmic touch and were very different from the earlier forms which existed. These were used for dancing or just for the purpose of listening. When the twentieth century started it was the time for a variety called Ragtime. After the end of the First World War, Jazz had its origin and it influenced all other forms till it was affected by the stock market crash in 1929. This period was called the roaring twenties. Then it was time for a new form to emerge and this was in the music of the Big Bands and led at different stages by Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, Glen Gray and Chick Webb in the beginning. They were then followed by Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Benny Goodman. Among the whole lot of them, Benny Goodman became the most famous as the "King of Swing." (The Big Band Era, Or How America Came Out Of the Great Depression and Went On To Win World War II)

The music of swing was followed in the end of the 1940s by the forms called Rhythm and Blues. This form was originally developed by the Black musicians and was targeted to the Black audiences, but was later taken over by Elvis Presley as Rock and Roll around 1955. Throughout this entire period the development of music was being done by the Blacks, but the commercial benefits were being exploited by the White Americans. The mode of music called Rock and Roll by Presley was developed further by the Beatles in 1960 and innumerable other bands. The varieties were also introduced in this music and the varieties were given the name of acidic, metallic, hard and soft. This form of music became the biggest hit of the century and is still going on in different forms. The name of the music has changed now from Rock to Rap and now Hip Hop. This in short is the history of music in the twentieth century. (The Big Band Era, Or How America Came Out Of the Great Depression and Went On To Win World War II)

The origin of Jazz:

The beauty of Jazz is that it is a really American form of music and was formed during the ears from 1895 to 1917. The distinction of Jazz from other music of that time is not easy as the music was not recorded till about 1917, and even if some recordings of earlier periods exist, they would have very little acoustic value as the recording equipment of that time was highly limited, and to understand true Jazz, one would have had to hear it in person. Even there have been disputes as to the exact location where Jazz started as also the name of the group of people who started this form of music. Some writers say that Jazz has been formed from a number of different music forms that existed before Jazz like the Blues, Ragtime, Brass Band Music, Hymns and Spirituals, Minstrel music and work songs. (The origins of Jazz)

These types of music were very common in the United States and present in many of the cities there. Yet it is agreed by most experts that New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz. The reason for ascribing the birth of Jazz to New Orleans is that only New Orleans had a specific element required for the development of Jazz - the black Creole subculture. The Creoles are different from the other blacks in the United States as they had been free, speaking in French and Spanish and come to New Orleans from West Indies.

They had first lived under Spanish rule and then French rule in Louisiana. Then Louisiana became American when the territory was purchased in 1803 and further development took place when it became a state in 1812. (The origins of Jazz)

The Creoles were in the highest levels of the society at the time of purchase and practically throughout the 19th century. They were very important in the economic and culture of the city and lived along with the French speaking population in the French section of the city, east of Canal Street. There were a lot of musicians among them, and some of them were trained at the Conservatory in Paris. They played at the local Opera House and in the chamber meetings. The best bands in New Orleans were led by some of them. They considered themselves to be superior as they knew European music thoroughly, had precise techniques and soft delicate tones. Their social and cultural values were similar to the values of the upper class in New Orleans. (The origins of Jazz)

At the other end of the social scale was the blacks who stayed in the American part of the city, and this was the western side of Canal Street. They had just become free and as a result were poor, uneducated and did not have any advantages of culture or money. Yet, there were musicians there too! This section was called the Back o' town section. These musicians knew well the blues, Gospel music and work songs. These were sung mostly or played mainly by their ear. Thus the two sides of town had two different characteristics - memorization and improvisation for the west and sight reading and correct performance for the east. This separation continued to keep the two groups separate - till 1894, when a racial segregation law was started in New Orleans. This forced the Creoles to move to the other disadvantaged side leaving their advantages. (The origins of Jazz)

In terms of culture, this hurt them, but due to their advantages, they soon gained control of the entire leadership of the musical development of the blacks. The two styles were different and when they met there was a lot of interaction and this started off the development of Jazz. The record of this is clear from the records of the interview of Jelly Roll Morton taken in 1938 and stored in the Library of Congress. The interviewer is Alan Lomax. This is probably the best record that exists of the process of transformation of the different non-jazz musical elements integrated into Jazz. Jelly Roll was originally a Creole and named Ferdinand La Menthe when born. He was one of the first people to start on the development of Jazz. His explanations about the change are quite clear and he talks in detail about the change of European dance forms like the French quadrille, the waltz, the mazurka and the polka into the Jazz form of Tiger Rag. He went to the extent of claiming to have invented Jazz in 1902. (The origins of Jazz)

The important thing to note, whether we accept his claim or not, is that the music that Morton is talking about a form of music not covered by the blues or ragtime. Yet it is a form of music that is a swinging syncopation of ragtime, opera and the different French and Spanish songs. There was also the question of the introduction of the 2-bar break and these gradually led to the extended solos. Other improvisation also had started like scat singing. In terms of innovation, it was easy to convert ragtime to Jazz - the inherent change was shifting the 2/4 beat of ragtime to a 4/4 beat. Yet it required the understanding of this now simple concept. This method permitted any music of that time like opera to blues could be played in Jazz. The underlying rhythms could be both European and African. (The origins of Jazz)

The underlying beat had to be provided by African music as beat is absent in most European music. There was also the concept of the use of poly-rhythms and playing the melody separately from the beat. The dance rhythms came from the European music. The two joined together to give Jazz its unique swing. Again the harmonies and musical concepts of both Europe and Africa are present with the pentatonic scale being provided by the blues. African music has provided the call and response and other unconventional use of instruments, and they exist together with the systemic harmonies and formal structure that exist in European music. (The origins of Jazz)

It seems clear that laws helped Jazz develop rapidly in New Orleans and the second instance was through the establishment in 1897 of Storyville. This was the infamous red light district of the city. This extended from Basin Street to Robertson Street and from Perdido to Gravier, providing a large number of sporting houses where the registered prostitutes of the city carried on their business. This caused the development of number Jazz bands that were providing the music to the dance halls and other places within the area. They had names like Funky…

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