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April 15, 2019 Anthony P

English 10 Block 4


One of the most diverse forms of music, jazz, is a style of music which can

defined many ways. There's many different types of jazz, like swing, bossa nova, funk,

and latin. Jazz is most commonly characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and

forceful rhythms. Jazz has a unique sound, with brass players using mutes, glissandos

and different inflections to create different sounds. Jazz ensembles can range from

quartets to full size big bands. The website Jazz in America states that a typical big

band has two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, a baritone saxophone, three

tenor trombones, one bass trombone, and four trumpets, along with the rhythm section

consisting of a guitar, pianist, bassist, and a drummer. Jazz originated from dixieland

music in New Orleans in the early 1900s, and has evolved into many different types of

jazz. I personally love bebop, which is very flashy, fast, and loud. (“Jazz” Wikipedia)

One of the most prominent styles of jazz, swing, first appeared during the Great

Depression. The optimistic feel of swing brought everyone together in America. With the

swing style in full force in America, many of the greatest swing bands emerged, the

most famous including Count Basie and his Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra,

and Benny Goodman's Orchestra (Jazz in America). In the 1940s a new style of jazz

was born, bebop. Bebop is my favorite style of jazz and is characterized by fast and

flashy notes. Bebop has fast tempos, intricate melodies, and complex harmonies and,

was most often played by smaller groups rather than big bands. Jazz then developed

into “cool jazz” in the 50s and 60s. This new form of jazz was born on the west coast of

America and was made famous by musicians like trumpeter Chet Baker and baritone

saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Cool jazz is most often played in small groups and has a

more relaxed tempo and lighter tone, compared to fast and flashy bebop. In the 70s,

funk was born and was made famous by artists such as Herbie Hancock and J.J.

Johnson. Funk is known for using electrified sounds and synthesizers.

Invented by Adolphe Sax in 1841, the saxophone has been a staple in both jazz

and classical music and is one of the instruments most commonly associated with jazz.

Adolphe Sax was ​born on Nov. 6, 1814 in Dinant, Belgium. His father was an instrument

maker, who actually made several changes to the saxophone after Sax invented it.

When he was young, Adolphe was a student of flute and clarinet at Brussel's

Conservatory of Music. He observed the balance between the woodwinds and the brass

which, at the time, led him to believe that there was a missing range that a hybrid

woodwind and brass instrument might be able to fill. He intended the saxophone to

have the power of the brass and the agility of the woodwinds, and this is seen by how

diverse the saxophone is, seen in jazz bands, concert bands, wind ensembles, chamber

groups, and even some orchestras. The saxophone isn’t very popular in orchestras

because it was invented after the standard orchestra, and due to this, composers in the

1800s didn’t want to compose new music for the sax or change the setup of the

orchestra, although some composers did include the sax in their orchestra. Sax's

experimentation with the bass clarinet led him to a design that joined the single reed

concept of the woodwinds with metal materials instead of wood, like a clarinet. While

there are the four standard saxophones, the baritone, tenor (my favorite), alto, and

soprano, there are many more versions of the saxophone, ranging from saxophones

with a slide like a trombone, to massive contrabass saxophones, and even to

saxophones with no keys. The two most common keys for the saxophone are E flat (alto

and baritone) and B flat (tenor and soprano), but there are some saxophones from the

late 1800s that are in keys like F and C, although these are rare because it makes it

more challenging for the composer to write music for these instruments. Saxophones

were adopted by British brass bands because of their powerful sound and wide range.

(Espie Estrella “When was the saxophone invented?”, “Adolphe Sax” Britannica)

Louis Armstrong was one of the most influential artists in the history of music.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901, he began playing the cornet at the

age of 13. Before Armstrong became famous, everyone played dixieland music, which

was a very early form of jazz where everyone played a solo at the same time. Once

Armstrong became famous, he developed the idea of people taking individual solos.

Armstrong left an impact on American music that is still here today. The saxophone

remains an iconic instrument in jazz, mastered by many musical geniuses. The

saxophone was crucial in defining the sound of jazz during the early 1920s. Some of the

most famous saxophonists include Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins.

Arguably the most influential jazz saxophonist is Charlie Parker. Parker, famous for

playing the alto saxophone, began playing at age 11. ​His biggest influence at that time

was a young trombone player named Robert Simpson, who taught him the basics of

improvisation. In the mid-1930s, Parker began to practice diligently. During this period

he mastered improvisation and developed some of the ideas that led to the later

development of bebop. In an interview with Paul Desmond, he said that he spent three

to four years practicing up to 15 hours a day. The style of the Count Basie Orchestra

and Bennie Moten’s band influenced Parker the most. (“Charlie Parker” Wikipedia)

Most likely the most famous tenor saxophonist is John Coltrane. Coltrane was

born on September 23, 1926. He played clarinet and alto horn in a community band

before beginning alto saxophone in high school. To avoid being drafted by the Army,

Coltrane enlisted in the Navy on August 6, 1945. Coltrane made his first recordings with

the Melodic Masters, the swing band for the base he was stationed at. Possibly the

most important jazz album ever made “Giant Steps”, was written and recorded by

Coltrane. The song Giant Steps featured “Coltrane changes” which made the chart very

difficult to improvise over because the changes in the chords were very big, hence the

name “Giant Steps”. Being able to solo over these unique chord changes has become a

right of passage among jazz musicians. (“John Coltrane” Biography)

Sonny Rollins is known for being one of the most influential jazz musicians

of all time. Rollins started as a pianist, changed to alto saxophone, and finally switched

to tenor in 1946. During his high school years, he played in a band with other future jazz

legends Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew, and Art Taylor. After graduating from high school

in 1947, Rollins began performing professionally. He made his first recordings in early

1949 as a sideman with the bebop singer Babs Gonzales. (“Sonny Rollins” Biography)

Arguably the most fundamental part of jazz is improvisation. Improvisation is

when a player makes up a solo on the spot, using scales and notes that fit into the

chords of the song. Many jazz musicians find their personal style through improvisation.

While improvisation is a fundamental part of jazz, it is also one of the most difficult

aspects of jazz. The player can’t just use any notes to form their solo, they have to use

certain notes that fit into the chords of the song, otherwise it won’t sound right. Jazz

musicians must have an extensive knowledge of jazz chords and the scales that go with

them in order to perform an effective solo. Some of the most famous jazz improvisers

are Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Each of these

musicians paved the way for new styles of improvisation and genres of jazz. (“Jazz”


Like improvisation, writing a jazz song is also very challenging. There are so

many factors that go into writing a jazz piece. Some of the most famous jazz composers

include Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Herbie Hancock, and these

composers all wrote many different styles of jazz. Some of the most famous jazz

compositions are Take Five- Dave Brubeck, So What- Miles Davis, Strange Fruit- Billie

Holiday, and Giant Steps- John Coltrane. One of the first things you need to do when

writing a jazz chart is choose the genre. There are many types of jazz, varying from

swing to latin and funk. You need to decide if you’re going to write a piece for a full 18

piece jazz ensemble or for a smaller group, like a quartet or quintet. In most jazz

ensembles, the piano and guitar play the chords while the bass plays the bassline, and

the drums keep a steady tempo. The melody often switches between the saxophones

and the brass sections. For example, if the saxophones are playing the melody, the

trombones and trumpets will play background rhythms and vise versa. It is important to

add dynamics and articulation to shape the song and make it more interesting.

Jazz has one of the most complicated music theories of any of genre of music.

Jazz has so many different aspects that are very unique to jazz, and while this makes it

very hard to write jazz and play it, it also makes fun and exciting at the same time.

Throughout the last century, there have been many famous big bands and jazz

ensembles in America. Some of the most famous bands have been the Count Basie

Orchestra, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Glenn Miller’s Band. Most of the

early bands played dixieland, which was developed in the early 20th century, influenced

by ragtime, military brass bands, the blues, and gospel music. The instrumentation for

these bands was typically trumpet, clarinet, trombone, tuba or string bass, banjo or

guitar, drums, and sometimes a piano. These bands usually played on the streets of

New Orleans. (“Jazz” Wikipedia)

The appearance of trumpeter Louis Armstrong drastically changed the jazz

scene for years to come. One of the first prominent jazz groups was Louis Armstrong

and His Hot Five. The original members of his band were his wife, ​pianist Lillian Hardin

Armstrong, Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on ​clarinet​, and Johnny St. Cyr on

guitar and ​banjo​. (“Louis Armstrong” Wikipedia, The Louis Armstrong House Museum)

Once dixieland evolved into swing, the Count Basie Orchestra became one of the most

famous bands from the swing era. Founded in 1935 by pianist Count Basie, the band

included musicians such as Buck Clayton, Lester Young​, ​Thad Jones and Eddie

"Lockjaw" Davis. Its recordings of this era included collaborations with singers such as

Frank Sinatra and ​Ella Fitzg​e​rald​. Despite a brief disbandment at the beginning of the

1950s, the band survived long past the Big Band era itself and the death of Basie in

1984. It continues as a “ghost band”. Possibly one of the most famous quintets in

history, the Miles Davis Quintet rose to the jazz scene in the 1950s and 60s. Miles

Davis was a trumpeter known for playing “cool” jazz, which was born on the west coast

by musicians such as trumpeter Chet Baker and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. The

original musicians in Davis’s quintet were​ Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Red

Garland on ​pian​o, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The quintet

went under a couple different changes in personnel. One of the biggest changes was

when Rollins was replaced by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. (“Jazz” Wikipedia)

Jazz has been around for nearly one hundred years and was the prominent

genre of music in the 20th century. Jazz is one of the only true forms of American

music, and it has a deep connection to our culture. It is one of the most diverse forms

of music because it has so many different styles. I enjoy studying and trying to master

all of the different styles. While I have a lot still to learn, when I play and listen to jazz, I

feel a part of a deep and complex history.


Works Cited

“Biography.” ​JOHN COLTRANE,​

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Adolphe Sax.” ​Encyclopædia Britannica,​

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 3 Feb. 2019,

“Count Basie Orchestra.” ​Wikipedia​, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Apr. 2019,

Estrella, Espie. “When Was the Saxophone Invented?” ​ThoughtCo,​ ThoughtCo, 2 Sept.


“Jazz.” ​Wikipedia,​ Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Apr. 2019,

“Louis Armstrong.” ​Wikipedia​, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Apr. 2019,

“The Louis Armstrong House Museum.” ​Louis Armstrong Home Museum​,

“Sonny Rollins » Bio.” ​Sonny Rollins,​

“The Swing Era.” ​Jazz in America,​

“What Is Jazz?” ​National Museum of American History,​ 9 Feb. 2016,