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Free Research Paper on Jazz

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The first true virtuoso soloist of jazz, Louie Armstrong was a dazzling improviser, technically, emotionally, and intellectually. Armstrong, often called the “father of jazz,” always spoke with deference, bordering on awe, of his musical roots, and with especial devotion of his mentor Joe Oliver. He changed the format of jazz by bringing the soloist to the forefront, and in his recording groups, the Hot Five and the Hot seven, demonstrated that jazz improvisation could go far beyond simply ornamenting the melody. Armstrong was one of the first jazz musicians to refine a rhythmic conception that abandoned the stiffness of ragtime, employed swing light-note patterns, and he used a technique called “rhythmic displacement.” Rhythmic displacement was sometimes staggering the placement of an entire phrase, as though he were playing behind the beat. He created new melodies based on the chords of the initial tune. He also set standards for all later jazz singers, not only by the way he altered the words and melodies of songs but also by improvising without words like an instrument (scat singing) (Arnold12). Armstrong was a great musical architect. He brought a superb sense of drama to jazz solo conception. During a period when most improvisers were satisfied simply to embellish or paraphrase a tune, Armstrong himself was a master at both. Armstrong’s command of the trumpet was arguable greater than that of any preceding jazz trumpeter who recorded.

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In actuality, the revolution initiated by Armstrong took place in fits and starts, and with little fanfare at the time. After Armstrong’s departure from the King Oliver Creole Band, over a year would transpire before he would record as a leader. And even when those famous recordings were planned -the classic “Hot Fives”- the record company considered enlisting a better known leader to front the band. Most accounts stress that Armstrong’s talents may have been neglected by the general public, but were amply recognized by the
musical community – ” his playing was revered by countless jazz musicians,” runs a typical commentary – but even this claim is suspect. Fletcher Henderson, Armstrong’s first major employer after Oliver, made the trumpeter accept a cut in pay to join his band. Many accounts suggest that Henderson, in fact , preferred the playing of cornetist Joe Smith, And that Armstrong was hired only because Smith was unavailable. Smith lacked Armstrong’s rhythmic drive, yet his warm sound and ease of execution could hardly be faulted and may have been better receive by the average dancehall patron. Henderson was not even enthusiastic about Armstrong’s singing, an attitude that deeply frustrated the new band member. Years later Armstrong would later exclaim: ” Fletcher didn’t dig me like Joe Oliver. He had a million dollar talent in his band and he never thought to let me sing.”

During the 1930s a new style of jazz emerged. It became the most popular kind of jazz in the twentieth century. This style began during the late 1920s and continued to the 1940s. Most jazz from the 1930s and early 1940s is called “swing music,” and this time in history is now known as “the swing era.” Big bands in the swing era were made up of ten or more musicians whose instruments were grouped into three categories called “sections:” rhythm, brass, and drums. The brass section included trumpets and trombones. The saxophone section was separated from the brass section because they originated from instruments made of wood. In a big band the sax section contained from three to five musicians. The size of the trumpet section varied from two to five musicians, two or three being the standard.

Unlike the early jazz era, in the swing era hits that were jazz-oriented contained only a few solo improvisations, often only one. Swing music contained less collective improvisation and more solo improvisation, and the amount of improvisation in most swing era hits was small. The construction of improvised solos in most hits were melodically conservative.

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