We agree with Billy Evans when he quips, “It bugs me when people try to analyze Jazz as an intellectual theorem. It’s not. It’s feeling.” And on International Jazz Day i.e today, we just cannot wait to share the beautiful feeling by talking about some Jazz legends and their songs. Along with us, Ahmed Ebrahim who has been spearheading the Jazz movement in Pune via the Pune Jazz Club talks about the few names that created their own space on the Jazz shelf.
Ahmed reminisces that the environment in and around America was the environment in the late 1800s which led to the African American use music. “One evolution of Jazz was Blues which came from the cotton plantations where the slaves were working. Escaping to Canada through tunnels was the way for freedom. So, they would escape from one plantation to another and singing blues songs was their way to communicate to their family about their safety. They were sung via gospels or hymns and so on. This is where improvisation came in – a main aspect of Jazz music. In the early 1900s, Jazz music came up strongly in New Orleans.” In fact, improvisation allowed bringing in their own in any composition. Its natural progression is also rap songs – the reason why so many African-Americans were/are adept in rap. Also Harlem is the place where most of the African-American Jazz biggies came from and so this place is vital, in terms of the growth of Jazz.
A trumpeter and singer, Louis Armstrong laid the groundwork after which Jazz in America and the world over changed. His style of trumpet playing sharp, just like his gruff voice. He broke the barriers of race in early eras marked with racial discrimination. Ahmed remarks, “Louis covered a large part of the Jazz rise, right from his early days at New Orleans to modern days and even in pop music.” He worked with his contemporaries and the musicians who came in later. A few of his hits included What a Wonderful World, Where the Saints Go Marching In and Hello Dolly.
Louis’s name is followed with Duke Ellington who as a composer, pianist and band leader also had a wide impact on Jazz music. He helmed the process of making Jazz music by not limiting himself to a particular genre. “He was part of a big band and was the ambassador of Jazz music – sent by the American government all over the globe. He was also a brilliant composer.” His association or collaboration with Bill Stayhorn was renowned. Once when Bill was coming to visit Duke in Harlem, he took the A train and in that, he wrote the composition Take the A Train. Some other popular numbers include Caravan, Satin Doll and It Don’t Mean A Thing.
Miles Davis is another intriguing character to crop up. His fame, according to Ahmed, came from the fact that he came out with new styles in the genre – cool jazz, rock, and Jazz fusion and so on. This trumpeter, band leader and composer lead a band which got quite a few geniuses. “Miles did his own thing and became a jazz genius. Like Bob Dylan, he was adept to experimenting.” His influence on future jazz musicians is celebrated. Some of his songs include So What, All the Things You are, Autumn Leaves, All Blues, Bye Bye Blackbird, etc.
Jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald was the queen of the genre whose husky voice did not miss a pure tone, inflection or the skill of improvisation. Ahmed adds, “Her interpretation of the Great American Songbook was huge. Her singing was phenomenal, especially with Louis Armstrong. She was truly the gift of god who would also improvise a lot.” Some of her memorable songs include A-Tisket, A-Tasket, Chew Chew Chew, Someone to Watch Over Me and St Louis Blues.
John Coltrane came in a bit later, but this path-breaking saxophonist and composer went from bebop and hard bop to pioneering Jazz in different ways. He probably was the bridge between the early jazz eras and the post-60s scene. One cannot deny his spirit in both popular Jazz and forward-thinking Jazz scene. Ahmed adds, “He was a genius. He improved on it and set new directions in Jazz. He came in post 60s and his method of playing was unbelievable – never tried before.” For starters, try listening to Blue Train, My Favourite Things, The Night Has Thousand Eyes, Blue in Green and Crescent.
A magnetic clarinettist with a band of his own, Benny Goodman is the King of Swing. This son of a Jewish immigrant brought in swing, bebop and cool Jazz. He also broke the racial segregation marring American in the early times with many African-American band members making name with him. “Goodman’s music was popular music which came at the time when the world was getting out of the depression era till after the Second World War. Everyone wanted to be happy and dance. Swing came in and lasted till after the war,” Ahmed notes. A few of his numbers included Sing Sing Sing, Let’s Dance, Stompin’ At The Savoy and St Louis Blues.
The Latin American Jazz especially Bossa Nova from Brazil owes it big time to American Stan Getz, a saxophonist whose collaborations on Latin American Jazz got him fans and awards galore. This is despite the fact that he worked on Bebop, Cool Jazz and Third Stream (a merger of Jazz and Classical Music). You might know him best for the award-winning number, The Girl from Ipanema. A few other names which deserve a vital mention are Chet Baker (trumpeter, flugelhornist and vocalist), Sarah Vaughan (vocalist), Billy Holliday (vocalist and songwriter) and Count Bassie (pianist, organist, band leader and composer).
Disclaimer: Many Jazz fans might have issues with the list, but a list like this can never define the vastness of Jazz. The field is open for discussion and Jazz virgins can start with the list.
Featured Image Credit: http://images2.fanpop.com/