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Choosing the Jazz Style to Teach Listening Skills
Tom Brown
President, Jazz Audience Advocates

Before I began to work on the listening skills tutorials, I had to determine the best jazz style from which to gather music examples that support the concepts being presented. A friend argued, why not start with New Orleans? It was the beginning of the music, a logical choice. The problem is that the musical vocabulary and feel of the early players is quite remote from what has been developed and played from the mid-forties 40s to the present--and that's not a value judgment. I love the Hot Five and Seven Armstrong studio stuff from the twenties as well as the playing of Bix Beiderbecke and Sidney Bechet. Next, swing was a possibility; but for many, the rhythm section "feel" and the soloist's ideas, especially in a big band setting, are perceived as grandpa's dance music.

Then comes bebop with fresh rhythmic and harmonic complexity and a relatively low dance ability quotient. The musical vocabulary is closer to the jazz that followed and it is all within the context of actual songs as well. Thus, for our listening pairs instructional guides, we choose the style of jazz that incorporate songs and tunes that have form and structure, and our examples are taken largely from bebop, the jazz style of Charlie Parker.

There are two additional reasons for this decision.

  1. Our tutorials emphasize increasing the breadth of your listening to include instruments that provide chord accompaniment (comping) behind the soloist. The bop piano players generally played clearly and succinctly and the sound engineers of the era tended to place them relatively high in the mix on the albums. This facilitates hearing and understanding their contribution to the group's improvisational efforts by providing the listener with a musical underpinning for the improvising soloist.

  2. The phrases and ideas that all bop players use during their improvised solos are intimately related to the chords of the tune, more so than those found in any other style of jazz. This doesn't mean that playing ideas with the highest degree of fidelity to the chords is necessarily better than other jazz styles where there is more wiggle room in this respect. But I feel the use of examples from musicians who play this way provides the best platform from which to establish listening skills. This is because in most styles of jazz, the relationship between the chords of the tune and the notes of an improvising soloist is a significant part of the creative process.

I should emphasize here that you will be developing listening skills during the Listening Pairs experience. Once in place, these skills will enable you to further enjoy listening to jazz styles that follow and precede bebop as well. Over time, it will become much easier and more intuitive as you become more proficient. And, like poetry, as you learn more, the music speaks more to you.

Copyright © 2007
Thomas R. Brown
All rights reserved.

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