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Listening and learning: jazz

By: Dr. David Gregory

Listening & Learning: Jazz comes to us from Dr. David Gregory, a Professor of History and Humanities at Athabasca University.

Music is one of the cultural fields to which black artists have made huge contributions since the popularity of minstrelsy and spirituals in the late nineteenth century. While jazz is now an international genre, it was pioneered by such great artists as King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, to name only a few of the biggest names.

So, in Black History Month, it is most appropriate to celebrate the history of jazz in the twentieth century. And, while you are studying, why not listen to some great modern jazz?

Jazz for studying

There are different styles of jazz, and I like most of them. But not all seem suitable background music for when one is reading, researching or writing.

For example, I’m very interested in the free form movement and a big fan of Eric Dolphy but his more ‘way out’ improvisations a just too harsh and discordant for studying to. And late Miles Davis, anything from Bitches Brew onwards, is too noisy and sonically insistent to be appropriate. Miles’ great early Columbia recordings, on the other hand, are just perfect. Try Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain, or the earlier Birth of the Cool.

Chet Baker was another mellow and melodic trumpeter who created fine albums that deserve close listening but also work well as quiet background music. I love his recordings with Gerry Mulligan, such as those collected on The Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker. Another suitable collection is the Pacific Jazz CD The Best of Chet Baker Plays. Other West Coast musicians made excellent recordings with Mulligan, for example another Pacific Jazz CD titled Konitz Meets Mulligan, featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, a leading exponent of the ‘cool jazz’ sound. Davis and Baker, by the way, continued a style of trumpet playing which emphasized tonal beauty and melodic phrasing, a style pioneered in the late 1920s by Bix Beiderbecke. I’d recommend the Beiderbecke CD titled Singin’ the Blues. And one other thought. Of all the modern jazz pianists, Bill Evans was perhaps the most suitable for this gig, so try his excellent album titled Autumn Leaves.

Dr. David Gregory is Professor of History and Humanities at Athabasca University. He teaches mainly European history and music history, and his most recent research is on the history of vernacular song collecting in England and Canada. Athabasca University currently offers nine music courses, including several on the history of popular music that study some of the great black blues and jazz musicians. One more course, on Canadian Folk Music, will soon be added to the list.

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  • February 25, 2018
Guest Blog from:
Dr. David Gregory