3 Styles of Jazz Music

Jazz comes in many varieties and in this article I will be comparing and contrasting 3 of these styles including New Orleans Jazz, Harlem Stride, and the White Jazz. For the New Orleans Style I am using the song "Potato Head Blues" by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven and for Harlem Stride I chose the song "Charleston" by James P. Johnson and lastly I chose the song "There Ain't No Sweet Man" by Paul Whitman to represent White Jazz.

New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and the New Orleans Style is one of the oldest forms of Jazz. At the time of the birth of Jazz in the late 1800s black people were oppressed and segregated. This led them to have a music of their own that was deeply rooted in music and rhythm. After the civil war there were a lot of extra instruments available and many blacks purchased them and began playing music. These blacks may not have played their instruments very well, but they did use rhythm very distinctly and this lead to the first jazz music. White Jazz was the white community's response to the new music of the blacks. At first white musicians played songs written by blacks, but eventually they developed their own style which lost some of the edgy feel and in my opinion does now swing as much as black music from that time. Harlem Stride is the eastern piano style of playing jazz, it is played by using the left hand alternating between bass notes and midrange notes. This creates an oom-pah feeling to the song, and while the left hand is kept busy with the stride the right hand is free to play complex melodies.

As mentioned earlier Jazz is rooted in rhythm; it has that feeling to it that cannot be explained in words, but is instantly recognizable when heard. When listening to the songs "Potato Head Blues" and "There Ain't No Sweet Man" it is easy to find similarities in the rhythm that they employ. Both of them are written in 4/4 time and employ very low notes played on brass instruments to keep the tempo. On the other hand in the song "Charleston" there is only one instrument used and that is the piano, but there are still single notes played very low on the piano to keep the rhythm. All three of these songs are played at an upbeat tempo but "There Ain't No Sweet Man" somehow seems to be played at a much slower pace. This is accomplished in the song by having the musicians play their instruments in an almost lackadaisical fashion.

Many people do not consider notated jazz music true Jazz because it is impossible to capture the feeling of Jazz with notation. Paul Whitman used notated music in his song "There Ain't No Sweet Man" because it was played by a large orchestra and it otherwise would have been impossible to play with that large of a group. Both "Potato "Head Blues" and "Charleston" were not notated when they were recorded, and that allowed for some spontaneity in the recording which is a large part of the Jazz feeling. Sometimes the melody of a piece can be lost to the untrained ear because of the way the song is interpreted in a Jazz style. These three songs were all designed to be played as Jazz and they are considered to be Jazz songs and in "Charleston" and "There Ain't No Sweet Man" it is easy to pick out the melody, but when I listen to "Potato Head Blues" the melody is hard for me at the beginning because so much is going on.

"Potato Head Blues" immediately starts off with polyphony style and this is mainly the reason why I can't seem to find the melody as well at the beginning. "There Ain't No Sweet Man" has a small intro that shortly breaks into a homophony and although there is still a lot going on in the song all of the instruments revolve around one melody. When listening to these songs I hear crisp harmonies throughout and this consonance of harmony used in the songs makes them very enjoyable to listen to. "Charleston" is a fun and happy song to listen to but because it only involves one instrument, the piano, it does not have as much depth to it as the other songs. In "There Ain't No Sweet Man" a full orchestra is used including brass, woodwinds and stringed instruments. Using that many pieces in a song creates a fullness to the music and a complexity that is not easily replicated. "There Ain't No Sweet Man" uses the trumpet for the melody and also the voice. "Potato Head Blues" also uses trumpet as the primary melody carrier but many other instruments are used including the cornet and even a guitar.

The overall tone and feelings of the songs are vastly different from each other; "Charleston" is a very upbeat song that has a playful side to it, I would describe the song as having a warm and cold tone at the same time. "There Ain't No Sweet Man" has a distant feeling to it while the instruments are playing the intro but even after the singing begins there is still a distant feeling mixed in with the lyrics. For the most part "Charleston" just has one volume throughout the song but it still uses the dynamics of hard and soft to emphasize different parts of the song. "Potato Head Blues" and "There Ain't No Sweet Man" use a wide variety of volume levels and dynamics to get the feeling of the songs across. This is partly possible because of the different instruments used; when they use softer instruments such as the guitar, during a bridge in the song it can be particularly effective as a transfer into another part of the song.

All three of these songs are considered to be Jazz and in my opinion they all have that swing to them which is imperative to a Jazz song. However, these songs swing in different ways, "Charleston" uses the Harlem Stride to keep the song moving around and liberates the right hand play the melody in a swinging jazz style that is full of fun. "Potato Head Blues" use strong polyphony to grab the listeners' attention right at the beginning and eventually dives into solos where the musicians show off the ability to improvise in the Jazz style, which the do in an astounding fashion. "There Ain't No Sweet Man" may not have the, off the cuff, feeling that the other two songs have, but its uses each instrument to the advantage of the group and the result is beautifully arranged piece that manages to gain the jazz feeling without the direct improvisation.

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