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English by Television
MUSIC WITH A BEAT
Music is an international language which anyone can enjoy. However, the more one knows about music, the more one enjoys it. There are three groups of musical instruments—the strings, the winds and percussion. String instruments are either plucked or played with a bow. The violin, cello and bass are examples. On the other hand, the clarinet and saxophone are called wind instruments because the musician blows into them to make music. These instruments are usually made of wood or brass. When you play a percussion instrument you have to strike or hit it. The most important members of the percussion group are the drum and the piano. The piano belongs in this group because the sounds are made by striking the keys.
Not all the instruments played today were found in early symphony orchestras. The saxophone, for example, was not invented until the nineteenth century. In older classical music, the string instruments usually play the melody or theme but in modern classical music composers may have the winds or even the percussion playing the theme or variations of the theme. When the composer decides to change the theme in some way, it is called variation. When musicians decide to vary the music as they play, we call it improvising. Improvisation was highly appreciated in Beethoven’s time, and then later American Negro musicians began to use it again more and more freely.
In the 1880s, in New Orleans, Negro musicians were improvising music and playing with an uneven beat called syncopation. The French verb josér means to chat or chatter and the musicians in this American French settlement talked with their music. So the music became known as jos, jass, and finally jazz.
Jazz is a special popular art and its beginnings are purely American. The direct ancestors of jazz are Negro spirituals, ragtime, blues and other Negro folk music. Ragtime is a joyful kind of music that developed into hot jazz. Blues is sorrowful music that eventually became sweet jazz. Negro spirituals, which have a religious theme, can be exultant or heartrending, but they are always hopeful. Ragtime was originally written for the piano, and some composers such as Debussy and Stravinsky found it interesting and exciting.
As New Orleans was becoming known for its jazz, a young trumpet player, Louis Armstrong, made the idea of quarter-note rhythm the most important development to come to jazz. And when George Gershwin played his Rhapsody in Blue in New York in 1924, jazz was formally introduced into the concert hall and audiences loved it.
Jazz continues to develop. For example, progressive jazz developed from Louis Armstrong’s idea of innovatively dividing one beat into four parts. In progressive jazz, musicians sometimes divided the beat into sixteen parts, each part called a sixteenth note.
Jazz musicians often play in small groups, trios, quartets or only sextets instead of the more than one hundred members necessary for a modern full symphony orchestra. A jazz quartet may have a drummer, piano player, a bass player and someone who can play one or more wind instruments such as a trumpet, saxophone or clarinet. The bass has a low, deep sound and is usually plucked in a jazz band rather than played with a bow as in a full orchestra.
Today jazz is no longer primitive folk music. Modern jazz musicians usually have a background in classical music. American jazz has caught the attention of music lovers all over the world.