I fondly remember listening to countless Jazz albums at the University of Washington listening library. This peaceful experience was shared with other piano artists like Victor Noriega and provided a joy found in few other listening environments. Each time we would listen to a song, our professor or “TA” would require at least a page or two of information in English about the tune. It is easy to describe music for me using notes on a page but many find it much harder to describe music with formal language. When writing about Jazz remember that what makes it Jazz is that the artist comes from the tradition of Jazz. The artist could be Miles Davis on “Do-Bop,” his last album, where he features rap, hip-hop beats, and a variety of recordings that were pieced together after his death. You could compare Jazz music to what the traditional artist may have played such as comparing Eric Verlinde’s long melodic phrasing on the piano including over forty 1/16 notes using a regular comping left hand a swing feel similar to Art Tatum decades ago.
Examples of Describing Jazz
You can use basic tonal theory words to describe how Jazz sounds when related to other traditional Jazz artists. These examples cover almost every major category of tonal theory.
“His guitar was easily heard in the upper register, a higher pitch than I expected from John McLaughlin.”
“BB’s pentatonic scales filled the empty space while the keyboard player comped for the sax solos.”
“MMW and Charlie Hunter have a way of using frequent dissonance in much of every tune on this album except for tunes like Fine Corinthian Leather where it is used sparingly.”
“All Blues by Miles Davis was played in a 3/4 time signature but it is now covered by many artists in both 3/4 and 4/4.”
“The primary way that George Benson plays ‘On Broadway’ is with a two chord progression in different keys.”
“Many artists when you play a jam session will call the melody “the head” if you are playing Jazz.”
“The head of ‘All Blues’ by Miles Davis on the ‘Kind of Blue album’ is played in harmony by multiple instruments.”
“When George Benson solos, he uses many monophony textures with the same note duplicated at the octave in unison.”
“The twelve bar blues solo section of ‘Stolen Moments’ is normally played with an Ab Major 7 to G Augmented turnaround in his live performances.”
More General Words
Here are some words you might consider using the next time you are in the listening lab that are less technical:
- Good nature
Of course we would need to create a very detailed organized report but sometimes it may help to think of words, feelings, or even colors when trying to describe Jazz. A normal heavy, firm, stable, and steadfast way does not describe all types of music so be sure to consider other ways of explanation.
“The Pat Metheny Group, while performing live hand made Jazz in Seoul Korea in 2005 during their ‘Way Up Live’ tour, provided the anticipated traditional sounds from harmonicas, trumpets, drums, keyboards, bass, and guitar.”
Please let us know how you describe Jazz, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/SMS (802)HILLMAN.