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Origins II - Jazz and Technology

Jazz began its existence in the formative years of the technological era. Electricity had only recently been harnessed, and heavy industry had just begun its move into the forefront of economic development. Jazz would probably not exist without these 20th century mainstays. Aside from the huge social impact of technology, the phenomena of recording - from player piano rolls, the Edison cylinder, the Victrola '78 and the reel-to-reel tape deck to the modern cassette, 33 rpm record and compact disc - is inextricably entwined in the American Jazz tradition. This is critical because of jazz's focus on individual expression in music.

For the first time in history, individual performances could be sonically documented and explored. This revolutionized the way musicians studied and trained. In J. E. Berendt's The Jazz Book, tenor saxophonist Lester Young stated: "Most of the time I spend in listening to records is listening to singers and getting the lyrics to different songs." His exposure to vocal style directly influenced his phrasing and melodic expression, and much of his soloing style could be understood as lyrical improvisations. Like most jazz players, he also learned solos from records in his developing years: "...I imagine I can still play all those [Frankie Trumbauer] solos off the records." Learning from recordings has become a critical part of jazz education. In L. Lyons' The Great Jazz Pianists, Mary Lou Williams said "Go back to Fats Waller ... and learn the records." This direct access to personal history is necessary to any jazz student.

Electronic amplification changed the nature of jazz performance as early as the 20's. Billy Holiday was the first vocalist to realize the potential of the microphone, and developed a much more personal and intimate sound because of it. In The Great Jazz Pianists Teddy Wilson attributes his stylistic development to the microphone as well. He states "...when I came up, the microphone was being used to amplify the piano, so it wasn't necessary to have all the power that [Earl 'Fatha'] Hines used. This enabled me to do a lot of running in the right hand. [So] the miking of the piano liberated me, made it possible to do what I was doing."

The end result of this is a music in which the individual voice of the musician is its ideal expression. One person listens to many different sources, finds their place within the tradition and begins to express their own unique perspective. The true individual in jazz was and is the beacon for all future jazz artists, and technology provides the basic tools.    [top]
- article by Frank Singer 2002


Jazz Origins
I - Beginnings 
II - Jazz and Technology
III - Radio and the Industrial Beat    
The Swing Era
I - Precursors
II - The Decade of Swing
III - The BeBop Strain
A First Look Back
New Orleans Revival

Jazz Forms

The Blues
The 32 bar Song Form
The Latin Influence
Hard Bop
Evolution 1 - A New Dialogue
Evolution 2 - Into The Seventies
Evolution Of The Jam Session
Post Modernism


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