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Composed Jazz Music and Improvisation in Jazz

Jazz originated in New Orleans, in the 19th century. is unique and difficult to replicate since it is based on improvisation. In addition, the music utilizes composition and all of the activities involved in music creation before the performance.

Jazz Music thrombone instrument

Composition and Improvisation in Music

The terms composition and improvisation refer to related activities in music, but not a particular event (Keller et al. 1). In his educational article on music improvisation and composition, Keller explains on the relationship between composition and improvisation in jazz music.

Accordingto Keller, improvisation is another form of musical composition. It can be considered a form of meditation since it is not written down, and it is used as the origin of the written components of a piece of jazz music (pg.2). Nielsen, (pg.74) also explains that jazz music is comprised both composition and improvisational components. Improvisation can be used as a pre-compositional tool in jazz music as well as a post-compositional tool.

An improvisation is a compositional tool employed in the modern jazz since the 1950s to date. This is because the period was marked with increased racial activities arising from civil rights movements.

Acceptance of Jazz Music

Jazz music was not embraced in many parts of the country prior to the Second World wWar It was mainly associated with racism and it is only after the Second World War that jazz artists spread in all the parts of the world such as Europe. This was the origin of jazz music acceptance and encouragement.

Improvisation has played a significant role in the jazz music and the form in which it exists even today. Improvisation in jazz is firmly connected to composition, and they are primarily portrayed as inter-dependent in the creation of jazz.

Improvisation in Jazz Music

Composition and improvisation in jazz music belong to a similar phenomenon rather than opposing views. For instance, a composer and a jazz improviser both have intentions of creating a piece of music. Moreover, they rely on a particular past “activity” to bring an original and new tune into existence (Keller et al. 3).

In other words, in both improvisation and composition, music is not created out of nothing. On the other hand, music composition relies on the feelings of the artist such as love among others. For instance, the song “So What” creates an impression of various jazz artists who perform, on stage and leave (Davis).

The song is a perfect example of the modal jazz music. Additionally, Mile Davis, the singer of “So What” of details much of his experiences throughout the song, which makes it a perfect example of improvisation.

The music has simple harmony giving it a simple improvisation when compared to other jazz songs. The melody is played with a jazz sextet with the rhythm remaining unchanged in entire piece. The composer of the song created this music from his experience on orchestral events with other jazz musicians.

Therefore, he integrates both the experience and his feelings about the experience to create the piece of music. In the rhythm section, the bass, the piano and the drums form the improvised part of the song. The song uses the Dorian mode is results to modal improvisation. The integration of composition and improvisation brings about the unique jazz music.

Composed Music and Improvisation

Irrespective of the close links between the composition of music and improvisation of jazz, there are also differences. The significant difference between composed music and improvisation in jazz is notation. A composed music is written down, and it can be changed at any moment.

On the other hand, improvisation is vocal, and it cannot be modified quickly. For instance, in the song “So What” that was published in 1959 uses musical modes with no chord progressions (Davis). The song is completely improvised but some analysts have argued that it is also composed. Notation consumes time since the composer writes down the music and takes the time to correct the whole piece till it is perfect to his or her desires.

On the other hand, improvisation does not need memory, a manuscript to write it down or a revision to make it perfect as one would. In other words, an improvisation is a form of meditation that utilizes an individual’s personal expressions. Most of the Western music is composed pieces while little traditional music such as jazz and perhaps the non-Western.

However, most authors have not concentrated on form in jazz because it is used in all forms and types of music. It needs the artists of the blues and the reggae music among others, to compose the content of the songs, but it does not require them to improvise the musical instruments and amplification of small sounds to construct the entire piece.

Many jazz musicians choose an improvisatory approach to composing various pieces of music. The written words were the compositions of the jazz music which they could then record and sell them in the form of albums. Material, structure, method and form are the most important aspects of composition in a song.

For instance, in the song “Take The A Train”, its form is a 32-bar with three choruses in a jazz big band (Ellington). The song was produced in 1941 by Ellington. The solos of the songs are considered to be improvised by Ellington due to their melodic content.

However, the style of the song is considered his composition in addition to the context of Structure of the song relies on improvisation to come up with an entirely new and original piece of music. The material and method of the song would be handled freely, and they can contribute to the composition of a piece of music. Form depends on the outcome of the novel song that has been developed through improvisation.

Transcription in Jazz Music

Additionally, the structure of jazz’s new tune improvisation has brought about transcription. Many researchers have suggested that both transcription and composition are top determinants of improvisational knowledge. According to Keller et al., they argue that students who are studying music can be aided to compose their songs through the improvisatory approach (1). Students can create perfect pieces of jazz music by writing the lyrics of the song through improvisation.

Furthermore, Keller et al. argues that students who create jazz music through improvisation should not memorize and perform what they have constructed (1). This is because a piece of music whose survival relies on improvisation only can cease. Improvisation entails all the activities that are conceived and performed simultaneously and they stop altogether after the performance of the whole piece is over (Nielsen 66).

Jazz Music Transcription and Improvisation by Louis Armstrong

Moreover, the experience of composition goes hand in hand with transcription and improvisation during composition performance rather than at the end of composition. When one listens to The Best of Louis Armstrong (2h) (YouTube, 2014), both improvisation and transcription have been utilized by Louis Armstrong to compose the songs. Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) was among the earliest jazz artists from New Orleans the United States. Armstrong has played a significant in development of the jazz music.

Jazz Music Improvisation and composition Maestro Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong (1901-1971

Armstrong improvised music when the jazz music was considered by many to be primitive. He introduced new compositional styles and improvised the original jazz themes expanding the music commercially. Armstrong is credited with introducing the swing rhythm to the jazz music. Some of his songs include the hotter than that recorded in 1927,  where he improvised on the trumpet solo and scat singing. He also uses both musical modes and chord progressions.

Additionally, some tools can be used to facilitate composing solos that have the capacity to accommodate improvisation. For instance, Keller et al. publicize a tool known as Impro-Visor, which is a short name of “Improvisation Advisor” in their e-book that can be used to enhance construction of solos that can be quickly improvised (2). Therefore, composition and improvisation are interrelated and interdependent to produce a perfect modern jazz music.

Improvisation in jazz is another form of composition, but in slow motion. Improvisation is associated with originality and novelty. In other words, when a jazz artist improvises a piece of music, he or she creates an original and new idea. Integration and refinement of various new ideas of the whole piece makes the composed music.

Notably, focusing on the piano to come up with a novel tune without writing down the constructed piece of music both aim at creating music (Eric). Furthermore, composing a song needs one to think of a tune that no other artist has ever thought of. Forming a new and original theme entirely relies on improvisation (Eric).

Therefore, in jazz music, an individual needs to improvise and then refine the content of the music through composition. Eric advises jazz musicians that they can improve the content of improvisation through composition to determine the quality of the final piece of music.

If the music does not please the improviser, he or she can try for the second or third time to achieve the best quality. Erick demonstrates the relationship between the composition and improvisation in jazz music. He also demonstrates the difference between the two in that composition contains an element of originality beginning with the tune of the song.

Improvisation and composition play a significant role in the construction of jazz music. The two aspects do not oppose each in any form when it comes to jazz music. According to Nielsen, a composition refers to all the activities that are involved in the creation of music before the performance (66).

On the other hand, improvisation entails all the activities that are conceived and performed simultaneously and they cease entirely after the fulfillment of the whole piece is over (Nielsen 66). Nielsen further suggests that both composition and improvisation are utilized as music-making processes in jazz (66). Improvisation can also be referred to as a mini-composition of jazz music. 

A good example is the Casandra’s Dreamsong by brain Ferneyhough. However, the composition is used across all forms of music whereas improvisation is utilized in unique types of music such as jazz. Therefore, improvisation contributes to the uniqueness of a particular kind of music. Additionally, improvisation makes jazz music unique. That is why the whites decided to “steal” it from the blacks where it originated.

However, the whites could not maintain it because they were less competent at improvisation than the blacks were. Both composition and improvisation are utilized as music-making processes in jazz. Conversely, the significant difference between composed music and improvisation in jazz is notation. Most of the Western music is composed pieces while little traditional music such as jazz and perhaps the non-Western music such as Indian classical music are created through improvisation.

In conclusion, the terms composition and improvisation refer to related activities in music but not a particular event. Improvisation in jazz is firmly connected to composition, and they are mainly portrayed as inter-dependent in the creation of jazz. They belong to a similar phenomenon rather than opposing views.

Moreover, many jazz musicians choose an improvisatory approach to composing various pieces of music. Renowned jazz musicians like Armstrong and other have developed the improvised components of the jazz music making the genre popular commercially. Additionally, the composition of jazz is the new tune improvisation has brought about. Many researchers have suggested that both transcription and composition are top determinants of improvisational knowledge.

For instance, students can create perfect pieces of jazz music by composing the lyrics of the Song through improvisation. Moreover, there are tools such as Impro-Visor that can be used to enhance construction of solos that can be quickly improvised. Improvisation in jazz is another form of composition but in slow motion.

 

Work Cited

Eric. “6 Reasons Jazz Improvisers Should Compose Music| Jazzadvice.Com”. Jazzadvice.com. N.p., 2012. Web. 22 June 2016.

This resource explains the reasons why jazz improvisers should compose music. One of the reasons is, “composing is improvising in slow motion”. The information contained in this resource is adequate to link composed music improvisation in jazz.

Davis, Miles. So What. Kind of Blue, 1959. Online.

“So What” is a popular song that was composed by the great jazz musician Miles Davis and published in 1959. The song is a modal jazz. The components of the song can give a relevant example in improvisation and composition.

Ellington, Duke. Take The A Train. YouTube, 2008. Online.

“Take the A Train” is a jazz song that was posted on YouTube in 2008. However, the song is older and it was composed by Duke Ellington. The song will be a useful example in differentiating between composed music and improvisation in jazz.

Keller, Bob et al. An Interactive Tool For Learning Improvisation Through Composition. 1st ed. Claremont, California 91711: Harvey Mudd College. Web. 22 June 2016.

This article is a teaching material with an original introduction. The opening part of the documentation explains the relationship between composed music and improvisation in jazz music. Therefore, the material will give adequate information to support the thesis statement.

Nielsen, Cynthia R. Interstitial Soundings. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015 Print.

This is an active material that provides comprehensive information on the relationship and differences between composed music and improvisation in jazz. The information given will be helpful in supporting the thesis statement of the essay.

The Best Of Louis Armstrong (2H). YouTube, 2014. Online.

This is an online source published on YouTube. The best jazz songs that were improvised and composed by Louis Armstrong are published in this source. Tonality, Tempo, and Rhythm of the songs can be used to differentiate between composition and improvisation.

           

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