Ross School - Senior Project 2006-07
Mentor: Adam Judd
Consultant: Teddy Charles
Domain: Performing Arts
Title: The Workshop
The goal of this project was to find my voice within the jazz idiom, as both a performer and composer. I would compose, arrange, and perform with a group songs reflecting different kinds of music that fall under the header of “jazz.” I ended with four pieces, each with a different style. The process gave me much-needed experience and insight into leading a band instead of simply being in one, and gave me an outlet for my writing.
Each of my tunes attempted to capture a facet of jazz. To write the first tune, Wait, I took influence from my exposure to current musicians, and attempted to create in my own composition the kind of music happening today. It started as a minor blues progression. However, a large part of jazz is taking established forms and building on them. Rather than leaving it a blues, I wrote a second section where the melodic line is secondary to rhythmic patterns, and an interlude in a different time signature.
The Latin influence has been a crucial part of jazz, but it is often downplayed or ignored altogether. Because of this, the second piece I wrote, Esa Cosa, highlighted this influence. The song begins with slow progression on a clave beat, then turns into a fast paced tune building on the previous chord progression. Rather than putting heavy emphasis on the swing beat, it is hinted at using slight accents in a “straight eighth” form. However, in the style of Charles Mingus, I included a short orchestrated section where the rhythm temporarily returned to the standard swing.
The research portion of my project culminated in the third tune I wrote, Monkey Business. The aim of this composition was to write in the unique style of Thelonious Monk. I used the most common form for his tunes, the blues. To imitate Monk’s melodies, I started simply with using tri-tones. However, to capture his dynamic style, I layered different ideas. The pairs of tri-tones, played as ascending eighth notes, were in a descending line. Rather than putting one pair at the start of each measure, every other set of tri-tones was played a beat early. To accompany the melody, the chords under it underwent tri-tone substitutions to create a deceptively simple descending bassline.
The final tune, I Watch The Door, was a study into the jazz ballad. I started with a relatively simple tune, intended to be sung, but through many revisions the chord structure and melody became increasingly complex, extending the range of the melody to over an octave. However, as the composition became more intricate, the instrumentation became simpler. Instead of having a full rhythm section and a saxophone playing under the singer, the song dropped to a trio of singer, vibes, and bass. With this simpler orchestration, it was easier to sing and hear the harmonies within the chords.
Jazz has been a factor in my life for far longer than I can identify. Born to two jazz musicians, I have been exposed to it far before I began seriously pursuing it as a musician. In their own unique take on the Mozart Effect, they played me records of Charlie Parker or Max Roach instead of classical music. Despite growing up in the musically rich environment they provided, and my strong ear for music I developed, it took many unsuccessful piano teachers before I began to study jazz five years ago.
My teacher often explained to me the importance of jazz reaching the younger generation. Although it contains many European influences, Jazz music is one of the only musical styles that came from America. It has been, and continues to be) crucial in the creation of new music that followed it. My jazz teachers, the youngest of which is seventy-eight years old, have all confided that the reason they teach is to pass on their knowledge of jazz to the younger generation, to make sure it survives. It was with this in mind that I decided to devote my senior project to jazz.
Jazz is a vague, general term that encompasses many kinds of music. The umbrella of “jazz” ranges from the ragtime style of Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong, the orchestrated big bands of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, the energetic bebop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the cool jazz sparked by Miles Davis, and other unique sounds such as those of Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, or Thelonious Monk. Because of this, a goal of my project became to explore many different kinds of jazz. It was my hope not only to demonstrate the myriad kinds of jazz, but to find a unique compositional voice and the style that best suited me.
I chose Thelonious Monk as a specific topic of research for this project because of his unique style. During the same time period when pianists like Bud Powell and Bill Evans were playing intricate lines and elegant chord structures, Monk was developing his deceptively simple sound. Many student pianists today aspire to the full sound of Art Tatum or McCoy Tyner. However, instead of playing all the notes, Monk identifies which ones are crucial to the chord, harmony, and rhythm, and plays only those. It was this sound that nobody has successfully emulated that I wanted to research.
Brown, Clifford and Max Roach. Clifford Brown & Max Roach. Compact Disc.
De Wilde, Laurent. Monk. New York: Marlowe & Company, 1997.
Fitterling, Thomas. Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music. California: Berkeley
Hills Books, 1997.
Gourse, Leslie. Straight, no Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk.
New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 1998.
Mingus, Charles. Blues and Roots. Compact Disc. Atlantic Records, 1990.
Mingus, Charles. Mingus Ah Um. Compact Disc. Sony,1999.
Mingus, Charles. Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus. Compact Disc. GRP
Mingus, Charles. Pithecanthropus Erectus. Compact Disc. Atlantic Records,
Monk, Thelonious. Live at the It Club. Compact Disc. Columbia,1998.
Monk, Thelonious. Misterioso. Compact Disc. Riverside,1991.
Monk, Thelonious and John Coltrane. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John
Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Live). Compact Disc. Blue Note Records, 2005.
Parker, Charlie. Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve. Compact Disc.
Teepe, Joris. Going Dutch. Compact Disc. Twinz Records, 2004.
Community Member (Details)
My community member was Teddy Charles. As a jazz vibesman who has been part of the scene for over fifty years, as well as my music teacher, he was an obvious choice to consult for my project. Every week, part of my lesson would include my bringing original compositions to him. He constantly offered useful feedback, explaining parts that failed to retain tension, offering examples of ideas that I had never heard, or even simply providing an opportunity to hear my compositions played by someone else. However, his greatest contribution to my project came when he attended one of my rehearsals. After watching my band rehearse, he provided me with advice on every aspect of the project; he gave insight on everything from orchestration suggestions to blending within the rhythm section to how I led the group. His feedback was crucial in making the performance as successful as it was.