April 1 – All That Jazz

Today’s factismal: The central melody of a jazz tune is called the head.

Welcome to April, a month of weird weather, strange jokes, and lots of great music. That last happens because April is National Jazz Appreciation Month. But what is jazz? Simply put, jazz is the music that musicians like to play.

Many consider this to be the home of true jazz (My camera)

Many consider this to be the home of true jazz
(My camera)

 

There are two reasons that jazz musicians like jazz. The first is because it is so adaptable; you can turn just about any form of music into jazz. There are jazz versions of gospel songs, rock songs, brass band songs, and even classical music. The second is because jazz is a balance of improvisation and team work. Even though each player in a jazz combo has a solo to display his licks (the specific way he varies the tone and timing of notes), the combo must work together as a team to make the music make sense.

Jazz is played in small clubs and giant concert halls across the world (My camera)

Jazz is played in small clubs and giant concert halls across the world
(My camera)

Part of the way that they work together is by having each musician play her music in a different time; this is known as polyrythm. In jazz, it is common for some of the musicians to play three notes in the same amount of time that the others use to play two notes. Interestingly, the time used for each note in jazz also varies. For example, the first note of the three may get a full beat while the other two are given only half a beat each. In jazz lingo, these are swung notes. When everyone plays the same melody but uses different times, the music feels more vibrant.

Jazz is played everywhere that people love music (My camera)

Jazz is played everywhere that people love music
(My camera)

And part of the way that the musicians work together is by always returning to the central melody. Because the melody is usually played once with no changes at the start of the song, it is called the head. As the song progresses, the musicians each try out different variations on the melody, much as Bach did with his famous Goldberg variations (only without the wigs). The soloists will try changing the pitch while keeping the melody in a motivic improvisation. Or she might try shifting some of the notes in a paraphrase improvisation. But the best musicians will change the melody by inserting sets of notes known as licks into the melody in what is known as a formulaic improvisation.

The interesting thing is that citizen scientists are much like jazz players. We also work together as a team while working on our own individual solo projects that all come together to improve our understanding of the world around us. If you’d like to combine the two worlds even more closely, then why not Sing About Science? This project aims to gather all of the science songs ever written into one directory so that musicians and teachers and just plain geeks can find the right jazz:
http://singaboutscience.org/wp/homepage/

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