Pat Blythe – All That Jazz…..and music…..

I have been itching to write a series on jazz for quite some time. When I started writing for DBAWIS five years ago I not only wanted to feature the local music scene but dive into the music itself as well as feature the artists who provide us such pleasure. My first series was Women in Song. This was followed by Women of Blues and finally a third series, Women of Rock. I’ve researched and written about the drums, the guitar and how music itself affects the brain and body for both the listener and the writer. Now it’s time for a little jazz.

…”the jazz performer is primarily or wholly a creative, improvising composer—his own composer, as it were—whereas in classical music the performer typically expresses and interprets someone else’s composition.”¹

My favourite statement comes from the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Any attempt to arrive at a precise, all-encompassing definition of jazz is probably futile.” I agree. This is the story of the music and people of jazz, in all its glory and sordid detail, and the sharing of some of the greatest music ever created.

….and so we begin

Today the term jazz encompasses a multitude of wide-ranging styles. When someone asks you if you like jazz music, what’s the first thing that comes to mind…..classical, contemporary, smooth, swing, big band? Then there’s my own genre I call comfort jazz. (I’ll get to that one later) According to one website, nusicgenreslist.com, there are 18 jazz classifications and the list keeps growing….Acid Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Afro-Cuban Jazz (some call it Latin jazz), Avant-Garde Jazz, Trad Jazz…..and so on. I’m not going to cover all of them….that would take us into 2021. I will, however, attempt to hit the “high notes” in this series.

An article written for Madison Magazine breaks jazz down into five main sub-genres…..Blues, Swing, Dixieland, Bebop and Free Jazz. Because jazz seems to be such a fluid style, with unlimited interpretations, its influence and integration with other styles of music has permeated pretty much everything we listen to.

Originally instruments were at the forefront of the jazz “movement” and if there happened to be a vocalist, well, they were merely a side note. That changed as voices such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Shirley Horn became an integral part of the music of jazz. The male vocalists included Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Billy Eckstine, Ray Charles…..endless lists both. It isn’t simply all about the percussion, brass and strings.

A very small sampling of some of the greats

So where did all this jazz come from?

Out of Africa……….

No, not the movie! Google “jazz” and you’ll find a cornucopia of material. One thing everyone unanimously agrees on….the roots of jazz come from Africa, specifically West Africa and her various cultures. The first 20 Angolans purchased in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 set the stage for the ensuing two centuries of slave trade in what was then the English colonies, later becoming the United States. The slaves brought with them their music and musical traditions. Although they tried to preserve as much as possible, elements of their music and rituals were slowly influenced and combined with the European music of the slave owners.

The constantly evolving mix….harmonic influences and the instruments traditionally associated with jazz (trumpet, sax, string bass and piano) are European. Banjo, guitar and percussion….West African. Over time jazz became the perfect blend of blues, ragtime and marching band music, a mélange of musical influences coalescing into a single genre called “Jazz”.

What is truly unique…..jazz was developed in the United States specifically. Not the islands of the Caribbean or even South America. It is ironic that, if not for the slave trade, the jazz we listen to today would be pretty much non-existent. It’s with very mixed feelings I say thank you for a music that provides (and provided) such joy. What an exceptional heritage.

Jas, Jass or Jazz…..?

February 26, 1917 and the first jazz recording was about to take place, Livery Stable Blues by the Original Dixieland Jass Band. Then there’s the sheet music cover from 1916. The title is That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland. Popular thought is the word jazz is a derivation of the word jasm, an African-American world meaning ‘vim’ or ‘energy’. One of jazz music’s most striking features was its sheer energy. Or maybe it referred to the jasmine perfume popular with the prostitutes in the New Orleans red light district of Storyville, where jazz music developed?

New Orleans prostitute

There were the sexual connotations….jass was a reference to a woman’s backside. Jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton’s name was a euphemism for sex. He would look through a peephole at a prostitute and her client and time his playing with the pace of their activities. Or maybe, once jazz made it to New York City, musicians were tired of pranksters scratching the “j” off their posters. Whatever you believe or read, five months after that original record the quintet changed their name to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band permanently. Jazz it is!

Jazz and the brain………

(Jazz is) “¹often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic (I actually know what that means!!) ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, often deliberate deviations of pitch, and the use of original timbres. Jazz, in fact, is not—and never has been—an entirely composed, predetermined music, nor is it an entirely extemporized one.”

According to an article written by the RazMaJazz Dixieland Band, “for someone that’s unaware of the intricacies of jazz, the tunes might just come off as unstructured noise to them”.  However, what exactly does listening to jazz do to the brain? According to studies on patients who have suffered from a stroke, jazz music creates a calming effect on the body, actually signaling your central nervous system to lower your breathing and heart rate. Jazz also improves your verbal skills, focus, memory and mood. It does this by activating certain brain waves that lead to better brain function. The alpha waves promote relaxation…..the delta waves promote a better night’s sleep.

Theta waves, on the other hand, encourage creativity, the main component of jazz….its effect on our metal capacity; mental stimulation. Deciphering the huge musical vocabulary, figuring out what fits where while a constant stream of multiple instruments play in sync seemingly without much connection. Recognizing all those notes swirling around can have a beneficial effect on the brain’s development. Consequently this is why many people called jazz the “intellect’s music”.

Also, with decreased stress levels, the brain has more freedom to create and becomes more susceptible to using imagination to “complete logical thought processing…promoting abstract processing leading to higher creativity.” Sort of an “expanded attention” or another way of saying, thinking way outside the box.

In another study by neurologist Dr Charles Limb, himself an accomplished jazz musician, it was found that while musicians improvised the part of the brain responsible for self-inhibition and control, the…prefrontal cortex, became dormant. By inhibiting the part of the brain that allows self-criticism, the musicians were able to stay in their creative flow, known as ‘in the zone’…

If you’re too self-conscious, it’s very hard to be free creatively.”

There’s a special type of creativity, complexity and uniqueness to jazz, particularly with the improvisational variety, that’s impossible to analyze….so I don’t. I just love to let it flow over me.

What distinguishes jazz from other music? This is my journey. You’re most welcome to join me.

Cheers!

So much jazz music to choose from I’ve decided to post this one album, the self-titled The David Blamires Group. I’ve been listening to it non-stop while I write this column. The CD even joins me in the vehicle. I never get tired of it and for now it’s my “go to” music.

Recorded in 1990, the album celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It is a beautiful expression of love for the music, for the instruments, for the artists. It’s breathtaking, sublime, heartbreaking, beautifully written and orchestrated. It touches me in all the right places. Every note and every instrument shines, perfectly balanced for each song. Why this album didn’t excel or stand out when it was first released is beyond my ken.

The first piece, River Children, has become my morning song. The close of the album, Free At Last is a touching and emotional piece written for a close friend of Blamires’ who passed away. It is one of the most poignant pieces I’ve ever listened to.

Kudos to all who worked on this fabulous album! Many thanks to Paul DeLong who introduced me to this album but BIG THANKS to David Blamires for creating this work of art!

River Children – The David Blamires Group

The Fourth World – The David Blamires Group

Deep is The Midnight Sea – The David Blamires Group

Three Points on a Star – The David Blamires Group

Tribal Wave – The David Blamires Group

Remember? The Redeye – The David Blamires Group

Until We Know – The David Blamires Group

Free At Last – The David Blamires Group

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

One Response to “Pat Blythe – All That Jazz…..and music…..”

  1. David was Pat Metheny’s vocalist for a number of years… I used to work with his wife .. at PWDs I think .. back in the 80s. Very talented fellow.

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