Pat Blythe – Symphonic Jazz (Part V)….an anniversary…..and music

I will be taking a small hiatus for the next two weeks while my eye heals. Cataract surgery is scheduled for Thursday and then time to heal and give my eye(s) a rest. First the left eye…..then the right. At this point I don’t know how far apart (or close together) the surgeries will be. Once this is over with, well…..look out summer, here I come!!!

This particular column will also be my fifth anniversary writing for DBAWIS and I find it astonishing it’s been that long! I have fun researching, writing and sharing my thoughts….in particular the music. The discovering of new information, new stories, new bands (and “old” bands), putting the pieces of a puzzle together and imparting what I find….yep, I am like a dog with a bone. It’s a struggle sometimes, not for lack of ideas but sometimes too many or too much….and all those photographs or finding the right picture or song. For me, it’s about an 18-24 hour process to put this baby together. I have no intention of slowing down or stopping. There is an incredible amount of music and all those wonderfully creative people devoted to their craft. Support the arts and ALL music!

It’s pretty obvious jazz has been in the forefront of my mind for the past four weeks. It’s been pretty silent on the feedback front dear reader so I have absolutely no idea if any of it turns your crank or not, but I’m full steam ahead with Part V. As noted in prior columns I tend to bounce all over the place so it’s not always going to be in chronological order (as if you didn’t notice) but here goes…..

If anything or anyone has the clear right to says “born in the USA” it’s jazz. The music in all its glorious colours and hues has spread to every corner of the globe. It is one of the U.S.’s greatest exports to the world. Jazz is both music and an art form. It’s instinctive, a feel, it’s mathematical, it’s free form, it’s improv, it’s symbiotic, it’s collaborative, it’s reciprocal….it’s an instant synchronicity between or among jazz musicians who pick up an instrument and start to play, filling in each other’s blanks, a “twin flame” relationship. When listening to the music of jazz through the ages, the twist and turns, both instrumentally and vocally, are astounding!

The Orchestration of jazz…..

Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther

Also called Symphonic Jazz, the fusion of jazz and classical was unavoidable. Jazz music was like a sponge, absorbing and incorporating elements of various styles of music as well as ingratiating itself into others. Symphonic/orchestral jazz specifically mixed the European Romantic with the African-American jazz and American popular music.

Anton Dvořák

In 1892 Anton Dvořák decided to take up residence in New York, accepting the directorship of the new National Conservatory of Music. He encouraged young composers to incorporate Native American and African-American music and melodies into their orchestral music. Fast forward to 1924 and a groundbreaking concert took place at New York’s Aeolian Hall. Called An Experiment in Modern Music, the orchestra, led by Paul Whiteman (who coined the term “symphonic jazz”) premiered a very special piece of music. It was a concert that musicologist Howard Goodall pointed out changed the world of music forever.

George Gershwin

That piece of music? Rhapsody in Blue. Composed by George Gershwin in the five weeks leading up to the concert, Gershwin performed on the piano with Whiteman’s orchestra. A seminal event, it has been called the “defining moment of the ‘Jazz Age’”. According to a 2011 article in The Guardian written by Richard Williams, Gershwin was not a jazz musician; his music is not jazz, but his inherent sensitivity to African-American music allowed him to create music that was intelligently and rewardingly coloured by its textures and tonalities.”

Rhapsody in Blue – George Gershwin

According to Gershwin, …Jazz is the result of the energy stored up in America. It is a very energetic kind of music, noisy, boisterous and even vulgar.”

Paul Whiteman and orchestra

“A jazz orchestra typically consisted of five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones and a rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar and drums) performing music that allowed players to improvise and pay in featured sections that made a big and powerful sound.”A Tour of Jazz, John Brown

Two well-known principals and Whiteman’s contemporaries in orchestral jazz were composers/bandleaders Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington. Although Henderson never became as well-known as Ellington, his collaborations with Don Redman were some of the most significant contributions to the growth and advancement of orchestral jazz and the eventual transition to “big band” jazz.

From Wikipedia, “Its (orchestral jazz) development contributed both to the popularization of jazz, as well as the critical legitimization of jazz as an art form.”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington composed his first piece by ear, Soda Fountain Rag, at the age of 14 and would play it as a one-step, two-step, foxtrot, waltz and tango. “Listeners never knew it was the same piece.” He formed his first group in 1917 and never stopped composing, leading and performing. His last public appearance was March, 1973 at Purdue University’s Hall of Music. Just over a year later he passed away from lung cancer. In 1989 American composer Gunther Schuller wrote, “Ellington composed incessantly to the very last days of his life. Music was indeed his mistress; it was his total life and his commitment to it was incomparable and unalterable. In jazz he was a giant among giants. And in twentieth century music, he may yet one day be recognized as one of the half-dozen greatest masters of our time.”

Creole Rhapsody (Pt. 1) – Duke Ellington

Symphonic jazz has had its ups and downs but has never completely disappeared. Highlights throughout the years include Stan Kenton’s City of Glass, Stan Getz and Eddie Sauer’s collaboration on Focus, the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra in the U.S. composed Looking Forward/Looking Back, Snarky Puppy recently won a Grammy for their symphonic jazz album Sylva and the Pat Metheny Group recorded their Grammy award winning album The Way Up in 2005. The latter was not referred to as symphonic jazz but according to Jazzwise, it pretty much was and the album never received the accolades it deserved.

City of Glass – Reflections (Third Movement) – Stan Kenton

Her – Stan Getz (from the album Focus)

Night Rider – Stan Getz (from the album Focus)

Looking Forward/Looking Back – Symphonic Jazz Orchestra

Sylva – Snarky Puppy (full album)

The Way Up – Pat Metheny Group (full album)

….and just because I adore this piece….

The Pink Panther Theme – Henry Mancini

I think I’ll stop right here for now. There is so much going on in this world of jazz I sometimes feel like I’m drowning….never realizing the water was so deep. It eddies and flows in all directions, relentlessly creating new pools of talent and ideas while resurrecting old ones and incorporating damn near everything! The oddities and idiosyncrasies and sometimes clinical aspect of this particular genre are not only far reaching, but not for the faint of heart. You don’t have to love all of it or even understand it….I don’t. But I do appreciate all of it and what this particular art form has gifted the world of music.

….and for record, the following song was incorrectly named in my last column. It has also become one of my all time favourites (and I finally got the clapping right!)

First Circle – Pat Metheny Group



Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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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! 

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