NAfME Standards: 5 Works that Highlight RESPONDING
NAFME BREAKDOWN : RESPONDING
Essential Question: How does understanding the structure and context of the music influence a response?
The four pillars of the 2014 NAFME standards are CREATING, PERFORMING, RESPONDING, and CONNECTING. Due to busy school year schedules, teachers spend the majority of classroom time focussed on getting their bands ready to perform. In this 3-part series, we’ll explore works that are great jumping off points for exploring the other standards – CREATING, RESPONDING, and CONNECTING. Here we look at works that highlight RESPONDING. Each musical work is of a specific time and place. Let’s learn what was going on around a piece to fully understand the piece.
Here are a few works we suggest highlighting from the jazz idiom.
THE POWER OF LYRICS
Written by FATS WALLER in 1929, BLACK and BLUE offered a drastic variation to other works by jovial Waller such as Ain’t Misbehavin, Honeysuckle Rose. To understand the importance of this piece, we’ll need to understand a bit about the treatment Black American performers faced in the late 1920. Musical pioneers we’ve discussed in PLAYBOOK like Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Smith were well known recording artists, but due to segregation, they were treated as second class citizens. They would sell out of a theatre, but then have to use a COLORED ONLY back entrance to access the stage. Often they had to travel great distances after shows because the hotels nearby venues were WHITES ONLY.
As we learn of this time, Wallers lyrics come into focus:
“How would it end?
Ain’t got a friend
My only sin is in my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue?”
See the full lyrics here.
What type of personality had Louis Armstrong cultivated in the 1920s with songs like “Heebie Jeebies” (revisit CREATING)? How does learning the historical context change how we listen to the piece?
Exercise: After listening to Black and Blue, students write about a time they felt excluded. Have them share their story over the chord changes to Black and Blue.
In 1963, pianist, educator, and activist, Dr. Billy Taylor pens I WISH I KNEW HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BE FREE. He dedicates it to his daughter, Kim. Three decades after Fats Waller, Dr. Taylor offers a different perspective of being a Black American. Some important strides towards racial justice, such as Brown vs Board of Education (1954), had been made between 1929 and 1963. But in 1963, Black Americans continued to fight for equal representation and fair treatment under the law. Have we learned about The Civil Rights Act of 1964 or The Voting Rights Act of 1965? The message in Dr. Taylor’s song reflects the same struggle we hear Fats Waller talk about in 1929. But the mode of expression – the lyrics, style of song, performance – is different. Let’s compare and contrast these two works by prominent Black American pianists.
Dr. Taylor says —
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
That every man should be free
See full lyrics here.
Exercise: Have students create a venn diagram for these two songs – I WISH I KNEW HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BE FREE and BLACK AND BLUE. Listen to the sound of the song, look at the lyrics, consider the context of their performance. In what ways are these two songs similar? How are they different?
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
This ballad by Hoagy Carmichael (1930) was written for young couples to dance to. However, for most Americans it’s often associated with the R&B singer Ray Charles, who recorded it in 1960. In 1961, it took on a much different meaning, when Ray Charles refused to play a segregated venue in Augusta, Georgia. Ray was shunned by Georgia segregationists for this and was heavily criticized for doing what he knew was right. So here we have a song with original lyrics and intent. But in the context of our history, its meaning changes. There is an added wrinkle – in 1979, the Georgia Legislature made Ray’s version of Georgia its official state song. This changes our perspective on his performance once again.
Exercise : Take an old song you like — maybe something your parents or even grandparents like. Try and map out all the musicians who played it. How was it played differently? Did it have different meanings for different artists and in different eras?
(What’s Going On – Marvin’ Gaye, White Christmas – Irving Berlin)
WHAT DO WE HEAR IN A WORK OF ART?
Here Ellington takes us through an entire day in New York’s Harlem. As he shares in his memoir Music is My Mistress:
“We would now like to take you on a tour of this place called Harlem… It is Sunday morning. We a strolling from 110th Street up Seventh Avenue, heading north through the Spanish and West Indian neighborhood towards the 125th Street business area… You may hear a parade go by, or a funeral, or you may recognize the passage of those who are making Civil Rights demands”.
Ellington does a brilliant job of building strong themes, recurring characters. Let’s try and get outside of our normal jazz form, of melody, solos, melody. Ellington’s extended work functions like a symphony.
Exercise: Create a linear timeline of what we hear in this extended work. Duke gives us a framing with his text above. What do we hear as the listener? What do the different instruments and sections represent for us?
EVERY MOVEMENT HAS A COUNTERMOVEMENT
Miles Davis BOPLICITY is his pioneering BIRTH OF THE COOL (1949). He coined the term cool as a response to Bebop: the music of his predecessors, the beboppers. The beboppers, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, changed jazz in their own way. They chose tempos and tunes that required technical, harmonic, and rhythmic mastery. They wanted to push jazz beyond the standard swing dance songs of the day to a place that required undeniable virtuosity.
Then along comes Birth of The Cool featuring Miles Davis, with arrangements by Gil Evans. The tempos are slow. The feelings are understated. The arrangement features much more lush harmonic palettes (notice the backgrounds and shout sections). Even the style of performance was much more subtle. Cool became a cultural movement, moving beyond music into poetry and other forms of art – all out of a response to what had come before.
Exercise : Here is a chance to get students critically thinking. Can we stretch this movement/countermovement exercise to all movements in history? Out of the culturally rigid 1950s emerges the counterculture of the 60s. Out of the Seattle grunge movement of the 1990s – Nirvana, we see bubblegum pop – Brittany Spears and The Backstreet Boys. Let’s find a musical artist we like and research what movement they were responding to. What movement responds to them?