The Similarities Between Classical Music and Ellington’s Jazz Essay

One of the greatest tragedies in the 20th century can be seen in the debasing of the Jazz genre as a unworthy equal to it’s predecessor, European Classical music. This can be seen in various statements about Jazz, such as Boris Gibalin commit, “The “Jazz Mania” has taken on the character of a lingering illness and must be cured by means of forceful intervention.”1 This conflict can be traced through out the history of Jazz, as Classical composers have relatively disregarded this new type of music. Before Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club performances, Jazz play on the radio was delegated for late night audience only. This sub-culture treatment has led many critics to disregard the Jazz movement as a dance craze, or unsuccessful recreations of Classical pieces. This slandering of Jazz has not only created a false image of the music, but it has also lead to a full disconnection between the two genres. It is for this reason that I propose in my paper to show the relationship between these two musical categories. My hopes in demonstrating these similarities is to disassemble the schism of ignorance built between the two, and place both Jazz and Classical music on equal footing.

Critics of Jazz have always perpetuated this schism by utilizing the reasoning behind Jazz, that of it being a free form interpretation, to question the legitimacy of calling a Jazz leader a composer. For how can one be styled as a proper composer and still remain true to the Traditional Jazz concepts? The classic composer has at their disposal highly skilled musicians who are trained to work within professional bodies, such as a symphony orchestra or string quartet, and who then relies on the efficiency of these professionally trained bodies to interpret his scores as he sees fit. On the surface this appears to run contradictory to the Jazz composer whom, “Has to write for specific combinations which do not exist until he brings them into being, and to rely on highly individual executants whose personal style must be blended together to give expression to his own ideas without…losing their individuality”.2 Yet to interpret this blending of highly individualistic sounds as proof of a schism between this and the rigidly structured Classical composer is a false impression. This fallacy can be attributed to overemphasizing the sporadic and improvisational aspects of Jazz and refusi…

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…usical category. From Bach to Mozart, Beethoven and even Tchaikovsyky employed it as a stylistic feature in their pieces.

In conclusion, one can see the shared characteristics of the two musical styles. Yet I find myself pressing again the reasoning for this paper, for I must submit that I am in no way declaring that Classical music equates Jazz. The two musical categories are different in numerous ways, but one must wonder does this difference justify the mistreatment of Jazz. Throughout history great innovations have been created not thought the passive means, but through the torrent fires of dissent. Classical music has born the scars of numerous dissenting musicians, all of who now stands as pinnacles of their craft. Yet now we have arrived at a time in which this reverent originality has become cause for scorn, and it is this debasement that I am addressing. By showing the similarities of the two genres, I had hoped in quenching this distaste for Jazz. This musical elitism that is being perpetuated can lead only to a disastrous finale for all who engage in it. Duke Ellington has it right when he stated, “There are only two types of music, good music and the rest.”18


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