A Look Back at Jazz

A Look Back at Jazz

By: Julia Prendergast

We’re wishing a happy National Jazz Day to all those jazz-lovers out there. From big band to soloists, lets take a look back at some of the best in the biz:

Louis Armstrong

With 2020 marking the 119th birthday of Armstrong, it wouldn’t be right to celebrate without mentioning ‘The First Great Jazz Soloist’! His work has greatly influenced the genre itself, with Armstrong’s improvisations paving the way for the improvising soloist acting as the focal point of jazz ensembles (a practice that is still used today).

Despite his master trumpeting skills, Armstrong’s singing voice was legendary in itself. It’s said that, as a young boy in New Orleans, he performed as a part of a vocal quartet with friends. They performed on the street for tips – imagine having heard the beginnings of Louis Armstrong from the street!

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie, a key player in the formation of modern jazz, once famously stated “no him, no me” when referring to Louis Armstrong. Gillespie himself is also a jazz trumpeter, improviser, and bandleader, often labelled as a virtuoso. He went on to develop his own signature style called ‘bebop’, “a reaction to swing, distinct for dissonant harmonies and polyrythms“.

Gillespie was also known for the shape of his trumpet – the bell was tilted upwards at a 45 degree angle after someone accidentally sat on it. He never fixed it, as Gillespie realized the shape improved the quality of the trumpet’s sound!

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington’s career spanned over half a century, and composed thousands of songs for both stage and screen. Ellington’s legacy lives on after having developed one of the most distinctive sounds for ensembles in Western music, in addition to his blend of drama and showmanship.

After following his love of ragtime as a child, Ellington began performing in Broadway nightclubs in the 1920s (and only grew from there)! Ellington now has 12 Grammy’s to his name, 9 of which were earned while he was alive.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane was a saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, often working with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington. He impressed with his technicality and innovative playing, resulting in a very distinctive sound. Critic Ira Gitler described his style as a “sheet of sound“, as he was able to play multiple notes at once amidst scales.

Coltrane himself described his style, saying “I start in the middle of a sentence and move both directions at once”.