The term Ethnography has been used to refer to the art and study of various aspects of cultures through observation as the main method of collecting deductions about the culture. Consequently, Music Ethnography is concerned with the study of Music as a form of culture through observation of a traditions’ portrayal and practice of the art of music.
Further Music Ethnography is particularly concerned with the study of the role, the meaning and practice of music within social groups and communities. The community of interest shares common social behaviors and cultural concepts that are expressive in their music that makes it part of their social and cultural system. This paper presents a musical ethnography of Jazz music in the state of California. Particularly it details the aesthetic values as well as context of the music that informs the Jazz music culture. It presents several interviews of Jazz musicians who have made a name and a career in making Jazz Music.
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The San Jose Jazz Music Festival
The Jazz music festival held annually in downtown San Jose, in California has come to be known as the San Jose Music festival and is usually organized by the San Jose Jazz Society. As a matter of fact since its establishment in 1990 the festival has been growing. Each year has been attracting more and more fanatics who are drawn from the locality as well as from far and beyond. This immense growth led the organizers to start charging participants in the year 2006. The event advertises over 80 performances each year since then that are normally distributed on 10 stages since the event is held outdoors fans can be spoilt for choice on that stage to view. Among the popular Jazz artists in California are the likes of Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi and Cal Tjader. Others include Larry Bunker, Buddy Collette, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Chico Hamilton, Charles Mingus, Leroy Vinnegar, and Gerald Wilson.
Nonetheless, there are other unsung contributors to the Jazz music culture in California who have received fewer accolades for their contribution to the culture, but stand as important figures in California’s Jazz music arena. Bennett Roth-Newell is one such unsung Jazz hero who has dedicated his life to understanding and advancing the Jazz music culture. A pianist, Bennett, is a university instructor (an adjunct professor) where he teaches group jazz piano. Teaching Jazz Piano has not only opened up the secrets of the musical compositions of jazz to him but he finds that he is a vessel of transmission where he teaches all he knows about the music to his students furthering the Jazz music culture.
His inspiration for music began at age seven when he decided to learn how to play the piano. Soon after, he would develop an interest of Jazz at the instruction of his teacher who recommended several Jazz pianists’ works. He draws inspiration for piano jazz from artists such as; Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk, McCoy Tyner, and Billy Evans noting that listening to these artists was his greatest motivation to practicing piano Jazz. Bennett observes that jazz music is the foundation of various genres of music that have branched out and produced renown genre such as; reggae, R&B, Soul and Rock etc. particularly, Hip hop music according to Bennett owes it development to Jazz music and for this reason Jazz can be termed as the mother of the most well-known genres of our time. Further, the Hip hop genre and the Jazz genre both have elements that can be incorporated in the other to make it better. Jazz for instance with regard to sound can learn from hip hop in regulating the amount of bravado as Bennett puts it “ that can ooze out of a verse or chorus” lest “ it becomes a bug in the listener’s ear”.
Bennett also recognizes the importance of Jazz in unifying individuals both artists and fanatics. He terms this capability of Jazz as the musical conversation that allows one to step above their ego and be one with everyone you are making the musical art with or sharing the piece of art with in the form of classical Jazz music. His entire life’s work is dedicated to Jazz music, he is optimistic about gaining respect and recognition in the Jazz music industry in future and remains committed to the music.
Another contributor to the San Jose Jazz Music Festival and one who is renowned for his skill in blowing the trumpet to make soothing Jazz music is Trumpeter John Worley, like Bennett, Worley started playing the trumpet at an early age. By the age of 15 he could play the Trumpet professionally and has grown to gracefully age sharing the spotlight with collaborators looking to make their own impact in Jazz through his help. A generous individual with his skills and knowledge in Jazz, Worley notes that “ I think it is really important that you give to give and not give to get, that’s my motto”.
Worley has developed a program in that he trains upcoming Jazz musicians who are interested in taking part playing in the annual San Jose Jazz Music Festival. He is committed to the development of Jazz music and this is his main driver that has had him generously sharing knowledge and skills he has gained in the industry. He practices this innovatively by developing talents in upcoming artists. This involves training them to play various musical instruments. In his words “ it’s like I’ve got this big stew pot, and I’m throwing in all these different Ingredients. We’ll see what comes out of it”.
He notes that it takes a keen individual to know the right combination of artists that would come up with the best Jazz music composition. This is his reason for choosing members of his band where he has made a name for himself playing the Trumpet. He calls this keenness the ‘ right vibe’ observing that if the vibe is not right probably the music produced would not as well by good either.
The Jazz festival is growing and by the look of things it can be inferred that the love of Jazz music is growing with it. Worley allays fears that the younger generations are not embracive of Jazz music noting that more young people are gaining interest in Jazz ensuring continuity of the culture. He adds that the festival is one way of ensuring that Jazz music transits to the future generations, his commitment to training young Jazz artists is thus driven by this fact.
He agrees with Bennett on the premise that Jazz music is the mother of most music genre, but admits that Jazz has not had receivership as other genre such as hip hop and R&B. He notes that publicity needs to be employed to ensure that Jazz music grows. This he says would open avenues for Jazz artists to earn money. He owes his career in Jazz to people who gave him an opportunity to pursue Jazz music as a career at the tender age of fifteen. Hence, he notes that it is his duty to give back to the community as it once did to him. This is the main reason why he is generous with his knowledge and skills in Jazz music.
In conclusion, the advent of the San Jose Jazz music festival is one that has presented opportunities for professional Jazz musicians such as Trumpeter John Worley as well as not so well Known artists such as Pianist Bennett Roth-Newell. Fundamentally, the paper has discussed the various elements that are characteristic of the culture and aesthetics of Jazz music. The discussion finds that Jazz music is historically the foundation of most music genre such as hip hop and R&B among others. However, though not among the top popular genre, Jazz remains a cultural trendsetter in California that will remain as long as the San Jose Jazz Festival continues to attract fanatics.
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