HS Virtual Jazz: Sounds and Instruments

A. Tone Colors

Jazz musicians play their instruments utilizing the complete gamut of tone colors (tonal quality) that their instruments will allow.

B. Emotional Expression

Unlike classical players who usually strive for a clear, “pure” tone, jazz players strive for a tone that is generally more “vocal” in nature, i.e., jazz musicians will bend pitches, “growl,” “whine,” play “raunchy,” “dark,” “light,” “airy,” “raspy,” “bluesy,” “throaty,” “nasally” (anything the human voice can do to express emotion and then some) in addition to playing clearly.

Audio Snippets

Speakerspacer Pitch Bends – Mark Gridley

Speakerspacer Blue Notes – Mark Gridley

C. Common Instruments

Today, jazz can be (and is) played on virtually any instrument, including the human voice. The most common instruments associated with jazz (in order of basic precedence) are:

1. Saxophone

2. Trumpet

3. Piano, bass, and drums (known as the rhythm section)

4. Guitar

5. Clarinet

6. Trombone

7. Flute

Audio Snippets

Speakerspacer Rhythm Section Roles – Mark Gridley

D. The Sound

Each instrument has its own general tone color (e.g., a saxophone sounds different from a trumpet, guitar, flute, piano, etc.) and each musician has his/her own particular sound on that instrument.

1. Although, say, a saxophone still sounds like a saxophone no matter who’s playing it, most jazz musicians and aficionados can distinguish one saxophonist from another by his/her tone alone. In the same way, we can distinguish one human voice from another. For example, even if we hear someone speak whom we haven’t talked to in months, we usually can distinguish who it is even after just one “hello” on the phone: that’s how distinctive one particular voice can be; that’s how distinctive one saxophonist’s sound can be.

2. A jazz musician’s particular sound is part of his/her signature, part of what distinguishes him/her from another.

3. What attracts the listener is not just what a particular jazz musician plays (i.e., how he/she improvises); it’s also the way he/she plays (i.e., his/her particular sound).

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