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Johann Sebastian Bach biography

A biography Johann Sebastian Bach, remembered for his contributions to the orchestra, harpsichord, and organ.

Through the ages, Bach`s name has come to be associated with the fugue. That is a well-known fact. But did you know that Bach studied to be a singer? Did you know that he wrote music to soothe rich insomniacs so that they could sleep? Did you know his music wasn`t popular until after his death?

Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a family of musicians who lived in central Germany. The men in Bach`s family were adept at playing the violin, harpsichord, clavichord, and organ. They were also singers. Bach`s early musical training included lessons in all of these areas, but he especially wanted to find a career in singing. Orphaned at age nine, Bach lived with an older brother who became his first music teacher. Johann had a good voice even at this early age, so he tried out for the church choir. He was so talented that he was selected.

One of Johann`s favorite occupations as a young boy was to copy music. This was good training for the budding musician but was a necessity too, as there was very little printed music in the 1700`s. Most music was copied by hand. One day the young Bach was leafing through sheet music that belonged to his brother. He was intrigued by some music he found and begged to be allowed to study it. But music was hard to come by, and his brother was afraid the little boy would get the sheets dirty with his fingers. Bach`s brother locked the music up, but Johann noticed where he stashed the key! On moonlit evenings, after everyone else had gone to bed, he got up, found the key, and copied every note of the music. It took him six months, but he never forgot the knowledge and skill he gained by doing it.

As a teenager, Bach continued with his voice studies. Fortunately for Bach, he studied voice with Georg Bohn, a composer. This led to a broadening of Bach`s tutelage to include the elements of composition, which would be Bach`s strongest contribution to music.

Bach`s first career position was as a violinist in the court chapel of Prince Ernest of Weimer. He was promoted to church organist, a position that paid well enough to allow Bach the time to compose. Because most of his chapel assignments were for the organ, Bach`s Baroque counterpoint and fugue were fashioned for that instrument. Bach also wrote music for the choir and orchestra, clavier, and other solo instruments.

Bach often taught younger musicians and helped them secure positions where they could ply their craft. A pupil of Bach`s found employment with a rich count that had insomnia. The student`s job was to play the harpsichord until the patient fell sleep; but the student could not seem to find the "right" music, often playing hours before the count slept. His hands aching, the young musician begged Bach to compose a soothing sleep-inducing arrangement for the count. Bach did. The piece was named for the student, Goldberg, and is known to us as "The Goldberg Variations."

From Weimer, Bach went on to work for Prince Leopold at Cothen. His duties there were not only to play the organ but also to direct the choir, a special treat for Bach, the singer. Prince Leopold particularly loved orchestral music, encouraging Bach to write original pieces for the Prince`s orchestra. In fact, many of Bach`s better-known orchestral works were composed during his tenure with the prince.

Bach lived at a time when the classical style of music was just beginning to be recognized. Even though he wrote an enormous amount of music in his lifetime, he saw none of his works published before he was 41 years old. He was esteemed as a musician and composer in his own country, but he was not really known outside of Germany until fifty years after his death. It was Mendelssohn who later recognized the greatness of the Baroch composer`s work and revived Bach`s music through his performance of Bach`s pieces.

Bach - a great man, remembered for his contribution to the orchestra, harpsichord, and organ. But anecdotal studies of his life show he was also a man of compassion, seeking to help his students and a singer whose direction was changed by destiny.

Written by Elaine Schneider -

Jazz legends

Prominent Jazz legends- how they influenced and defined the genre of music known as jazz, bebop, swing, and rhythm and blues.

Jazz is a style of music with roots that lie in spirituals, blues, and ragtime music and that has as its main concept, the art of improvisation, conforming only to the style of the individual musician. If the listener fancies hearing the Duke Ellington version of a song, he or she would need to find the recording that featured Duke himself playing that song. A jazz musician endeavors to play a song in such a way that the audience is not necessarily impressed that the performance sounded like "the song," but rather, that it sounded like the artist. Therefore, jazz musicians that impacted the delivery and performance of jazz as it took its shape and form are considered to have had a part in fashioning this genre of music, defining its very nature by their names and individual styles. These are the jazz legends.

Historically, the birth of jazz is credited to New Orleans. Joe "King" Oliver was a prominent jazz band leader and trumpeter who decided to move his band to Chicago when New Orleans closed the jazz district due to violence from navy sailors on shore leave. Dixieland Jazz was well received in Chicago and King Oliver`s band quickly became famous. In fact, he became so successful that he sent back to New Orleans for more musicians to come to Chicago so that he could increase the size of his band. One of these musicians was the young Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong may well have been the most imaginative trumpet soloist of all times. His music exhibited an energy and power that literally drew audiences to him. Armstrong played with King Oliver for a short period of time and then formed his own group, the Hot Five. Later, the addition of two more players necessitated a name change to the Hot Seven. It was Louis who moved from a strict Dixieland Jazz style with three instruments playing melody lines weaving in and out to having only one instrument lead in improvised solos. And that instrument was usually his trumpet! Louis Armstrong, a popular figure with the press, gained national popularity for his "scat" renditions where he used his voice to produce nonsensical syllables to mimic the trumpet melody.

Benny Goodman was a clarinetist and orchestra leader who earned the name "King of Swing." Jazz Swing was a version of jazz that offered a more syncopated rhythm that invited dancing. This gave Goodman extended possibilities for performance, as dance halls were intrigued by the live group`s abilities to provide dance music. This, of course, was in addition to playing for "sit-down" audiences that were typical with most jazz band performance arrangements. The more varied concert population aided Goodman`s success as well as his teaming up with an extremely talented pianist by the name of Teddy Wilson. The interplay between Goodmans` clarinet and Wilson`s piano was a new twist to the jazz mode and the two men became famous. Of interest is that Goodman and Wilson presented the first racially mixed popular jazz group in the United States. They were so well received by the American populous that the U.S. State Department sponsored a good will tour by the two to the Soviet Union.

Up to this point, much of the jazz music had been improvised. This meant that basic melody patterns and chord progressions were used, but it was the talent of the artists that made the "magic" of the music. The first jazz legends were performers of infinite natural ability. But as jazz became more and more popular, the "average" musician who lacked the natural improvisation ability desired a written score so that the styles of the "greats" could be imitated. Many jazz performers played "by ear," neither reading nor writing musical scores. The search began for a jazz composer who could capture the essence of the music and transcribe it to a written score.

Duke Ellington was just the brilliant composer to pioneer the task! Famous for his "Big Band" sound, Ellington was himself a fine pianist. But he was even better as an orchestrator, as he "heard" how all the parts fit together and could set each instrument`s part to paper. Ellington`s orchestrations were even richer than the music of the original New Orleans bands, as he expanded his arrangements to use more instruments. It was typical for Ellington to use two or three trumpets, one cornet, three trombones, four saxophones, two to three clarinets, two string basses, guitar, drum, vibraphone, and piano. Because of Ellington`s ability to write what he played and "heard," his music is well known even today, preserved by the scores he wrote. His most popular manuscripts include the twelve bar blues song "Ko Ko" and "Anatomy of a Murder," which was the first movie score ever composed by a jazz writer.

Still, jazz evolved, grew, and developed. A new artist often meant a new variation of the style. Once again, a new type of jazz emerged. It was called "bebop" or "Cool" Jazz. Musicians who made this style famous include Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell. Cool Jazz was supposedly named this because it had less emotion than the blues and suggested restraint with its laid-back tones and rhythms. Leonard Bernstein incorporated the Cool Jazz feeling when he wrote the songs for the musical "West Side Story." Bernstein`s scores invited a new kind of jazz dance for the attendant choreography, slow slinking "snap-your-finger" movements that gave the musical its own sense of "cool" rhythm and flow.

Although the essence of jazz is instrumental, vocal artists learned to express the spirit of the music, with standout performances by the likes of Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Smith. Mahalia loved all kinds of music, from gospel to blues, and back again to jazz. She believed that the roots of all jazz types were in the black spirituals she had sung with her mother as a child. As the jazz style of music grew in popularity, Mahalia was invited to sing at jazz festivals all over the United States and Europe. She consented, but only if she could sing a gospel hymn as well. The singing of Mahalia Jackson was powerful and filled with strong emotion. She could lift the rafters with her belting rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In," or make audiences weep with "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."

Bessie Smith was another powerful songster. Born into a poor black family, Bessie began to sing in childhood, exhibiting an innate ability that made her a prodigy. So great was Bessie`s potential, that she was helped into the profession by other black singers of the time. She traveled through the southern states, honing her craft and determining her own personal style through performances in the saloons and smaller theaters of Atlanta, Savannah, Birmingham, and Memphis. Columbia Records heard of the young girl, signing her to her first album in 1923. Bessie sang about poverty and oppression, love and loss. She could belt out her anger at the cruelty of the world or sigh at its indifference with the grace of a willow tree bending in the breeze. It is not surprising that Bessie Smith became the "Empress of the Blues."

Another great woman in jazz was Billie Holiday, or "Lady Day," as she was affectionately called. The daughter of a guitarist, Billie became acquainted with jazz as a child when the brothel keeper for whom she ran errands allowed her to hear recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. She learned to sing along with the music on the recordings, developing her own sense of style. As a young girl, Billie Holiday began singing in Harlem nightclubs. At first, the jazz world did not receive her as a serious artist. Then in 1936, Lady Day met the saxophonist Lester Young. Together, they created and fine-tuned the most exquisite interchanges between a vocal line and an instrumental obligato ever heard in the world of jazz.

As jazz continued to evolve throughout the twentieth century, it took on different characteristics, depending - as it always had - on the performers. Modern jazz artists of the later half of the twentieth century include Ray Charles, Pete Fountain, Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Junior, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and Marcus Roberts. With the exception of Pete Fountain, who himself declared his form of music "New Orleans Jazz," the style exhibited by these artists is not so often thought of as "jazz," but rather as Rhythm and Blues, or "R & B." Still, the mode and aspect of R & B is reminiscent of the music that represents the earliest beginnings of jazz. The rhythms, "licks," and bending of pitch are the products of the blues melodies. The unique interpretations of chord structures are most assuredly derived from the 12-bar chord progressions that inspired the improvisations of instrumentalists and vocalists alike. These were the tools that were used by the jazz legends to forge the way for a new kind of mu sic. Their style and contributions will always be with us, if not at the hand of the new performers, perhaps in the sigh of the willow tree.

Written by Elaine Schneider -

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