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“Greetings and Salutations” by Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra
One of the most remarkable collaborations in the history of jazz was a partnership between the trumpeter Thad Jones and the drummer Mel Lewis, which lasted from 1965 to 1978. “Greetings and Salutations” is an instrumental track by the progressive jazz band named Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. It appeared in the album New Life in 1978. “Greetings and Salutations” is an interesting composition, because it shows how Big Bands’ music style has mutated throughout the seventies.
Jazz orchestras had emerged in the swing era during twenties, and their stylistics matched the title of the period. Jones-Lewis jazz orchestra, which appeared in the heyday of rock and funk, extensively absorbed the traits of these styles and benefited immensely from them. After a brief and calm symphonic intro, a dense, powerful and boisterous sound embraces the listener and keeps him tense until the end of the track. While listening to this piece of music, it is difficult to sit still. This piece invites to dance. Simple, but infectious, melodies remain in the listener’s head for a long time. “Greeting and Salutations” absorbs the listener with its funky patterns of electric guitar and bass, and so does the powerful pulsating drum rhythm. Mighty riffs of wind instruments from time to time give in to the interesting trumpet solos. These solos sound as if they are conducting a dialogue with the rest of an orchestra. In the second part of this fairly long track, the listener can also hear a drum solo masterly performed by Mel Lewis.
In total, “Greeting and Salutations” introduces an interesting mix of classical symphonic jazz (like those of Big Bands) and modern musical styles. This piece is a good example of the renewal of jazz traditions in the age of rock music.
“Oscar Wilde Gets Out” by Elton John
“Oscar Wilde Gets Out” is the second track from the critically acclaimed album “Diving Board” of 2013. Similarly to other songs from this album, the music was written by Elton John and lyrics were created by Bernie Taupin, his devoted songwriter. Taupo lyrics, music and outstanding performance of Elton John made him the latest the manufacturer of hits and one of the most famous singers and songwriters in history.
One of the main features of this track (and of the entire album) is the usage of simple and pure rhythm in the arrangement, which has been denounced by different critics. In such a minimalistic arrangement, critics noticed a return to the pure forms of the early works of Elton John, where bass and drums were only a rhythm pattern for the supporting piano. Indeed, this song could be found in one of Elton John’s albums in the 70s, and it was not surprising. This sound refers to the classic pop-rock, the creator of which was Elton John himself.
Introduction based on a minor chord and surrounded by a piano solo sets the mood of the track. This tune is a reserved, nocturnal melancholy. In the chorus, the harmony turns upside down – feelings erupt for a few seconds, supported by barely perceptible strings. The rhythm section makes the sound tight and emphasizes the dynamics. The piano here is both the “second vocals” of the track and the main instrument of rhythm. At the same, time the music would not have lost its passionate melancholy with only the piano and the voice of singer. Romantic but not hysterical vocals are dominant throughout the piece.
All in all, this is a simple pop song. However, is demonstrates the great simplicity of adult pop music. Along with mature philosophical lyrics about the great writer, “Destitute and beaten by the system of the crown”, the song leaves the listener in the contemplative and ponderous mood.
“Luck Be a Lady” by Frank Sinatra
“Luck Be a Lady” is an optimistic, exuberant and sensitive song, performed by maybe the greatest singer of the 20th century, legendary Frank Sinatra. Originally written by the songwriter Frank Loesser, the song appeared in a Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and also in the film version of this musical with the same name. In the latter, the hit was performed by Marlon Brando. Therefore, when in the mid-sixties “Luck Be a Lady” became one of the most characteristic songs associated with Frank Sinatra, the track already had its own history. Nonetheless, the talent and charisma of Frank Sinatra made any song sound in a new fashion, and “Luck Be a Lady” was not an exception.
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The lyrics by Loesser tell how Sky Masterson, a gambler and a protagonist from “Guys and Dolls”, expects that winning a bet will make his girl stay with him. Frank Sinatra performs his party against the background of an elegant arrangement of jazz orchestra. Hence, the musical texture of the track is tight and saturated, shaped by two dozen instruments. Musical dynamics vary from sweet string parties in intro to gusty trumpets with cheerful drum beat in the rest of the track. Confident and stately vocals clearly stand out in the texture of the piece. The voice of the maestro is so free and self-sufficient that is seems that it can successfully exist apart from the music.
Combining swing energy with a brash, sensitive tune, “Luck Be a Lady” is a great example of classical jazz. Moreover, it is performed by one of the most famous crooners. The melody from “Luck Be a Lady”, heard once, will remain in one’s mind for a long time.
“Waltz for Debby” by Bill Evans
“Waltz for Debby” has become one of the most famous jazz compositions. It was performed by many musicians in a variety of arrangements and with different sets of instruments. Bill Evans wrote a piece in 1954. He dedicated it to his three-year old niece Debbie. The original version was purely performed in piano. Later on, the waltz appeared in the performance of Bill Evans Trio – a classical band that played keyboards, bass and drums.
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The track that is written in 3/4 time signature, which is a standard for waltz, starts quietly and melancholically. However, single piano notes soon change into a dynamic syncopated rhythm. Bass, barely noticeable in the beginning of the composition, soon turns into a dense and self-sufficient musical tone. Drums, which appear suddenly, clearly articulate the rhythm represented by already sounding instruments. However, throughout the track, the musicians manage to maintain a sense of gentle melancholy that has become obvious from the very first notes. Evans’ style bears the influence of classical piano music, but strongly depends on improvisation. His fingers carve quick notes and atonal chords deviating from the main tune. These daring deviations rescue waltz from excessive classicism, empowering the track with the force of bebop. Improvising on the edge of the tune, flying around, but keeping it still is one of the constituents of Evans’ great skill.
Bill Evans is not only one of the greatest jazz composers, but also one of the greatest pianists. His virtuoso and impressionistic style of performance fascinated contemporaries and continues to fascinate modern listeners. People are still listening to the music of maestro at the beginning of the 21st century. “Waltz for Debby” is one of the quintessential pieces of Bill Evans’ music, both as a composer and as a performer. All the crucial features of his style can be recognized in this track.