Paper #4 on Jazz

Descriptive Analysis of Two Jazz Performances

Much of music is technical, almost like mathematics. It is not our purpose to think about the performances in those terms. Our task is to listen carefully, much as we looked carefully at the paintings we discussed. Repeated listening, listening with specific questions in mind, will open the music to our ears and minds in ways that will help us understand the music better.

Write one page about each of the two performances.

Although it is very important to the experience of listening to music, in this case do not write about your responses to what you hear. Do not try to put the performance in historical context. Do not write about the biographies of the musicians. Do not draw from any source other than your own listening. Simply describe the performance in detail.

Describe the “head.” Is it long or short? Harmonious or dissonant? Played by a single musician or shared in some way? Does the “head” return at the end? Do you hear phrases from the “head” during any of the solos? If it is repeated in the solos, how is it changed or played with?

Describe the first solo. If it is played by a pianist, describe how his or her two hands are working together or alone. Is the solo made up primarily of chords? Is it a sequence of single notes? Are the single notes distinct or sometimes struck simultaneously with the adjoining note, creating a dissonance, bending the note? Are there runs? Whole sections of notes struck by a forearm? Are there repetitions? Repetitions with changes? Is the solo smooth? Percussive? Both? Is the solo fast? Slow? Alternating speed? Is it loud? Soft? Alternating?

If it is played by a saxophonist or trumpet player or sung by a vocalist, are the notes clear? Dusky or rough? Are there lots of notes(whole sheets of very fast notes) or a slow progression of notes? Does the soloist “bend” notes? Does the solo seem playful? Thoughtful? Does it move across octaves to contrast low and high notes, or does it work with notes close to one another?

During the first solo, are any of the other musicians “comping” (playing along, commenting on the solo, just saying “Hi, I’m listening, thinking along with you”? Is the “comping” extensive, sparse? Intrusive? In the background?

Describe the second solo (if there is one). How do the musicians move from one solo to the next? Does the first soloist signal he is done by restating the head? Or is the exchange more random? Does the second soloist repeat any of what the first soloist did? Can you tell he was listening to the first solo by how he plays his own solo? Think also about the questions you answered for the first solo.

Are there any short solos exchanged between musicians (“trading fours” or “trading eights”)? How do they work together or against one another? Describe any subsequent solos, repeating any of the observations that fit. If the solo is by the bass player or the drummer, how are these solos similar or different from the other solos? Is the bass player playing “arco” (with a bow) or plucking the strings with fingers? Is the drummer playing with brushes or with sticks? Does he emphasize a tom-tom, bass, snare, cymbals, Hi-hat? How does the tune end? Carefully? Precisely? With scattered, individual flourishes? What is the effect or the effects of the various things you have described? What is the mood of the performance? The moods?

The two performances:

Blue Monk Monk (piano), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass), Shadow Wilson (drums) ͞Blue Monk͟ 1957, Carnegie Hall

Autumn Leaves Evans (piano), Scott LaFaro (bass), Paul Motian (drums) ͞Autumn Leaves͟1959


Author: Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at

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