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Vanessa Hudson
by on November 24, 2018
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Jazz takes its roots in the United States of America. It was originated as a synthesis of various elements taken from the European cultures which moved to the US on the one hand and African folklore on the other hand. Music itself has a more meaningful sense for the African culture than for European. Usually it is connected with labor activities, rites, worshiping. In such a way African intuitive inception and emotionality is collided with European rationalism. Jazz helped black African slaves to bear all the burdens of backbreaking labor. Nowadays, jazz is combined with other areas in music, such as rock, funk, rap etc. This creates a combination of compound, variable rhythms and measures. Duke Ellington was one of the most prolific composers in the history of jazz music. He was a great composer and self-arranger. He started studying how to play the piano when he was seven years old. Jazz entered into Ellington’s life when he was a teenager. He moved to New York and became a leader of the band. He was one of the creators of big band sound, which later on fueled the era of “swing”. His real name is Edward Kennedy. He was born in a middle-class family. As Cohen states, Ellington’s parents were strict in maintaining that “all people are equal, and no race is better than the other”. There was no such notion as “color” in their house (Cohen). At the time of Ellington’s birth, the field of music in which he gravitated was one of the major areas in the United States where black people could earn money. Moreover, they automatically gained a highest level respect since collaborating with white people. The background of Duke Ellington together with the black figures in music preceding him directed the composer to be the founder of the most outstanding creations in American music. Washington was the springboard for him since it was a point of intellectual resistance to racism. Moreover, it was the centre of black music at that time. Despite racial problems, Washington was the best state for the residence for an African American. It was, in some way, a bastion for the middle-class black people, to which Ellington’s family belonged. The leaders of their community tried more to outwit the racial system than to fight against it. They took efforts to cultivate dignity and pride in their community. This fact helped to avoid the confrontation and challenging of the political and social situation in the time. It helped to rise above this situation. Ellington accepted the method of non-confrontational activism in the affairs of prejudice and race with the help of his mentors, cultural upbringing and predecessors. A lot of beliefs which belonged to white Americans were adopted by the black community in Washington. Among them were good education, respectability, church membership, and stability of the family. These values were accepted by the family of Ellington. The musical culture of white people partly influenced Duke too. It could not pass over him. Marietta Clinkskales who was Ellington’s first piano teacher taught him classical technique and concert pieces. Besides this, he learned both white and black songs and hymns in church. The practice was supported by his mother at their home (Cohen). As Mark Tucker states, Ellington was very close to Daisy Ellington, his mother, and later on, he recalled the songs she played during his whole life (Cohen). This fact is proved by his elegiac and wishful compositions. His nostalgic music, such as the bridge to “In a Sentimental Mood” of 1935 and “The Single Petal of a Rose” of 1959, feature almost identical structure and melodies to “The Rosary” and “Meditation” (Cohen). Ellington distinguished only two kinds of music, “the good kind and the other kind” (Cohen). He never judged both music and people according to style, race or anything else, but by how affecting and skilled they were. The school that Ellington attended gave a possibility to its pupils to render black folk songs, and this opportunity was not available for any other pupils in the United States (Cohen). It goes without saying that pupils of this school felt themselves more self-confident than the others. Writers as Amiri Baraka and Robert Palmer notice that black people in both Africa and the USA took advantage of music in order to prepare boys to manhood and to teach them a proper behavior (Cohen). The tradition comes from African griots. They practiced the method of teaching the younger generations by memorizing songs and poetry by the last ones. Such songs and poems were built on the chronicled history of African folks (Cohen). As for Ellington, he was a follower of this tradition in his own way. He expanded this practice of his forebears contributing into black music, culture and figures. Ellington was taught music fundamentals by his wife. While he learned the theory of music and composition, he started steeping into different techniques of blues musicians and non-schooled jazz. He admired their passion and rawness and wanted to follow them. Such dichotomy became a peculiar trademark of Duke Elligton. It was an indication of the musical environment of Washington. Ellington began forming bands in the late 1910s. His repertoire was based on the songs which were associated with both white and black culture. Moreover, he played for both white and black people. Due to his father who supplied food for society functions including some even in the White House, Ellington gained convenient connections for his bands. They brought profitable performances for the white audience. His bands performed dance music along with the black jazz sounds. Looking on the other social spectrum’s side, it can be clearly seen that Ellington’s bands played for black and white audiences in colleges too. His bands played country tunes, tangos, some popular novelties, blues, and popular melodies from cotillion dances. During the 1920s, his band had a long engagement in the New York City, which proved the success of Ellington’s multigenre composing. “There’s really no distinction anymore between white music and colored music,” Ellington told to a journalist. “It’s sort of a hybrid thing. They have each borrowed so much from the other” (Cohen). George Clinton started his career as a session musician, arranger and song writer during his studying in the university at first. He was doing doo wop music and became the mastermind of Parliament. Later on, he founded Funkadelic; its style was funk music. Clinton admits in one of his interviews that “funk became the DNA for hip-hop” (Alvarez). He also says that funk is the thread that goes through other music directions, for example, such as blues, gospel, rock and roll, R&B; nevertheless, one can see them as different from funk (Alvarez). George Clinton was inspired by such revolutionary bands as Stooges and MC 5. Prominent Frank Zappa, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and others inspired him as well. Despite the failure in the commercial understanding, George Clinton was experimenting with his compositions. His bands, though they had much in common, started to acquire different sounds. Funkadelic acquired rock sound while Parliament was inventing and exploring through funk music. The last acquired deep bass groove, bizarre sound effects and twist on soul with psychedelic guitar. Later on, Clinton began his solo career. “Nobody looked or sounded as fantastical as Clinton,” states Gittins in The Guardian (Gittins). George Clinton took one product and turned it into several. This talent is given to the selected few among people. George Clinton is not only a musical performer. He produced records for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bootsy Collins as well. “His music has the distinction of being the most "sampled" of all time by many artists in rap and hip hop” (“RhythmFest with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic”). He collaborated with many artists. Among them are Tupac, Wu Tang Clan, Dr. Dre, Redman, Outkast, and Ice Cube, (“RhythmFest with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic”). George Clinton is an innovator and artist. Though his music was highly respected, he did not receive as much credit as Jimi Hendrix and James Brown did. Dinkins tries to explain this by telling that Clinton’s music did not have the same crossover appeal (Alvarez). In fact, his music was not wordy, but it was very rhythmic and had elements of African rhythms. “If you were to slow it down...you would hear strong Caribbean rhythms. If you isolate the conga part, you can hear something that would fit in a salsa song; you can hear the cowbell and it would fit in a mambo. Those things made it difficult for it to become a pop song” is stated in Alvarez’s article (Alvarez). As Vincent said about Georle Clinton,“he placed the African American sensibility at the center of the universe” (Vincent). Tupac Shakur was an artist who performed rap. His songs are poetic and contain street vocabulary. He always had a social concern. In his songs, except for those about beautiful women and his Mercedes Benz, he passionately criticized police brutality, governmental corruption and spoke against poverty. Baldelomar considers Tupac Shakur to be a liberation theologian who is concerned about race, violence, class, poverty and “having experienced the pain of social marginalization, sought to liberate the suffering by challenging the structures of power and privilege” notes Baldelomar (Baldelomar). Josh Nisker states in his work, that Tupac tries to explore his role in shaping and reflecting criminal justice system in the United States of America. He calls Tupac Shakur the most revolutionary, influential and popular artist of all time (Nisker). Tupac was born in a culture that has always faced injustice. Based on his personal and community experiences, lyrics of the artist bear a lot of social and legal issues. Among them are racial profiling, black incarceration, the “War on Drugs”, police brutality, and American “three strikes” laws. Though this list is not limited to the issues listed above, it may be continued. The rapper considered the criminal justice system to be racist and oppressive. The lyrical message he sent reflects the suspicion that many black people conceal toward the legal system of The United States of America. (Nisker). Tupac’s lyrics portray police officers as racist, corrupt, and oppressive. Martinez indicates that racial profiling is “a common complaint in racial/ethnic communities”. Lassiter acknowledges that “police lawlessness against young Black males occurs to a devastatingly discordant degree”. Therefore, rap is an important mediator which exposes the problematic relationship between law enforcement and black men (Nisker). His song “Trapped” of 1991, describes a “claustrophobic urban environment marked by invasive police surveillance and rampant racial profiling” (Nisker). The rapper sees himself as a trapped person in a system of tyranny and poverty with no escape. Duke Ellington, George Clinton and Tupac are black musicians. Each of them had his own way, different from the others. Their music was different; nevertheless, it had a lot in common. As it can be seen from everything stated above, all the three artists were concerned about the others, especially about the black ones. Each of them was fighting for justice and against violators. It is not strange that all the three artists paid a special attention to the rights of black people. Black people have always suffered from the injustice of white people and the government. Ellington, Clinton and Tupac created their music not only as art, but also as a protest to this unfairness. George Clinton is called “the Duke Ellington of funk” by people. His costumes, hairstyles and behavior shocked people. Unlike elaborative formal and urban Duke Ellington, he seemed to come from another planet. His funk had nothing in common with Duke’s jazz at first sight. Nevertheless, if to look deep inside into their music, as Lavezolli states, George Clinton’s music is "the modern-day counterpart to the Ellington’s orchestra" (Schudel). In fact, the name of “the Duke Ellington of funk: fits George Clinton a lot. Both Duke Ellington and George Clinton brought innovations through their music, composed unexpected song styles and worked in different styles all the time. Their multigenred creative works deserve to be honored. Duke Ellington found himself in jazz while George Clinton composed more funk. Their versatility contributed to the world’s music development. Besides funk, Clinton sampled in rap and hip-hop. In his turn, George Clinton inspired a young rapper Tupac Shakur. Duke Ellington was raised in the family which fought with the injustice quietly and rationally. On the contrary, Tupac was brought up in the family of the Black Panther Members (Nisker). Their provocative ideologies and militant style influenced Tupac’s music in a rebellious way. Raised in a society that cannot be called favorable, Ellington, Clinton and Tupac faced various troubles every day since their childhood. Their rebelling nature flowed out to their audience through their music. Times change, but there are things which need a lot of time to be altered fundamentally. Despite that all three artists lived in a little bit different times, the main point of their essence was similar. They tried to fight against those things that, unfortunately, need too much time to be accomplished. Duke Ellington worked with jazz, George Clinton created funk music, and Tupac Shakur called people to justice through his rap songs. Despite slight changes, George Clinton continued the work of Duke Ellington, and Tupak Shakur continued the work of George Clinton in his own way. There is no doubt that there is already someone who continues the work of Tupac. The main task of music is to express something. It may be feelings, personal views, emotions, etc. Hence, what music does is that it impels others to do something. Ellington’s, Clinton’s, and Tupac’s music was a call for people to do something with violence, racism, injustice and a lot of other significant problems of the society. It goes without saying that the influence of Duke Ellington, George Clinton and Tupac Shakur is enormous. They have contrasting sides in their appearance and background. However, this fact still allows them to be similar in their music styles and attempts of protest against the unfairness towards black people in their social times. Each of them influenced not only music and its styles, they influenced the whole generations, made them think about justice and welfare for all people. You can find out other evaluation essay topics written by me on my profile. Check it out!
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