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Bernstein Century: Bernstein on Jazz - What is Jazz?

5.0 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 14, 1998
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Product Details

  • Performer: Leonard Bernstein, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • Orchestra: New York Philharmonic, Lewishon Stadium Symphony Orchestra
  • Composer: Howard Brubeck, W. C. Handy
  • Audio CD (July 14, 1998)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Run Time: 75 minutes
  • ASIN: B000009CYG
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,638 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By A Customer on November 6, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Bernstein provides a unique and wonderful look at America's original artform, jazz. In contrast to traditional, chronological approaches, Bernstein breaks down the musical components of jazz such as rhythm, melody, and harmony, and discusses the way they are used differently in comparison with Western European musics. Bernstein has a knack for discussing complex material and stating it in a way that all can understand, which is very evident here. Armstrong and Brubeck work wonderfully with the New York Phil. This is a must have for those just getting into jazz, jazz enthusiasts, and music educators.
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Bernstein's approach to the subject of jazz is not so much a "book" approach as a "sound" approach. He analyzes the music itself and provides insight and perspective into the essence of jazz that few instructors before him have. Expecially helpful are the ditties he uses where he takes away the element of jazz (such as the blues scale or syncopation) so the listener can hear what a piece of music would sound like if it did not contain the essential elements of jazz. The CD is full of useful nuggets of information, some of which put a smile on my face for a whole day, because I had the feeling of knowing something that no one else did. (Like, did you know: classic blues lyrics are written and sung in iambic pentameter? It's true, and he puts together a blues riff with Macbeth to prove it. Very cool.) I recommend this CD to anyone who is interested in learning about jazz. It might not get too much repeat listening, but the first or second time through it is definitely worth it.
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I just love listening to Leonard Bernstein talking about music. I am a music lover with broad tastes, but have only rudimentary training in music theory. Bernstein had a great knack for speaking meaningfully about music for the lay audience, explaining complex ideas in ways that the untrained can still understand. Of course he spoke differently to professionals -- there is great footage out there of him in rehearsal with orchestras -- but whether on disc or television, he never talked down to the average listener.

The heart of this album is Bernstein explaining jazz from a musical perspective -- melody, syncopation, structure, the nature of improvisation, and a brief discussion of the various forms of jazz as of the time of the recording in 1956. Bernstein's talk is a reprise of his successful television program in 1955 on the "Omnibus" program, which is also available on DVD in this set. Bernstein is still working from the same basic script as the television show, with some refinements. Most notably, the TV show culminated with a performance of Bernstein's own composition "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs", while this record closes with an extended cool jazz version of "Sweet Sue", the old tune that is used over and over in both the album and the TV show to illustrate various concepts.

The talk may seem a little dated in parts -- particularly Bernstein's need to defend jazz as an art form, which may have been a controversial idea in some circles in 1955, but is pretty ho-hum today. Also, his use of the word "Negro", which makes us cringe today but must be taken in the context of the time.
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This is musical instruction at its best! It is helpful if you have a some musical theory and Jazz background, but not necessary! However, I must say that I am a fellow jazz lover so my view is tainted to love this! Bernstein starts off with a clip of “Take the A Train”, and discusses what sets Jazz apart from all the other genres of Music. He goes element by element to discover as he puts it Jazz's "musical innards". He covers jazz scales and blue notes, the playful part of Jazz improvisation and fooling around with notes, the dissonance in the underlying chords against the melody, the way a jazz piece can be very brignt and cherry yet still have a hint of pain in it, and much more. He goes into the history of Jazz and its origins including its African roots derived from work songs. In the first minutes of the recording he starts with Leadbelly singing the 1927 version of New Black Snake Moan, and goes through the Pre 1935 Big band era of Dixie Land Bands and Charleston Bands, to 1935 with the Swing bands, then Boogey Woogie, Crazy Bop, Cool Bop, Mambo, and more! If you love jazz as I do, this is a great master class on Jazz from a man who truly loves the art of Jazz! Enjoy!
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Format: Audio CD
This is a groundbreaking album in the evolution of Third Stream Music, coined by Gunther Schuller, and popular at the time, a melding of jazz and classical music. Although Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra is far more commercial sounding than most of Schuller's work, they pulled it off beautifully. And that is due to the man who gets no credit on this Amazon web page: Howard Brubeck, brother of Dave and composer of the above mentioned piece. Even more amazing is the exclusion of the Dave Brubeck Quartet who is accompanied by the New York Philharmonic in the playing of the piece. How do people know what they are buying? Perhaps it's because this appears to be a compilation of Bernstein's work on jazz. The original Dialogues was the A side of an album called Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernsetin, recorded in 1961 and was the studion version of a concert that took place in Carnegie Hall in December of 1959. I can't speak for the rest of this album but it is worth the price alone for Dialogues.
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