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Hard Bop. Art Blakey’s “The Freedom Rider” Essay Sample

Hard Bop. Art Blakey’s “The Freedom Rider”

Afro-Americans were brought to the United States as slaves without land, money or any possessions. The only their property was kept deep in their hearts – their colorful motifs and inner fire. Thus, jazz, the rescuing music of thousands, was born. From those times on, various styles of jazz developed representing a vast range of emotional and psychological human states and gaining immense popularity among both black- and white-skinned American citizens. Later, the style spread further beyond the American continent, winning more and more fans all over the world. One of modern jazz streams is hard bop, a style involving both rapid and gloomy major tones. Its most prominent representative is Art Blakey. This well-known Northampton drummer had grown from a little boy performing in the local church to one of the most renowned artists of his time that remains as such up till now.

Hard bop was a dominant stream of jazz during 1955-1965. Its appearance was mainly evoked by the longing of black musicians to reclaim jazz as their music and counterbalance the innovations of whites in cool jazz. It is characterized by expressiveness and, sometimes, somber tone; at the same time, “it transformed those qualities both by “getting them out” and reinterpreting them through sheer verve and musical alertness” (Rosenthal, 1988). The darker feelings evoked by this music may be expressed in the tendency to minor mode, slowed tempos and blues-influenced phrasing. Some critics imputed such darkness in sounding to hostile attitude of black musicians towards whites. Although rage is definitely the emotion which may be conveyed throughout some pieces of music, hatred, as a feeling that needs to be directed to some object, clearly cannot be present in instrumental music (Rosenthal, 1988).

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Stylistically, hard bop has much in common with bop, but there are differences in tempo, swing, and solo improvisation. Though hard-driving, the melodies are not as fast as in bop in terms of tempo. Concerning rhythm, it swings more than bop, but the solo improvisations are less sophisticated; nevertheless, they include rapid-fire delivery passages. Generally, this style denotes the maturity of jazz in its development and provides the standard pattern for future generations’ music perception.

Art Blakey, the prominent hard bop jazz musicians, is considered to be one of the inventors of the contemporary drumming. His personal style, on the whole, is marked by loudness, activity, and dynamics (Hopkins, & Lesson 9). His solos “are built around a few melodic motifs played against each other contrapuntally as he builds to a climax” (Rosenthal & Blakey, 1986). His sense of rhythm is incredibly sharp in addition to the precise wrist and foot control. One of the peculiar features of his performing style was muted technique as well as native African beats elements. Beginning his career as a pianist, Blakey later switched to drums, using swing drummers Sid Catlett and Chick Webb as models (Hopkins, & Lesson 9). He managed to put together a quintet called the Jazz Messengers, consisting of Lou Donaldson (alto sax), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Horace Silver (piano) and Curly Russell (bass). The band`s New York performance at Birdland appeared to be a landmark recording and playing of hard bop – it marked the appearance of long-playing record enabling to press more than standard three-and-a-half minutes on the track (Hopkins, Lesson 9).

“The Freedom Rider” is one of the most prominent albums of Art Blakey and his band; it was released in 1964. Its track of the same name is 7:25 minutes long, with the Art Blakey’s solo on the drums. The musical piece is marked with the vitality, gradually developing and building up the activity and power. Numerous interpretations inserted throughout the play prove high professionalism of the musician. An extended solo of Art Blakey in this track is energetic, rounding out the rhythmic section. My personal opinion on this piece of music is highly positive. It makes the heart beat faster and faster, almost in the tempo of music in your ears. Hearing the track for the first time, there appears the feeling of bursting energy and the flight of fantasy that has an extremely cheering effect. The sounds produced by the soloist, Art Blakey, are sharp and precise dignifying the quality of his performance and proving him to be a great percussionist, indeed.

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To conclude, it is worth saying that although hard bop generally lacked attention of the critics, for many people it was and remains the most vivid example of jazz music. In fact, it reflects the complete notion of jazz style itself. Combining melancholy with strikingly lively rhythms, hard bop proved to include all three main jazz features: improvisation, swing feeling created by rhythms, and a Bluesy Flavor. Art Blakey, the pioneer of hard bop and the supporter of many young talents, was a master of his job. His rapid style and preciseness of movements proved his leadership in the style of his performance. The significance of this musician lies in his innovative perception of sounds and attitudes as well as his contribution to the world of jazz, namely, long-playing tracks and revival of jazz popularity, especially among black communities. The track “The Freedom Rider” confirms that Art Blakey’s attempts were not in vain. The appearance of the album in which the musical piece was included, as well as many other band’s albums, has greatly changed the attitude to the role of black musicians in jazz and the style in general. The performers wanted their music to provide a visceral experience, and they succeeded in this (Hopkins, & Lesson 9).

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