Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Groovin’ High and Low: exploring the jazz vernacular.

Medb�e, Haftor



Debate over origin and authenticity aside, the musical language of jazz is today spoken and understood amongst a diversity of communities the world over. Standard repertoire, evolved formal structures, and aesthetic tenets provide a lingua franca supported by discourses on historical narrative, ‘state of the nation’, and the future of jazz amongst the genre’s interconnected scenes.
It is widely accepted that jazz was initially forged in the multi-cultural crucible of its birthplace – in a fusion of the inter-continental musical practices and disciplines of its originators. Where there is nothing to suggest that jazz was consciously constructed as a musical ‘auxiliary language’, inclusive of cultural difference and universal in message, there are nonetheless parallels with developments in linguistics of that time.
The germination period of jazz coincides with the first World Congress of Esperanto in 1905 and follows just a short time after the 1889 Paris convention of Volapük. Zamenhof (Esperanto) and Schleyer (Volapük) individually constructed their universal oral and textual languages from assorted European linguistic stems. In contrast, jazz can be observed to have emerged and developed as a democratically defined cultural medium, although equally a sum of diverse constituents.
It is a tragic irony that aspirations for cultural tolerance and cross-border understanding as embodied by Volapük and Esperanto so narrowly preceded the two great wars of the 20th Century – and unsurprising that, by virtue of its wartime associations with both imperialism and liberation, interpretations of the cultural functions of jazz have become increasingly complex. Where Esperanto and Volapük fell by the wayside in the wake of the rise of National Socialism, jazz music rode the wave of the globalised marketplace to become a truly world music.
This performance-based presentation will investigate the application of language based speech pattern to rhythmic phrasing and melodic shaping in musical improvisation. By contrasting spoken phrases in a variety of languages and dialects, a basis for rhythmic and tonal improvisation will be arrived at that demonstrates the significance of the musician’s ‘native tongue(s)’ in musical gesture.
Taking referential starting-points from Steve Reich’s use of sampled speech and the spoken word manipulations of pianist Henry Hey, this paper will be presented through the use of pre-recorded speech and live electronic looping of guitar.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Rhythm Changes 2013
Start Date Apr 11, 2013
End Date Apr 14, 2013
Publication Date 2013-04
Deposit Date Aug 3, 2014
Publicly Available Date Aug 3, 2014
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Pages 1-10
Keywords Jazz; cultural diversity; musical language; rhythmic phrasing; tonal improvisation;
Public URL
Contract Date Aug 3, 2014


You might also like

Downloadable Citations