Archive for the ‘Mark C. Gridley’ Category

Mark Gridley: Perception of Emotion in Jazz Improvisation

January 4th 2010


Knowing that the jazz improviser creates his own material while performing, some jazz listeners assume that the improvisations can reveal the musician’s emotions. To evaluate this assumption, fifteen studies were conducted. These studies focused on the possible perception of anger upon hearing the improvisations of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. The instigation for the studies was that, during the early part of Coltrane’s recording career, one journalist had written that Coltrane was an “angry young tenor,” and another journalist had referred to “the rage in his playing,” both of which were the opposite of the performer’s stated intentions. Diversity of responses in the data was substantial, and it was found that the widely cited anger perceptions of those two journalists fall within a very small minority view. Nine out of 10 jazz journalists who were contemporaries of those two journalists did not perceive anger, and anger was perceived by only one of 23 jazz musicians. Anger was perceived by only 18% of 355 non-musician listeners. When 492 listeners completed questionnaires assessing their temperaments and heard a recording of the same performance that had elicited the journalist’s “angry young tenor” remark, it was found that those who scored above the mean in their own trait anger were twice as likely to perceive anger in the music as those who scored below the mean. This suggests that jazz improvisation may serve as the stimulus for a projective test, as an inkblot has traditionally been employed. The implications of published perceptions of emotion were demonstrated by two additional studies with a total of 143 listeners. They showed that perception of anger in the music was significantly more likely for listeners who were exposed to the journalist’s perception of anger before hearing the music.

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Mark Gridley: Misconceptions in Linking Free Jazz
with the Civil Rights Movement: Illusory Correlations
Between Politics and the Origination of Jazz Styles

February 15th 2009

by Mark C. Gridley

first published October, 2008, in College Music Symposium,
vol. 47, 139-155. Copyright 2008 by College Music Society.

This article deals with two misunderstandings that intertwine to confuse students, teachers, and commentators of jazz history if they study American history at the same time that they study the music itself. The first misunderstanding is that during the 1960s African Americans striving for their political freedoms also transferred those strivings to include the striving for musical approaches (later termed “free jazz”) in which freedoms were sought from adherence to fixed progressions of accompaniment chords and meter. The second misunderstanding is that angry sounding music is a direct result of avant-garde musicians using jazz as a tool of personal protest toward social injustices.

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