In this essay, construct an argument built on the musical differences and similarities between two pieces

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MUSI 2120, Essay #2


In this essay, construct an argument built on the musical differences and similarities between two pieces.

Choose one of the pairs of musical examples listed below. Each of the pairs is closely related (by style, performer, or time period), yet the individual examples are musically distinct. The evidence for your essay must be based directly on musical sound. You may focus on the differences between the two pieces, but you should also consider similarities--"different ways of doing the same thing."

The overall argument for your essay, however, should move beyond a side-by-side comparison of these two pieces. You may choose to reflect on musical issues, such as improvisation versus composition, or discuss different artistic strategies on the part of an artist. You may want to reflect on different interpretations of a given genre, such as hard bop or swing, or consider how an individual musician can embrace two different genres. You may wish to situate these pieces within their historical context and discuss social issues such as the role of "blackness" as a social identity, or the relationship between jazz and popular culture. (To do this, you may want to consult articles assigned over the course of the semester.) Do not, however, make a claim that your musical evidence cannot support!

In citing the music, be sure to provide specific musical examples, such as CD timings (e.g., 0:35) or musical time (e.g., “the third bar of the second chorus”). Many students will find that making a listening guide comparable to the ones in the textbook will help organize their findings. Where you feel it appropriate, please use the musical vocabulary introduced in class to articulate your points. (A list of terms can be found in the textbook’s “Glossary” and on the web site’s "Definitions" page.)

Examples (choose one):

Duke Ellington, "Blue Light " and "Main Stem"

Dizzy Gillespie, "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night in Tunisia"
Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, "Doodlin'" and Cannonball Adderley, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"

Charles Mingus, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" and "Far Wells, Mill Valley"

Miles Davis, "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Flamenco Sketches"

A few helpful points:


  • This is not a research paper. It is possible to cite articles from outside the class, but your argument should be based primarily on your own observations and material presented in class.

  • If you cite a source--whether it's a page from the web site, an article in the reading, or some other resource--be sure to put it in quotation marks and cite the source. Failure to do so can be considered plagiarism, which is a serious offense against the Honor System.

  • When citing the class textbook, use in-text parenthetical notes, listing the source. For example: "According to the textbook [Chapter 8, p. 149], the melody for 'Mood Indigo' came from Barney Bigard." Or: "According to Albert Murray ["The Blues as Such," p. 74], blues musicians were professionals, not folk performers."


  • Make sure that the ideas behind your argument are clearly stated, and that the relationship of your argument to the pieces in question is clear.

  • Be sure to use paragraphs effectively. Each paragraph should have a point, and should normally not last long. A paper written in one or two long paragraphs informs us that the author does not know yet what he/she thinks.


  • Do not suggest in your argument that one kind of jazz is superior because it is compared to an example that is inferior. All the music chosen in this class is of superior quality.

  • Do not hinge your argument on the music's "greatness" or "brilliance." We are interested in more detail and more nuance than that.

Music Analysis

  • Students who make their argument without music analysis can expect to receive a lower grade (B as the best possible grade).

  • It is never a good idea to simply to follow a piece from beginning to end. Such a technique may seem to make sense, but all too often such a description fails to make any kind of point at all.

  • Do not base your argument directly on arguments or analysis presented in class or in the textbook. You may use this information as a guide, but use your own ears and your own mind to find specific ideas and musical moments that are interesting to you.


Your paper should have your name, your TA's name, and your discussion section (either the COD # or the time/place). Since the papers will be graded quickly to meet the mid-May final grade deadline, comments will only be provided as requested. If you would like comments, indicate this in your header. You will be responsible for picking up your paper some time before next semester (or for 4th-years, before graduation).


3 to 5 pages, double-spaced.


The paper should be delivered to your TA at a time and place designated by your TA (e.g., physically into their mailbox or electronically into their Collab site), but in any case no later than Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at noon.

Personnel for the examples

  • " Blue Light"(1938): Ellington, piano; Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, trumpets; Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, trombones; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwicke, alto saxophones; HarryCarney, baritone saxophone; Fred Guy, guitar; Billy Taylor, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Soloists: Bigard, Brown.

  • "Main Stem"(1942): Ellington, piano; Wardell Jones, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, trumpets; Joe Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, trombones; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, alto saxophones; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Fred Guy, guitar; Junior Raglin, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Soloists (in order): Stewart, Hodges, Stewart, Nance, Bigard, Nanton, Webster, Brown.

  • "Salt Peanuts" (1945): Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Charlie Parker, alto sax; Al Haig, Piano; Curley Russell, bass; Sid Catlett, drums.

  • "A Night in Tunisia" (1946): Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Don Byas, tenor sax; Milt Jackson, vibes; Al Haig, piano; Bill De Arango, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

  • "Doodlin'" (1954): Kenny Dorham, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Horace Silver, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Art Blakey, drums.

  • "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (1966): Cannonball Adderley, alto sax; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, electric piano; Victor Gaskin, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums.

  • "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" (1959): Willie Dennis, Jimmy Knepper, trombones; John Handy, Jackie McLean, alto saxophones; Booker Ervin, tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone; Horace Parlan, piano; Charles Mingus, bass; Dannie Richmond, drums.

  • "Far Wells, Mill Valley" (1959): Richard Williams, trumpet; Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Jerome Richardson, flute & baritone saxophone; John Handy, alto saxophone; Booker Ervin, Benny Golson, tenor saxophones; Teddy Charles, vibraphone; Roland Hanna, piano; Charles Mingus, bass; Dannie Richmond, drums and timpani.

  • "Bye Bye Blackbird" (1956): Miles Davis, trumpet; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums.

  • "Flamenco Sketches" (1959): Miles Davis, trumpet; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Cannonball Adderley, alto sax; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums.

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