Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion : The Great Courses: Fine Arts & Music

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Bill Messenger
  • Series: The Great Courses: Fine Arts & Music
  • 5 hrs and 59 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Jazz is a uniquely American art form, one of America's great contributions to not only musical culture, but world culture, with each generation of musicians applying new levels of creativity that take the music in unexpected directions that defy definition, category, and stagnation.
Now you can learn the basics and history of this intoxicating genre in an eight-lecture series that is as free-flowing and original as the art form itself. You'll follow the evolution of jazz from its beginnings in the music and dancing of the antebellum plantations to its morphing into many shapes as its greatest innovators gave us ragtime, the blues, the swing music of the big band era, boogie-woogie, and big band blues.
You'll follow the rise of modern jazz in all of its many forms, including bebop, cool, modal, free, and fusion jazz. And you'll learn how the course of jazz was changed by key technological innovations, such as the invention of the microphone, which allowed smaller-voiced singers like Bing Crosby or Mel Torme to share a limelight once reserved for the bigger voices of stars like Bessie Smith or Al Jolson.
Beginning the story on those antebellum plantations, Professor Messenger reveals how the "cakewalks" of slave culture gave birth to a dance craze at the end of the 19th century that was ignorant of its own humble roots. And he explores the irony of the minstrel shows, which derived from Southern beliefs of black cultural inferiority yet eventually spawned a musical industry that African-American musicians would dominate for decades to come.
As a bonus, the lectures are also very entertaining, with Professor Messenger frequently turning to his piano to illustrate his musical points, often with the help of guest artists.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A nice introduction but needs more content

This course covers various styles of jazz as it developed from the late 19th century until the mid to late twentieth century.

Starting from ragtime, the professor discusses the development of African music into an American art form in an interesting and clearly well informed manner. I have a couple of issues with the course which is why I've given three stars but it's really more like a 3.5 star course.

Firstly, the level of detail in the theory is very uneven. In some cases we get really detailed descriptions of what to listen for in a certain style of jazz. In others, words like Dorean mode and modulation seem to get thrown in without much preface. I've done a fair amount of musical theory and in the last lecture I pretty much lost track of what was being said.

I will say that the quality definitely decreases as you move forwards. The negatives below really only apply as the course progresses.

Secondly, the professor seems to assume we already know many jazz artists names and songs going into the course. The reason I chose to listen to this course was to learn who I should listen to and what to listen out for. But we don't get much help in that regard (except in the early sessions) - he throws names around and we just have to assume they are relevant to the topic at hand but there is little introduction or narrative about who they are or how they fit in to the topic at hand.

Finally, the final lecture definitely needed to be spread out over several lectures. After covering maybe one style of jazz a lecture, we suddenly have four or five in one go and there's little chance to understand how they all relate to each other.

This course was a let down to me and I hope they do a second edition that does the topic justice. If you are really into the topic this might be worth your while, but I'm going to get a book on the history of jazz and read that instead (along with some records...).
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- Chris

Excellent introduction to The history of Jazz

Where does Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have listened to a lot of Great Courses. This is one of the best. It is very accessible, entertaining and illustrated with examples played by the lecturer who is a fine jazz pianist.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion?

One of Rachmanino's prelaudes was being 'ragged' when the composer (unknown to the pianist) was in the room....but I won't spoil the story.

What about Professor Bill Messenger’s performance did you like?

Bill Messenger is a fine jazz player and loves his subject. This came across very clearly in the course. An inspirational teacher.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not advisable. I would recommend listening to some of the music talked about after each lecture.

Any additional comments?

The course material is adequate but not as comprehensive as some other courses. And I wish the course was longer!

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- Fatmusketeer

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-07-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses