"Lost Your Head Blues" by Bessie Smith - It is in AAB format which is typical for blues songs. The opening is played by the cornet and piano. The first line gives the listener an idea what the song is about. The second line is a repeat of the first line but with variation. The third line is lyrically different than the first two lines. In between the verses, the cornet sound mimics the vocals. This pattern is repeated throughout the song but Smith gives these lines vocal variations, especially pronounced in the last three lines. This particular song fits into the broad spectrum of jazz because it has certain elements common in this type of music. This song is performed by a small group – a cornetist, pianist and vocalist. It shows improvisation by the vocalist and instrumentalists. There is repetition of lyrics and the vocalist laments the impending end of her relationship, a theme that is typical of this genre. In this song, Bessie Smith proves why she is called the “Empress of the Blues.” Her vocal inflections bring so much emotion to this song and draw the listener in. Listening to this song makes one feel sad and yet empowered at the same time. In this song, although the singer is lamenting how badly she was treated, she has also decided that it was time to move on.
Also read: Jazz Music Greats
"Tonight" by Leonard Bernstein - This is from the musical West Side Story. The said musical is a collaboration with librettist Arthur Laurents, choreographer Jerome Robbins and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. It was made into a film in 1961 and revived in Broadway in 1980 and 2009. West Side Story was loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. This musical as a whole represents the American musical because it is set in New York and depicts the conflict between street gangs, which to this day is still a real issue. It also depicts issues between Native-born Americans and those who migrated to the country; in this case Puerto Ricans. The composer used various styles coming from different regions of the world, making the music more intriguing and compelling to listen to. The song in particular opens with the members of the Jets singing, then the Sharks and then they all sing together. The melody is threatening and is very fitting to the lyrics. Then Anita sings the same melody but with different, sultry lyrics. This is followed by Tony singing the romantic "Tonight" song and then Maria continues it. The orchestra plays briefly after this then one by one all the characters enter singing. First the gangs sing, followed by Maria, then Anita and finally Tony until they sing the word “tonight” in unison at the end. I particularly love this scene in the musical because you can hear the tension building from the menacing gangs and then in the background you can hear this romantic song of the lovers. This song shows the beauty of love amidst the ugliness of war. I think you will also love this musical; the issues depicted in it are very much relevant to this day.
Also read: The Musical
Music From Other Places
Ompeh from central Ghana represents African music because of its use of percussion instruments. This piece has several different rhythmic patterns and uses “call and response.” This singing technique is evident in African vocal music, wherein a person leads by singing a phrase which is then answered by a group of singers. Ompeh is homophonic in texture and uses various native instruments such as idiophones (i.e. metal bells) and membranophones (i.e. bamboo slit drum). The solo melodies alternate with the chorus.
Also read: African Music