What Happened to the Harmony and the Melody That was R&B?

Today when I hear the thunder that rattles sheet metal while blasting from the trunks of cars, containing no tonal construct of melody, harmonic progressions, bridges, vocal harmony or any of the qualities of tonal harmony, I often say to myself what happened to the melody? Oh how I long for the rapture and feelings of love evoked by the power of the (iii-vi-ii-V-I) turn-around, at the end of the harmonic progressions artistically arranged in the melodic love ballads and dance songs written in (AABA) form in the African-American rhythm and blues that I used to hear.

 The “urban music” of today that I hear does not represent the very strong melodic and harmonic structure created from the blues and jazz forms that made African-American music great as it influenced every form of American music genre. A few genres of American music still feature a bit of melody and harmony structured by blues and jazz progressions but, not to the extent that African-American rhythm and blues did. It seems that the pop genre still features some melody on progressions but, I hear very little virtuosic instrumental performance today, instead what I hear commonly is a processed computer assisted facsimile of what was once truly talented gifted displays of dynamic vocal and instrumental human musical artistic performance.

It is rumored that; “Music can sooth the savage beast”. In the middle ages legend of the “Pied Piper”in the writings of Rattenfanger Von Hamelin, depicts a 13th century piper playing melodies on a “magical flute”. The works of the piper identified as a “rat catcher” allegedly could lead rats away from cities battling rat infestation with his pipe melodies and in one instance his talent of mesmerizing through melody coincided with the disappearance of a large number of children in the town of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany. During that time common belief held that the piper led the children away with his mesmerizing melodies, the children disappeared forever.

Nursery rhymes; a term used for poems and songs for young children commonly referred to as lullabies, are found in every human culture and serve as a method to help children sleep. Research evidence suggest that nursery rhymes set to melodic music, aids in the development of children and suggestion is that a child’s spatial reasoning is enhanced through melodic music and rhyme resulting in increased mathematics and science performance in school.

The act of serenading a lover, melodically singing in their honor calmly, lightly, and suggestively in an alluring voice is a hallmark of romance. During the Baroque period Italians received much noted and revered acclaim for this style of melodic vocal delivery. Later in the Classical Romantic era the instrumentalists and their melodies on progressions prevailed, most notably Ammadeus Mozart. I remember hearing aspiring orchestral virtuoso music students during my music studies at Jacksonville University say “Mozart’s melodies sound childlike in their simplicity and brilliance”.

The one constant and common thread binding the above references is that they all feature emphasis on melody and harmonic textures delivered in various forms and styles.

In the late 19th century inventions by greats like Thomas Edison with his cylinder phonograph invented in 1877, several years later Emile Berliner and Eldridge Johnson in 1901 invented what we know as the RCA Victrola. In addition, new components of music presentation began to emerge; amplification and electronic musical instruments began ushering in a new era of American Popular Song. New songs created by some gifted melody-maker composers, delivered to us by very talented vocalists and instrumentalists, and published in the infamous “Tin Pan Alley” on West 28th Street in New York City.

 African-Americans contributed an African musical trait to American popular song called (call and response) it would prove to be an essential element of the American song form that eventually led to some of the most harmonic and melodic vocal and instrumental music created and composed in America “blues and jazz”.

After the turn of the 20thcentury early masters like Scott Joplin, W.C. Handy, Vernon Dalhart, Ester Walker, Mamie Smith, Vaughn De Leath, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Papa Charlie Jackson, and many others began making their mark on American music art form the art form eventually crossed the Atlantic and influenced Western music in general. These artists laid the ground work and forged pathways into the era of the roaring 20’s, a time when more people lived in cities than on farms, people from coast to coast bought the same goods, listened to the same music, and did the same dances. Some people might say that the 1920s represented the jazz age.

By the end of World II in 1945 Americans began to refocus on America, in an isolationist manner on the merits of America itself as opposed to Europe, and a new era was taking over American popular music that manifested in the 1950’s. This new era offered many different genres of music:  blues, jazz, rock & roll, rhythm and blues, love songs, etc. Along with the new styles came very exciting artists like; Nat “King” Cole, Patti Page, Buddy Holly, Peggy Lee, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley and countless others. If you peel back the layers of that music’s composition you will find theblues form”, its harmonic structure, and very pronounced melodies.

As American music became more and more popular around the world the “blues form” began to shape the landscape of music composition of the 1960’s, 1970’s and the 1980’s. During that time great things were happening with melodic presentations and song composition like those of the Motown sound, rhythm and blues, soul music, the sounds of Philadelphia, the rock and roll revolution, protest songs, musicals etc.

Composers had great affinity for the aesthetics of beautiful arrangements of intervals, exquisite textures of harmony, predictable chord progressions, resolutions, vamps etc. This attention to detail in music composition was prevalent in all American genres.

The great composers: Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Miles Davis, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson(The Beach Boys),Sly Stone, Smokey Robinson,  Merle Haggard, Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, Thelonious Monk, Carol King, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Lionel Richie, Buddy Holly, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Willie Nelson, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, Elton John, Barry Manilow, Al Green, Robert Plant, Maurice White, Steven Tyler, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, John Denver, Jim Croce, Barry White, Lee Greenwood and many others, created some of the most memorable lyrics and melodies ever written.

When you listened to their music you heard unmistakably and recognizable melody and harmonic structure, it is memorable and you could sing along with it, the truly beautiful tonal harmonic music and the melodies would linger in your subconscious mind. Once the music industry began to redefine musical art with the technical definition of art; (the conscious use of skill and creative imagination of works so produced) tonal harmony became less relevant.  That facilitated the journey away from the technical definition of music; (the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity). Acceptance of this blurring of lines and semantics in the definition of music led to the gradual abandonment of tonal harmony and the increase of exploitation of the oppressive realisms of life (that some people live in America) establishing  a less melodic product marketed as “urban music”.

When the purpose of redefining the definition of music is to make millions in the record industry by glorifying the oppression of inner city life as opposed to making millions from elevating tonal music genius, our communities got thunder blasting out of the trunks of cars coupled to negative degrading prose and nothing-resembling melody, harmony, hope, brotherhood, love or happiness. Most other genres of American popular music seemed to have avoided the perils and ills that ravished the tonal harmonic construct of African-American rhythm and blues, for whatever reason.

I alone am powerless to make meaningful change to what is viewed as the “new normal” music in today’s’ African-American music culture. Today most of the music presented to our children and young adults, feature little if any emphasis on love, happiness, brotherhood and hope, while it is devoid of tonal harmony, and melody and music composition.

I have listened to pundits say “instead of complaining about the (so-called) music, don’t let your children listen to it and don’t allow them to buy the music”. That statement of posture in and of itself is indicative of the conundrum for concerned individuals who accept that charge as I do. What is over looked by people making those statements and who have the choice of musical art representative of their own culture is this fact; today the record industry and music industry power-brokers act as if every African-American wants and desires this product of degenerate decay. Hence, they will not market or allow any wholesome positive messaged secular music product for the African-American music culture within our communities. Therefore, today there is no option to choose new compositions of what was traditional, as was authentically composed rhythm and blues.

Over the last two or three decades a great deal of what I’ve heard presented and marketed as the “music” contributed by  many African- American artists, voraciously emphasizes degradation of women, glorified street-life, violence, poverty, urban hardship, drugs etc. As I write this legitimate discontent, I have not lost sight of the fact that there are many people in this country who must live life every day in an environment where all of these things are real world. I have real concern with the message content of the lyrics depicting inner city life and individualism in today’s urban music. I realize that the absence of inspiration, hope, virtuoso musicians, melody, tonal harmony, harmonic progressions, and original music composition are complicit in the downgrade of R&B. All of those omissions combined with the politics of identity and division, the exploitation of women, overtly sexual messaging, and the record industry “Big Dogs”, facilitated the malignant assault upon African-American rhythm and blues.

I do not expect urban music lyricists to write about subjects regarding the time value of money, the risks discernible in a prospectus, quantitative easing, global economics, or a dissertation contrasting civil liberties vs. civil rights etc. I realize that these lyricists write about their real-life experiences, tribulations of people they know, the realities of how they are viewed and treated by other segments of society, of what they see in America, as well as the many imagined experiences and potential outcomes prevalent in Americas’ pop cultural.

If you have never lived in the inner cities of America where economic depravity is incubated in the form of political weapons of mass destruction wielded by people with power and influence that use lobbyists and the ballot box as instruments of exclusion, it is then easy to view this dilemma from the perch upon the proverbial high horse. If the quality of life for people who must live within the inner cities of America is an after-thought for those who live in the surrounding suburbs, then the reality of what these recording artists write about will appear farfetched and self-deserving to suburbanites.

I have lived in the inner city and it is nothing less than difficult to write about my beloved music (virtuosic African-American rhythm and blues) without the mention of politics and the silent, invisible role that politics played in the demise of traditional R&B. The people in the upper echelons of power in this country would never tolerate any effort to defile the classical music genre; they would never tolerate the degradation of opera, ballet and chamber music to the extent that they have allowed African-American R&B music to be degenerated and bastardized for profit.

The major record label executives, MTV, music and television producers, national symphony orchestras, classical ballets, musicologists, the editors of Pollstar and Billboard, music critics and any other groups dedicated to the preservation European culture and arts would raise hell if any activity began to manifest itself in a manner that would diminish the image of European arts and culture. Here in America, the after 6:00 black tie and evening gown will continue to shield the classical repertoire. The special interests and their lobbyist that influenced the FCC to allow virtually unrestricted obscenity in music targeted for the African- American youth music markets would not agree with any marketing strategies that might tarnish the culture and image of classical music. Those power brokers would descend upon the music and entertainment industry and politicians with the veracity of an “old west-gunslinger” if that were to begin to happen.

 When I hear the arguments of music industry executives declaring there is no market for R&B so we have to produce what the marketplace will value, to ensure we recover production costs, recoup advances and ensure that the shareholders get a return on their investment, I usually say okay. The facts are that the marketplace value of the current music is as they have created it for financial profit, it is no coincidence that the positive messages of R&B is exchanged for negative messages of what they are now selling in the marketplace. What I would like to know is; why is it that the virtues of music composition of R&B, allowed to whither on the vine as the trends of pop culture’s expression of oppressive life conditions serve as an instrument to ensure dividends on their statement of retained earnings, rather than the genius of competent music composition?

Which begs the question what is the point of sending our gifted and talented young children to voice and instrument music lessons?  Our colleges and universities teach music curriculum comprised of tonal harmony, the refinement of instrumental and vocal technique as well the history of music. Today a young African-American musician aspiring to be a singer/composer or instrumentalist with the hope of fame and fortune in major music performance is finding that the recording industry is not interested in competent music virtuosity but, rather a new definition of urban music that is rancid, violent, degrading, and disparaging lyrical content devoid of civility, melody and harmony. So they had better desire a career in the classical music genre, if the desire is to perform the urban music genre that we knew as rhythm and blues they will find no distribution channels or audience because they (the wholesale and retail music industry) have undermined it for profit.

   I am not yet ready, to place a R.I.P. marker upon the virtues of the melodic and harmonic structure of urban R&B that so many gifted African-American composers and entertainers delivered to us in song. The nomenclature assigned to the magic of the art was soul music, created by artists who represented and conveyed love and hope to a people who did not live life “totally” free in America. Through it all they were able to reach deep within themselves to create this invisible yet audible and soul stirring touching musical therapy, parceled out in a relentless backbeat or a mellow ballad that was soul music. We were willing and able to believe the God Father of Soul James Brown when he said “I Got Soul and I’m Super Bad”. Today, I do not know what the urban music trendsetters believe or if they are even able to believe anything other than the images they see in music videos and what the music industry markets as the “new definition” of urban music. In addition, I do not know if they are willing to believe that this soulful music is needed now more than ever, to once again convey messages of love, happiness, hope, unity and brotherhood to our young people. It would be beneficial to all of us if once again our urban music would demonstrate the many ways to say I love you and the many artful ways of asking to be loved. The R & B composers, who knew that they had soul, gave those eloquent virtues of language to us wrapped in the beautiful adornment of harmony and melody, delivered in melodic rhythm & blues music.

Your thoughts?

Benefits of Live Music for Weddings

Why have live musicians instead of a DJ for weddings and receptions?

“Within this marvelous creation in which we live, there are very few things as entertaining, captivating, and fascinating as virtuosic live music performance”.

The wedding songs that you choose to play throughout your big day will truly have a big impact on your event, set the ambiance and will enhance the emotions felt by you and your guests throughout every stage of the day.

Every bride has her own unique desire for wedding music and its presentation, if utopia exists within the musical presentation of the special day; it likely resides in combination with a String Quartet to reflect class, elegance, pomp, grandeur and glamor during the Wedding Ceremony.

The Wedding Reception is excitement, congratulations and celebration expressed through varied activities; harness the element of a popular music band or a dance music band for fun and dancing. If a bride/groom decides to have dual types of music for their wedding and reception, one-stop- shopping with Jap Jams Productions can provide it all.

There is great opportunity and benefit when you utilize the Crooner/Songstress  element of a band playing popular music during the reception, as they can personalize song-lyrics or messaging and can let your guests know when to expect the grand entrance of the wedding party, when it’s time for cocktails, food, mingling and of course when it’s time to dance.

The use of a DJ playing recorded music during the reception cannot afford the bride/groom the luxury and option of experiencing personalized song-lyrics in serenade or the magic of a melodic interlude in song that can create live real-time involvement.

Having live music at your reception adds to your presentation and provides entertainment for you and your guests.

The experience of the wedding is day filled with varying anxieties, emotions, anticipation and expectations. This is the time when all of the planning and coordination of events must manifest into the most memorable day for bride and groom. Careful placement of well-selected live music allows for a romantic feel and enchanting background to the ceremony.

The start of the ceremony is where anxiety and emotion begin their deep development into the heart and soul of the bride and groom, while anticipation and expectations abound within all who are present to witness the splendid display of love, happiness and lifelong commitment.

It is during those moments where live music prevails over DJ, CD’s or tapes. In a live music presentation it is possible beforehand to choose (song keys) if desired to set moods, in addition the sound waves created by actual musical instruments retain their original acoustic wave shape and the capacity to affect the physical air pressure around you.

Those characteristics give it great power; it can physically touch you and can invoke emotions deep within your heart and soul, even at low volumes. Whereas recorded music loses much of those qualities because the electric recording process changes the acoustic wave shape into an electrical monotone signal. (Which is why a DJ often will use high volume levels, the effort is to compensate for the loss of the acoustic sound wave pressure, unless it is desired, excessive volume levels often produces varying degrees of irritation).

An experienced live music coordinator gives the bride options and the capacity to design, regulate and control the feelings and emotions of her wedding theme at desired intervals. The regulation of emotions through song selection and most importantly (key choice) is unique because of these options; choosing a minor song key is a platform for warmth, love, admiration, etc.  Choosing a major song key is a platform for happiness, celebration, success, etc.

With a DJ, CD’s or tapes there is no option for song key choice (unless someone knows the key) and the capacity to design, regulate or control emotions of the people at the event is somewhat diminished.

Having the option to choose and to personally design your music in this manner is critically important throughout the entire ceremony.

Wedding Ceremony: Components such as the Prelude, Processional, Bride Entrance, Interlude, Recessional, and Postlude presents opportunities to employ ambiance, elegance and grandeur with orchestral instruments.

Wedding Reception: Components such as the First Dance, Mother Son Dance, Father Daughter Dance, Anniversary Dance, Cake-Cutting Song, Last Dance etc. presents the opportunity to employ the thump and bump of a tight rhythm section with a hypnotic back beat, this will produce an irresistible desire to dance to the beat.

You have these options; you can design all of your wedding day music with a strategic plan in mind. You will get a music coordinator and live musicians when you plan your wedding music through Jap Jams Productions and Management Services.

Are You Really a Professional Musician?

“Making it” means different things to different people. To some it could mean making big money or getting a record deal; to others it may mean touring with a renowned major entertainer. Whatever “making it” means to you as an entertainer, you must remember that to “make it” music has to be the most important thing in your life. It’s equally important to have a firm understanding of what it means to be a professional music entertainer.

When I use the term “professional,” I’m referring to the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize musicians during live performances. The following concepts can dictate whether or not someone will want to manage or book an act, or decide to do nothing at all with them. This discussion constructed around the following questions should allow you to focus on the pertinent question: Are you really a professional musician? 

1. When you are singing or playing do you just try to make it through the tune or are you singing and playing like you really, really mean it?

Are you just trying to make it through the song? Or do you really mean it? At some point in time, nearly every musician has been guilty of this infraction at least once. When it comes to trying to “make it” (whatever that means to you), this is what separates the “I will be” from the “I want to be” candidates; especially the ones that just run through practice as opposed to those who rehearse. You must sing or play each song like you really mean it! I have listened to groups who go through songs as if they are some sort of fillers in a recipe. You have to own it and everyone present must be able to see and hear that when you are on a song.

2. Do you believe that every time you play a song, the audience owes you applause?

 One of the most disheartening feelings an entertainer gets occurs when he or she does not get applause after a performance. However, the audience does not owe you applause. If anything you owe them. They are present and paid money to see you or they paid the venue for the opportunity to be there; you have to earn it. Your show must be captivating, stimulating, have dynamics in the volume and tone, tight clean breaks, constructed reprises, instrumental/vocal call-response, controlled disciplined solos, and make good use of vamps to connect and transition, just to start. Usually, if you are in tune, polished, engage the audience in a well-rehearsed introduction, have good song form, and a well-rehearsed synchronized clean final progression (preferably ending with a V-I), they will give you applause every time. A professional musician or group would not present anything less than that.

3. When you are playing who is it that you think you are playing for? The audience or other musicians that you feel might be present?

Who do you think you’re performing for? Remember that you are not performing for yourself or any musician that happens to be present; you are performing for the fans and patrons in the audience. The fact that you may be able to play a scale all of the way off your instrument, sing notes two to three octaves above middle C, play chords as thick as 13th, or play a hammer on and off licks at will does not mean the same thing to an individual audience member as it does to another musician. The audience wants to hear you play a groove and connect with them. They will not be keeping score of your licks. That doesn’t mean audiences can’t appreciate those things (because they do), but when you do it, do it for them. Don’t get caught up in the “who’s the best” syndrome. Remember that no matter how good you are, there’s always someone out there who’s better.

4. When your gig is over, is there anyone present that simply can’t wait to see and hear you again?

Is there anyone yearning to see you again? You must give people a reason to be captivated by the presentation of an entertaining show every time you perform. Do you start and return from breaks on time? Or do you try to get away with whatever you can? It’s painful to see a band where after every song the members are standing around looking at each other or someone is looking at a repertoire or song sheet trying to figure out which song to play next. Having members standing around waiting for their turn to sing or play that aren’t engaging the audience or each other in some way shows that a group just runs through song practice. It’s clear they didn’t rehearse a show. If they had, every member would know that you have to keep up the energy during the entire performance, know which song is next, what key it’s in, and the tempo to present an automatic succession of the material. Professional musicians and entertainers make sure that the audience is totally spellbound every time.

 

If you find that the answers to these questions aren’t describing your group’s scenario during live performances, you probably aren’t ready for prime time (let alone big time).

 The desire to help entertainers and bands overcome these types of challenges and to put together a professional act and show are reasons why I established myself as an artist manager and created a live music booking agency. I love high-caliber live music performance and, as a former musician, I have an ear for good talent, as well as considerable education and knowledge on the subject. When you select a manager, make sure that among the requisite qualities they should have, that manager has a is able to listen and observe you out front and direct you on things that you cannot see and hear.