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Round Midnight: Different Interpretations and Different Emotions Essay

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Updated: Jun 25th, 2018

In the first decade of the 20th century, one of the most popular African American musical form of art appeared. It was called jazz. The impact of jazz was so strong, and in the middle of 1900s, it became the most famous musical genre in America. There are so many interpretations of jazz.

It is an improvisation, one of the ways to express people’s feelings and emotions; it is black folk music that originates from West African Americans; it is a style of life that was inherent to lots of people in the middle of 20th century.

Jazz can change your life, jazz can teach you feel, jazz can show you the right way to enjoy this life day by day. One of most known jazz standards is Round Midnight, firstly created by Thelonious Monk in 1944, and then embellished by Miles Davis in 1955, Stan Getz in 1952, and Bill Evans in1956.

“Jazz is too capacious, generous, and lively an art to surrender to either approach, for in the end both – concise survey and minute specialization – tend to encourage a listeners’ digest with most of the good parts missing.” (Giddins, 8) For some people, it is so difficult to catch the main idea of jazz and comprehend all its essence and beauty.

Jazz can be in every piece that surrounds people: trees, houses, roads, and cars. In jazz, it is necessary to clear up two notions: interpretation and improvisation. Interpretation is a process of revealing meanings by means of involvement new objects, people, or devices. In its turn, improvisation is a kind of stepping out of some fixed ideas that aims to strengthen people’s feelings. This is what three compositions of different jazz musicians are all about.

In 1944, Thelonious Monk, an American jazz composer and pianist, presented Round Midnight for the first time. Historians said that Monk started the creation of this song in far 1936, when he was 18, however, this fact cannot be proved till nowadays.

Its first title was Grand Finale. (Sheridan) Within a short period of time, Round Midnight became Monk’s best jazz composition, known to millions of people, and now, it is considered to be one of the most recognizable jazz standards created by any jazz musician. Lots of compositors and jazz musicians of all the times recorded this work. In 1944, Cootie Williams was one of the first, who tried to present his vision of Round Midnight.

Because of numerous recordings and improvisations, this composition may be called the national jazz anthem. G. E. Lewis wrote: “I do remember that an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” was called, and somebody named Kalaparusha stood up and played an incredible tenor saxophone solo.” (Lewis 284)

Round Midnight is one of the most beautiful, captivating, and complex works. Almost every jazz musician used this work in order to show his ability to unite beauty and power in the frames of one composition. This is why Round Midnight has been recognizable at numerous concerts and began the show.

In 1952, young Stan Getz started his climbing to fame in jazz music. His works are known as warn, lyrical, and calm compositions. His improvisation of Round Midnight attracted the attention of many people.

Such a nice beginning of Round Midnight was not in Monk’s style. It was neither worse nor better. It was just different. In comparison to Monk’s work, where the piano played a leading role, Round Midnight by Getz was performed with the help of saxophone. Such a choice gave an opportunity to perceive sounds in another way.

To my mind, this improvisation is performed in a movie’s style. We may listen to such melody when the narrator presents a story, for example. Getz’s composition is a kind of story, which we may interpret in the way we want to. The tone, he used in this composition, is pure and definite, and this is what makes other saxophonists envy him.

Another attempt to interpret the composition by Monk happened in 1955. This time, it was Miles Dewey Davis III, a jazz trumpeter and a really great composer. At the beginning of his career, he played with Dizzy Gillespie (a bebop representative) and Charlie Parker. With time, he decided to go solo.

In 1955, he presented one more interpretation of Monk’s work at Newport Jazz Festival. “One of the legendary moments took place during the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival (the very first, when Miles Davis unexpectedly set in on a jam session (with Thelonious monk playing behind him) constructed brilliant solo on Round Midnight).” (Bogdanov, Woodstra, and Erlewine 307)

In comparison to Monk and Getz, Miles chose a kind of cool mood for this composition. It was another story, with its climax (to my mind, it starts on the second minute and a half) and a bit intriguing end. In this interpretation of Round Midnight, we can definitely hear Miles Davis’s trumpet.

Jazz preferences have been changed a bit at that period of time: a piano and saxophone have been substituted for a trumpet that provided listeners with another opportunity to comprehend the same composition and its idea. Miles Davis chose “a wide variety of tempos for works like Round Midnight.” (Solis 33) In 1957, Davis presented an album Round About Midnight, that is now widely recognized by lots of people: jazz critics, ordinary people, amateurs, and so on.

The last but not the least representative of jazz culture, who interpreted Round Midnight, was Bill Evans. He made this attempt in 1956. This American jazz pianist was known for his harmony and singing melodic lines.

The peculiar feature of this work lies in the fact that it is the closest interpretation to the original composition by Monk. It is quite possible that such resemblance is observed because this interpretation as well as the original one is performed be means of piano, and other two compositors used saxophone and trumpet while presenting their Round Midnight.

However, Evans’s composition is a bit slower and even sadder than the Monk’s one. Still, the tunes and ideas, which were presented by Monk in 1944, may be traced in this version. It is Evans’s vision of Round Midnight, and his attempt is justified be many critics.

Tastes differ, and it is impossible to create a composition, which will be appreciated by every single person in the world. This is why in music, there are such processes as interpretation and improvisation. These processes help musicians improve the already existed works and make them more comprehensible to many people.

Of course, there are certain differences and similarities in these four compositions named Round Midnight created by Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk. “Both Miles and Monk reformulated the jazz tradition, returning to such basics as timber, attack, and melody while shaking off bebop’s clichés and its sometimes-callisthenic standards of creativity.” (Rosenthal 134)

Stan Getz’s lyrics make his works more calm; Bill Evans’s harmony attracts attention of numerous admirers of Thelonious Monk and his Round Midnight.

In conclusion, it is necessary to admit that in spite of the fact that Round Midnight is recorded for lots of times, it still retains some sort of uniqueness and beauty. It still sounds fresh and intriguing. One of the tributes to this work was dated after 1986, when its title was written with large letters – ROUND MIDNIGHT – to underline its fabulosity and save the legend for the next generation. To my mind, the very word “jazz” is needed to be written will all capital letters as well.

This style of music played a very important role in the history, not only in music, but even in politics and sociology. Jazz was something that erased the distinction between race and inequality. Maybe, from the beginning, there were some differences in color and ethnicity. However, with time, jazz became available to everybody, so that anyone who had a possibility, could add something interesting to jazz.

Such equality and call for unity made jazz eternal music style that, by some reasons, helped to overcome difficulties and solve problems, which no one else could cope before. Round Midnight is one of the best examples how one single composition may unite black and white people, and help them to cooperate in order to amaze the whole world.

Works Cited

Bogdanov, Vladimir, Woodstra, Chris, Erlewine, Stephen T. All Music Guide to Jazz: The Definitive Guide to Jazz Music. Backbeat Books, 2002.

Giddins, Gary. Vision of Jazz. Oxford: Oxford University Press US, 2000.

Lewis, George E. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Rosenthal, David H. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music. Oxford University Press US, 1992.

Sheridan, Chris. Brilliant Corners: A Bio-Discography of Thelonious Monk. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Solis, Gabriel. Monk’s Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making. University of California Press, 2008.

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