100 Years of Jazz: Traditional Jazz

Traditional Jazz

Blog by Louise Balkwill

If you have been following this blog series, you have read about ragtime music – a genre of piano-based music played from sheet music for high society. You will have also heard some blues – heavily improvised music, used primarily as a form of expression among black slaves and musicians and frowned upon by the upper class white folk.

Now picture this – a story of the origins of jazz that I was told a couple of weeks ago in the birthplace of jazz by a pianist at the New Orleans Jazz Museum;

“You’re a black musician. It’s 1900, or thereabouts. There’s a gig this evening at one of the hottest clubs in the quarter, but the trumpet player is ill, or has taken another gig, or, for some other reason can’t make it, and has asked you to step in and do the gig instead…

At the time, “rags” were popular and had become more complex, with various written parts for various instruments that the musicians were expected to play. However, if you were offered a gig but your part was missing, you couldn’t afford to turn down the gig – you’d just have to make up the part!

And thus began improvisation in a band setting, using preconceived chord patterns and melodies.”

As time went on, new compositions were written in a way that supported this new improvisational style. To begin with, songs still felt very “arranged” and could have all manner of forms that sounded “rag”-esque. There were written melodies, chord patterns and some harmony parts, but the nature of being a busy musician in this era had changed; You had to understand the role of your instrument and be able to improvise in a band setting.

Roles of Instruments in a Traditional Jazz Band

If you wanted to play in a band in early 1900’s America, you had to understand how your instrument worked in a collective sense. You also had to develop technique and a good understanding of musical harmony.

Voice: Most instrumentalists would double as singers. The vocal chorus would appear in the middle of a performance instead of being the main feature of a song.

Trumpet/Cornet: `Frontline (plays the melody and solos)

Clarinet: Frontline (plays an agile countermelody/obbligato that weaves in and out of the melody. Also plays improvised solos)

Trombone: Frontline (harmonises with higher brass and fills in with scoops and slides)

Piano: Frontline & Rhythm section (plays “stride” but can also solo and play countermelodies)

Banjo/Guitar: Rhythm section (plays on the beat every beat – “chg-chg-chg-chg”)

Bass/Sousaphone/Tuba: Rhythm section (plays generally roots and fifths on the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar


The first jazz recording dates back to 1917, and was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band:

“Dixieland” is, however, a controversial term. It was used by white musicians to describe their generally sped-up, “cleaned-up” version of the slower, more blues influenced traditional jazz music that was being played by black musicians. This term is not well received to this day amidst New Orleans’ traditional musicians.

The “Invention of Jazz”

Jelly Roll Morton was said to be the self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz”, although his actual words were quite different. He wrote;

“All my fellow musicians were much faster in manipulations, I thought than I, and I did not feel as though I was in their class.”

So he would write songs to be played at a slower tempo, leaving more room for flexibility when it came to improvising.

When Jelly Roll Morton started recording his own compositions with his band, he could play to the strengths of his fine comrades. The music became faster (this was popular at the time as it was more fun to dance to) and more virtuosic.

This new style that he had suggested paved the way for a new generation of jazz musicians.

Check out this 1923 recording of “High Society” by King Oliver and his band – just listen to that clarinet go!

The reality is that the invention of jazz music cannot be accredited to any one musician. It is a genre that celebrates collective playing and improvisation and welcomes influences from a wide variety of backgrounds and influences.

A blog about this era is not complete without a glimpse of one of the world’s greatest musical heroes in the formative years of his musical journey. Here’s a treat for you – Louis Armstrong playing “Potato Head Blues” in 1927 with his Hot Seven!

Next time, we’ll be looking at how traditional jazz swung its way into popularity with the swing era – big bands, crooners, endless dancing and pioneers of the 21st century!



Why not try your hand at jazz music with one of our creative and inspirational tutors with our 4 lessons for £99 offer?

Send an email to louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire


Noteworthy People – Jóhann Jóhannsson

by Jess

For this edition of Noteworthy People, we want to celebrate the beautiful compositions of Jóhann Jóhannsson who sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago.

Jóhann Jóhannsson was an Icelandic composer renowned for his music for screen.  If you don’t know the name behind the soundtracks, you’ll definitely recognise the films he wrote music for….

Most recent box office hits include “The Theory of Everything”, “Sicario” and “Arrival”.

His writing style is particularly recognisable.

Unlike the catchy melodies of John Williams or the driving rhythms of Hans Zimmer, Jóhannsson is extremely effective with his use of blending interesting orchestral textures with electronics. His music creates an atmosphere rather than being obviously thematic and he experiments hugely with harmony.

When he does use melodies, they are often long and sweeping

…featuring lots of indulgent string writing or emotional piano lines!

His most notable film partnership was with director Denis Villeneuve, beginning their work together in 2013 for the film “Prisoners”. Leading on from this were the soundtracks for “Sicario” and “Arrival”, both scores being nominated for BAFTAs, Arrival nominated for a Golden Globe and Sicario nominated for an Oscar.

Not bad going!

“The Theory of Everything” (2014) was also another success for Jóhannsson, nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA, and winning the Golden Globe in 2015.

Have a listen to this section of music from near the end of the film and enjoy his beautiful string writing. Notice how he uses small cells of music in his compositions, repeating the short snippet of music but using different harmonies in the background. Once these snippets are layered and the textures are built up, the long lyrical string and piano melodies I mentioned above come in.

Film music wasn’t his only claim to fame and Jóhannsson also released several solo albums. The underlying conection with his albums is the tying together of traditional orchestral set-ups with electronics, often working with electronic music producers. The albums vary from music inspired for theatre to ambient pieces for string orchestras.

To see him live in action, check out this performance for KEXP with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. What is particularly great to see is that he performs the works with the group, playing piano and working some of the electronics.

Not many composers do that!

The interview also gives an insight into his composition process, with him talking about ideas he had or the briefs he got given.  My favourite piece of the set is called “The Drowned World” which is 30mins into the programme.

Finally, there is a lot to be said for the link between successful, high quality musicians and selflessness.

This anecdote from a fellow composer Olafur Arnalds really highlights this:

“My favorite Jóhann story is when he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother” and at some point realised that the film was better with no music at all.

He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realise the piece is better without you.
The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realise that it was redundant. So in my view, Mother still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence… deafening, genius silence.”

Make your next coffee break or work commute ultra-relaxing with this Jóhann Jóhannsson playlist on Spotify. Enjoy.


R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson 1969-2018

Music Advice: For Musicians From Musicians

by Jess and the team

We’re a couple of weeks into 2018 and it’s around this point where people are wondering how realistic their new year’s resolutions are. Rather than challenge myself to a resolution, I’m a big advocate of bettering what I already have.

With this in mind, it got me thinking…

How can we help our music students? 

How can they build on what they’ve learnt previously and better it in 2018? 

Is there a way to get more enjoyment out of the music? 

My thoughts then moved to our tutors – the list is getting quite long now! With them all being professional musicians, they’ve got an encyclopaedic knowledge and advice that can be passed onto to our students.

So, I asked them…

What is the best piece of musical advice you have been given……?

Becky Dell:

One of the best bits of advice I was given, as a performer, was from Jools Holland’s Manager (ooh er) and that when describing your band genre, pick three words to identify it, such as “Bluegrass, close-harmonies, up-tempo” or “thrash metal, dramatic, all-women” etc. 

I think we can get caught up with not wanting to label ourselves into a specific genre, but those two examples above are different enough to show you the difficulties a Bookings Manager has if you don’t let them know roughly what genre you are. It’s been great to see so many bands developing within the Academy recently, make sure you know your genre when approaching venues for gigs!

Louise Balkwill:

The best piece of advice that I have ever been given as a musician came from my biggest living inspiration, Liane Carroll, a most wonderful singer with more soul than you could possibly imagine. Although it sounds counterintuitive, her performance advice to me was to “Stop thinking so much! Just be honest and enjoy it.”; At the time I didn’t fully understand, but now I repeat it to myself on a daily basis. Overthinking can tear the fun out of performing, and if you’re not enjoying yourself, how do you expect your audience to?


Sophie Simpson:

In terms of musical advice, being told not to worry about what other musicians are doing, and to stay true to myself and my musical ideas. This has been helpful in preparing for auditions, and also if/when I worry what other people might think about my playing.



Meg Brookes:

I was once told that your brain can’t process two opposite emotions at once and that it connects certain emotions to physical impulses e.g smiling. The science is far more complex, of course, but in layman terms this means that if you smile you can trick your brain into thinking you are happy and excited. When I am most nervous, I smile as much as possible and before I know it I think those butterflies are excitement. You have the power to be in control of yourself and your nerves and the more you practice shifting your perspective on those pesky butterflies the more in control you are of any performance anxiety you might be having. The power is in your hands (and eating a banana always helps too)!

Jess Tomlinson:


The superhero pose! The pose that inflicts the feeling of power and control. When someone told me to stand like that before going on stage I thought they were barmy. But actually once I tried it, I realised that simply putting your hands on your hips and your legs slightly apart, making yourself a bigger person, really gives you a positive boost. Now I stand like that before every audition and concert, and my quintet even goes as far as group superhero poses before our gigs.


Jess Thayer:

Someone once gave me a great quote about worrying (in particular, worrying about upcoming auditions, exams or performances). ‘Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere.’  It really resonated with me. Then they said if you are fully prepared and have done everything you can, then you are ready! Preparation is the key! Coz when nerves kick in if you’re prepared then instinct, memory and all your hard work will prevail!

Glenda Allaway:

The best advice I’ve been given is to make beautiful memories.

It may seem like a strange one but music and life are intertwined and if your whole life becomes confined to the four walls of a practice room then your music will start to reflect that. Practice hard, yes. But never forget to live and infuse your music with your experiences!

Connor Roff:

Work and practice hard and don’t be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. In fact, make loads of mistakes, because the best way to learn is from our mistakes. Continue to go outside of your comfort zone because the moment you start to feel “comfortable” you’re probably not learning and therefore need to find a way to challenge yourself again.


Hayley Pope: 

A teacher of mine told me the best piece of advice:

“Always play for yourself, not for others”




Hopefully some of this advice resonates with you and can be used in your musical life. All the best for 2018.

The Double Bass: Big, Bold and Beautiful

By Louise Balkwill

In this blog post, I will be raving about one of the most important, versatile, best loved but least accredited instruments in western music’s modern (and not so modern) history – yes, that’s right, the Double Bass!

The Double Bass (also known as the contrabass, upright bass, standup bass, acoustic bass or just “the bass”) has been an important part of the foundations of the music that we know and love for centuries.

It its the largest, lowest-pitched bow-able string instrument around (apart from the super rare Octobasse – Click here to see what it sounds like!), and as the 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise of many new genres of music, the double bass stuck around and proved itself to be one of the most versatile, too!

When many people think of the double bass, they think of it as a big, cumbersome instrument that plods along at the bottom of an orchestra; This could not be further from the truth! It can give the violin a run for its money as a virtuosic sensation.

If you don’t believe me, just watch Dominic Seldis go!

…Amazing, right?

Another great thing about the Double Bass is that if you love singing, you can do both at the same time!

Watch the fabulous Esperanza Spalding play the timeless jazz standard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” (Girls, take heed – although it’s big, the double bass isn’t a “man’s instrument” as many people seem to think; all of my double bass pupils are actually female!)

If you watched both of these videos, you probably noticed that Dominic and Esperanza play the double bass in very different ways; Dominic sits down, Esperanza stands up, Dominic plays with a bow (this is what string players call “Arco”) and Esperanza plucks the strings (known to us as “pizzicato”)…

The instrument has been an important and inspiring facilitator of change and expression over the past two or more centuries, enabling different cultures and communities of musicians to develop their own styles and techniques of playing while still remaining a cornerstone of the music.


Unfortunately, the Double Bass has become an endangered instrument, meaning that there are very few people learning it…

That does, however, mean more gigs for those of us who do!


Give the Double Bass a go with our 4 lessons for £99 offer!

You can try double bass lessons with me (Louise), or if you’d rather try out the sideways version (the bass guitar), why not give lessons with the wonderful Twm or Ronald a spin?

(Email louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire)

Now, it wouldn’t be a blog about the Double Bass without sharing a tune from the revolutionary Charles Mingus…Enjoy!

Care for Country

We love getting our tutors to write blogs for us about their interests and expertise and so are very excited to share Connor’s thoughts on country music. Connor teaches piano, guitar, singing and songwriting at the London academies.

by Connor Roff

Country on the rise: Americana what?

I never liked Country.

I used to think it was cheesy, basic and all sounded the same.

Recently, after starting a new music project called Little Water with a friend of mine, I’ve been proven wrong. Somehow and completely accidentally, we created a sound with some dulcet country tones and I discovered Country is a broad genre with all sorts of cool complexities and little gems.

Country originated in the southern United States from folk and blues music in the early 1900’s. Working class Americans developed its beginnings and it moved from hillbilly music and barn dances to blue grass, country rock and country pop in the later 1980s.

Chris Carlisle (first generation country): 

Country music is on the rise, especially in the UK. This doesn’t just come down to the popularity of mainstream country style artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. There’s a lot of genre blending occurring now, hence why the popularity of “Country” is developing more and more traction.

You may have heard the word Americana tossed around a few times recently in the music world. According to americanamusic.org:

“Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”

In other words, a crossover of all sorts of genres, the first being country. Some classic examples of artists fitting into the Americana box include Neil Young, Jonny Cash and Tom Petty.

Some more current examples include Ryan Adams, The War on Drugs, Laura Marling, Ray LaMontagne, The Lumineers and so much more.

Here’s one of my new favourites called Chris Stapleton and his wife performing his song “Traveller” below. Go check out his two solo albums, they’re honest and cool: 

Meanwhile for some more traditional country sounds, check out rising UK duo The Shires and American acts Sam Hunt and Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves has pushed conventional country norms talking about same sex relationships and smoking marijuana: 

If you’re like me and you want to start exploring this diverse world more, London has some fantastic events to promote and support country music within the UK coming up.

Grab your cowboy hat and boots and head down to Americana Music Festival in Hackney London from 31st Jan-1st Feb in Hackney London from 31st Jan-1st Feb and C2C (Country to Country) Music Festival at The O2 in March.

I’ll be there with a whiskey in hand.

For more information about Connor’s new band “Little Water” follow them on social media:

Facebook: @littlewatermusic

Instagram: littlewatermusic

100 Years of Jazz: Blues


Blog by Louise Balkwill

Alongside the evolution of the music from Congo Square in the 19th Century, before the abolition of the slave trade in America, another type of slave music grew in the Southern plantations; Blues.

Blues found its origins in the Mississippi Delta, when slaves would sing about their sorrows while picking cotton and working in the fields. It was initially considered a type of folk music and was popular only among African slaves and their descendants, frowned upon by the middle and upper class Americans of European decent.

Early types of blues music included spirituals (religious songs using vocal harmony) and work songs. Work songs were structured in a call and response fashion and lyrics were largely improvised before any transcribed or recorded compositions arose.

Here is a short documentary on “Slave Songs”, possibly the first published book of work songs and spirituals sung by African Americans in the 1800’s. These songs evolved into what we know as blues, and the book most probably contains the first ever compilation of transcriptions of the genre.


As blues and jazz have similar origins, the two genres married perfectly when the aural traditions of both were passed from state to state among musicians and travellers. Jazz musicians all over the world still play what we have come to know as “jazz blues” .


The “Blues Scale”

Today, the blues is easily recognisable by its form (usually 12 bars, explained later on in this blog) and “blues notes”, otherwise known as “worried notes” – these are flattened 3rds, 7th and sometimes 5ths that give the music its melancholic, implied minor feel. These can be found in what is known as the blues scale, a scale that can be used as a good starting place to practise improvisation on the blues;


12 Bar Blues

The basic blues structure is made up of 12 bars (3 groups of 4 bars), like so: A great example of this is W.C. Handy’s 1915 composition, “Joe Turner Blues” – have a listen!


Other Blues Forms

Although most blues that we know today is constructed as above, there is also eight bar blues, sixteen bar blues, minor blues and other variations.

Check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rendition of “Trouble In Mind”, an eight bar blues:


Give it a go!

Why not have a go at writing your own? Here are some blues lyrics by one of the 20th century’s best loved jazz singers, Billie Holiday. See how the first two lines are the same, and the last line rhymes with them?

My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
He’s the lowest man that I’ve ever seen

Let us know what you come up with! If you need more inspiration, check out this blues composition by one of our amazing pupils, Tilda!

100 Years of Jazz: Ragtime


Blog by Louise Balkwill

In our last blog, we looked at Congo Square and the origins of Jazz music. Now we visit the 1890’s, when Ragtime appeared in its earliest form.

Unlike the earlier music of Congo Square that was passed down aurally from generation to generation, Ragtime music gained popularity through being passed around as sheet music, and is thought to be the first written ‘pop’ music – Blues, in contrast, was thought by the higher classes to be a lower class rural music (although very important in the history of jazz – we will have a listen to some blues in the next blog.)

Named ‘Ragtime’ because of its ragged, syncopated rhythms, the music became very popular for dances and was written mainly by middle class African American musicians who had gained influence from minstrelsy and classical music, as well as the improvised and traditional music of Congo Square. The music was accompanied by a dance called the ‘Cakewalk’ – this made way for endless variations that the kids of the time loved to get their feet into. Ragtime music was also a very popular choice to accompany silent films in its later years. You might well have heard of “The Entertainer” (or even played it for one of your grade exams); this is a Ragtime piece written by Scott Joplin, the celebrated “King of Ragtime” in 1902, 115 years ago!

Ragtime started off as a music witten only for solo piano, but in the early 1900’s, orchestral and ensemble arrangements became popular. The violin then became the main leading instrument in these ragtime ensembles with this popular line-up:

  • Melody: First Violin (or Cornet with second Cornet harmonies)
  • Beats 2 and 4: Second Violin (prior to the banjo)
  • Beats 1 and 3: Bass Viol
  • *Obbligato: Piccolo or Clarinet
  • Bassline: Trombone
  • Percussion: Strict time drumming

*Obbligato, (Italian: “obligatory”), in music, essential but subordinate instrumental part. For example, in an 18th-century aria with trumpet obbligato, the trumpet part, although serving as accompaniment to the voice, may be as brilliant in its writing as that of the voice itself.

Fancy having a go at learning some Ragtime Piano?

Check out this video with on-screen sheet music of the first known rag, written by the first published African American composer, Tom Turpin!

(If you liked that, check out YouTube user RagtimeDorianHenry’s other ragtime videos!)

In the next blog, we’ll be looking at early blues and how it has played a massive part in the evolution of the jazz tradition!

Noteworthy People – Sir Simon Rattle

by Jess

It’s time for our first “Noteworthy People” of the academic year and this half term we have chosen…

Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle is one of Britain’s most renowned and highly regarded conductors. He became recognised as an international artist whilst conducting the CBSO from 1980-98, before taking over as lead conductor of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002.

Now, the big news…

Simon Rattle is back in the UK!

He has taken over as musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra, Britain’s highest profile orchestra. And music lovers have high hopes for this new collaboration.

Taken from an article written by Erica Jeal for the Guardian:

“Teachers dream that his influence might fix the funding crisis in music education. Managers hope this rare household-name conductor will be a shot of adrenaline for the box office. Audiences want to hear that velvety Berlin Phil tone added to the LSO’s already dazzling palette, and the LSO players themselves know that he is likely to be listened to when he insists on good rehearsal time and conditions for his musicians.”

The LSO have celebrated this new era for the orchestra, as they call it, with a 10 day festival called “This Is Rattle”, consisting of talks, exhibitions, specially commissioned art works and of course, several concerts.

There is even a hastag!


Want to catch Rattle in action? He’s back conducting the LSO in December at the Barbican Centre for a concert of Bernstein (16th December) 

And to finish, a bit of light relief…. Some say the LSO/Rattle brand started back in 2012, with a famous fictional character to help….. Thank you Mr Bean!

Have a great week!


100 Years of Jazz: Part 1 – Congo Square

Blog by Louise Balkwill

2017 is a very special year for music – it marks 100 years since the release of the first ever jazz recording, “Livery Stable Blues” by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band! Since then, popular music has foxtrotted, swung, bopped, rocked and rolled its way into the 21st century, but the rich culture of improvised music from New Orleans is still rife today all over the world.


Congo Square, the Birthplace of Jazz

Before we look at the journey that jazz music has taken over the past 100 years, we must ask how it came to be in the first place.

Rewind 100 years further to the year of 1817; 198 years after the first Africans were sold into slavery in America. The mayor of New Orleans city council established “Congo Square” (originally known as Beauregard Square and Congo Plains) as an official site for slave music and dance by restricting any kind of gathering of enslaved Africans anywhere else in the city.

Every Sunday, they would gather in Congo Square and sell goods to raise money to buy their freedom. In the glimpse of free time that this weekly ‘day off’ provided, they would also gather together to sing, dance and create music. Original instruments used included long, narrow African drums that had previously been banned in America, triangles, jawbones and early ancestors of the banjo.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s drawing of a bamboula, made at Congo Square on February 16, 1819. (© Maryland Historical Society)

Dances such as “Flat-Footed-Shuffle” and the ”Bamboula” were performed as these rhythms were played. As time went on, the dances and music evolved with new influences and ideas.

Visitors from all over New Orleans began to gather to spectate and dance along to what they then coined “Black music”, and this culture began to spread across America.

African slaves dancing the Bamboula; Illustration by Edward Windsor Kimble at The Historic New Orleans Collection

The square became a mixing pot for a rich diversity of traditional African rhythms passed down through many generations, as well as European music that English-speaking Africans were familiar with.

In 1865, after almost 250 years of slavery in America, the cruel trade was abolished, but the musical traditions that had evolved over the past few decades stuck.


In the next post, we’ll be looking at how African American music evolved into the new hip trend of the late 19th century – Ragtime!

The Becky Dell Music Academy – A London Living Wage Organisation

We are delighted to have been awarded the London Living Wage Employer mark by the Living Wage Foundation, a foundation supporting the fair pay of employees across the country.

Although we have only recently received accreditation, we have always strived to provide fair wages for our admin staff and tutors are paid above the Musicians’ Union recommended rate, which makes for a happy team!

Congratulations also to Mycenae House, our biannual concert venue, for being awarded the same mark.

We thought you’d be happy to know that you are supporting the fair pay of employees by choosing to have music lessons with us – a big thank you from the whole team!

The Becky Dell Music Academy – A London Living Wage Organisation