Group improvisation is a fun way to musically interact

You sing a song, and I’ll sing a song, and we’ll all sing a song together!   From Vocal Spirituals to Jazz, an open form of musical interaction, including full improvisation, is a KEY element of African American Music. 


“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a classic standard of Negro Spirituals that has withstood the test of time.  MANY artists, and everyday people, record this song.  I was looking for a video on YouTube with the right combination of natural voices that would feel as if it were being sung in the working fields (rather than a rehearsed chorus).  Typically, one voice would start and lead the song, others would join in as a chorus for harmony to accent certain phrases or verses, and other individual voices would venture out into vocal expressions that harmonized and complimented the lead singer, sometimes even switching roles.   I was surprised that a video from Comedy Central was the one that met these specifications for me.  Obviously, the performers are not historically significant.  BUT, enjoy the way these voices work differently, yet together.




A great Jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie (also known as the founding father of Be-Bop) recorded his own unique version of this classic song – “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac”.




In my opinion, Jazz was born out of the freedom from printed music, and the desire to be FREE – from any type of specific rules of western music that governed how music SHOULD be played.  Although there are a few basic foundations for this music, the key is IMPROVISATION. 


We are exploring this freedom of improvisation on our glockenspiels in our Kindermusik for the Young Child class with the spiritual “I Got a Letter this Morning”.  First we remove a few of the keys to ensure that all the notes will sound good together.  Then, as we all keep a beat on “d” & “a”, we sing the chorus, then take turns “Taking the Lead” and playing our own style for 8 beats.  All the students were so engaged, patiently playing the ostinato while eagerly waiting for their turn.  It was delightful to watch how this brings the children together as a team, yet allows and respects their individual personalities.  No wonder this musical style is so popular!


In this next video, we see another great musician, Louis Armstrong, and a few of his fabulous friends performing another standard Spiritual, When the Saints Go Marching In, in their own special Jazz style.  Notice how the female vocalist plays around with sounds, this is called Scat.  As in the first video in this posting, there is a leader, a chorus for harmony, and individuals (vocal and instrumental) that compliment the leader, and even switch roles occasionally.  It is easy to tell they are fully enjoying themselves.




Early spirituals started this type of open musical interaction with their voices.  As generations of people developed their musical talents, it was carried over to styles of music that included instruments.  There is a true sense of freedom that is felt when listening to, and while PLAYING, these musical styles that were honed and shaped by the African American people.





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