Jazz History and
Walter, Professor, College of Music, The University of Colorado,
Boulder, gives his definition of jazz to his Jazz History Class as,
"Music performed within the jazz tradition and includes both
improvisation and swing rhythm."
Improvisation: Musicians compose music
while they perform.
Swing: Music that has a constant tempo
and is performed with lilt and spirit and has a continuous rising
and falling motion in the melody line.
Rhythm: Makes listeners want to clap their hands,
dance, tap their feet, has steady beat and conveys a lilting
How did The Polite Jazz
Quartet get its name?
This naming may
partially be attributed to Dr. Walter, as well. He describes,
in his jazz history class, the music performed by The George
Shearing Quintet as "polite bop". Since "Bop"
(bebop) was the term used in the 1940's to describe music performed
by musicians such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, alto saxophonist
Charlie (Bird) Parker and pianist Thelonious Monk , "Bop" probably
isn't widely known today. So, the word "jazz" was substituted
for "bop" in the naming of The Polite Jazz Quarter. Polite
jazz describes the type of jazz music our quartet plays.
Bebop: As opposed to Swing, bebop is
performed more often by small combos rather than big bands.
The tempo is faster, the clarinet was used rarely and instrumental
virtuosity is a high priority for bebop players. In stylistic
respects, melodies and harmonies are more complex, rhythms are more
varied, comping (accompanying) replaced on-the-beat chording,
timekeeping rhythms by drummers are played primarily on suspended
cymbals rather than the snare drum, high-hat or bass drum, phrases
in tunes are sometimes left suspended or unresolved, the style is
more agitated than swing and the improvisations are more
complex. Surprise is more highly valued in bebop.
Herman Winterhoff, of the Leedy Manufacturing Company,
began experiments around 1916 to create a vox humana or tremolo
effect on the company’s steel marimbaphone. After initial
attempts that raised and lowered the resonator banks, oscillating
fans inserted inside the tubes proved successful, and the
vibraphone was born. Driven by an electric motor and two
drive belts, the rotating fans opened and closed the resonating
chamber creating the desired vibrato effect.
This instrument was marketed
under the trademark ‘Vibraphone’ in a limited production of about
25 instruments from 1924 to 1929. It has a range of three
octaves, F to F, with graduated steel bars ¼-inch thick . . .
In 1929 the catalog price for the three-octave instrument was
Of note is the fact that this
early instrument has no damping mechanism and has a metal retaining
bar on top of the bars to keep them in place. The pedal
damping mechanism was invented in 1927 by William D. ‘Billy’
Gladstone who was using the instrument at the Capitol Theatre for
broadcasts of the Major Bowes’ Family Hour show over radio station
WEAF. The mechanism was first available as an add-on to the
instrument, which clamped into place. The vibraphone was
available with natural finished wood and steel bars . . . or could
be specially ordered with the frame in either Black or White Duco
enamel finish and a ‘Nobby Gold’ finish for the bars and other
By 1928 the J.C. Deagan
Company had developed a competing instrument, the ‘Vibraharp,’ with
a permanent pedal (patented) and bars made of aluminum. Due
to the competition from the Deagan Vibraharp, the Leedy Vibraphone
was entirely retooled with aluminum bars and attached pedal in
Printed in part with
permission of the Percussive Arts Society, 701 NW Ferris Avenue,
Lawton, OK 73507-5442. See “Links” for a direct link to The
Percussive Arts Society.
The Deluxe Neo Classic Concert Grand Vibraphone
was designed and built by Clair Omar Musser around 1941 for
competition in the International Paris Musical Instrument
Exhibition. It is the only one ever built and remains in excellent
condition, including the bars, which are still perfectly in
This three-octave FÐF vibraphone has the narrow steel bars used
frequently by early vibraphone makers. The bars are longer than
standard bars to allow for 'incomparable sostenuto' (longer ring).
Though the gold-colored plating is common now, it was less common
when Musser made this instrument.
The ten lowest natural bars have holes or indentations drilled in
them to accommodate the posts that hold the accidental bars. This
was necessary because of the combination of the unique twin damper
design and the need to have the accidental bars overlap the natural
bars. The modern vibraphone is dampened by a single dampener bar
because the accidentals are flush (or flat) with the naturals. The
Neo Classic vibraphone has one dampener for each row of
Musser advertised the Neo Classic as being an 'ultra-modern design,
black and gold with simulated white leather ends.' The instrument
was designed to be very portable. It breaks down into two parts:
the bars and resonators housed in the top portion of the frame, and
the supporting, lower portion of the frame. The front grill panel
hinges backward and locks to the main part of the frame.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Neo Classic is its resonator
design. The resonators for the lowest six accidentals and nine
naturals are made of metal and are bent at right angles to keep the
vibraphone as compact as possible. The upper resonators are made of
heavy-duty cardboard tubes, possibly to keep the instrument lighter
The instrument was donated to the PAS Museum by Joel
Contact our jazz quartet
today and book us to
play all jazz standards at your next event!