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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

Traditionally, art played an important role in the life of human society as well as each individual. In this respect, music may be considered as one of the most popular and accessible arts many people really enjoy. At the same time, music is constantly progressing and changing. Within the 20th century there has been a variety of genres and new styles that ere popular in the past and many of which remain popular even at the present days. To a significant extent the popularity of various genres and styles in music is the result of work of outstanding musicians, who invented and promoted their own vision and ideas in music, among which may be named John Coltrane, a famous representative of jazz music, Ricky Skaggs, working in bluegrass style, and Robert Johnson as one of the most outstanding bluesmen.

First of all, it should be said that despite the fact that all these artists worked in different styles and lived in different epochs, they still have some common features. To put it more precisely, all of them tended to experiments and it seems as if they were unwilling to stop in their professional development looking for new ways of playing music. For instance, John Coltrane, who is considered to be one of the main developers of jazz (Porter 1998), experimented practically his entire life. He started with a classical jazz and later arrived to modal and avant-garde jazz. This means that he attempted to find something new in music and play it in a new, unusual way to convey his feelings, emotions, and mood. Similarly Robert Johnson also attempted to develop blues which, being quite popular, was considerably modified by this musician. It is worthy of mention that he experimented with the changes of the pitch in order to make his music more vivid and unusual compared to traditional representatives of blues of that epoch.

Unlike the two musicians mentioned above, Ricky Skaggs was, on the contrary, quite conservative. It should be said that many specialists (Rosenberg 1985) believe that Ricky Skaggs “rescued country music from doldrums it had found itself in 1970s”¯ (211). Basically, he tended to sing harmony creating a particular style which was the characteristic of him and he also played good enough mandolin and fiddle. In general, he may be viewed as a conservative in a way, since the experiments typical to John Coltrane and Robert Johnson were not the characteristic of him. He rather preferred to polish the existing style and the music he played to the extent that he could revive such a style as country which started to decline in 1970s.

In stark contrast to Ricky Skaggs, John Coltrane was characterized by the strong trend to improvisation. In actuality, it was typical to jazz to improvise amply during the performance but John Coltrane practically reached the highest level of improvisation and successfully used his skills. However, he also attempted to reach some harmony in his play like Ricky Skaggs did. To put it more precisely, in 1960s he was “moving toward a more harmonically static style that allowed him to expand his improvisation rhythmically, melodically, and motivically”¯ (Porter 1998:174). At the same time, on stage he reworked considerably the standards that existed in jazz at that epoch. No wonder eventually he arrived to avant-garde jazz as his playing became more abstract and dissonant. He amply incorporated such devices as multiphonics, overblowing, and playing in the altissimo register. In a way, the latter trend makes him similar to Robert Johnson and his experiments and changes of pitch which, in all probability, were supposed to fulfill the same function as John Coltrane’s multiphonics and overblowing used to emphasize certain parts of the musical work he played.

On the other hand, as Ricky Skaggs and John Coltrane basically worked in classical styles, even though the latter tended to experiments and innovations, than Robert Johnson my be viewed as a precursor of pop music speeding up, typical to his records, is common in popular music since it makes music sound fresher and it adds punch and energy (Pearson and McCulloch 2003). However, it is worthy of mention that John Coltrane achieved the similar effects due to his improvisations and use of such devices as overblowing.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that John Coltrane, Ricky Skaggs, and Robert Johnson are representatives of different styles and their performance was really unique but still it is possible to estimate that they had some common trends as they attempted to make their performance perfect. In fact, they apparently had different tastes that influenced their style but still all of them were extremely enthusiastic about music which was not just a routine job but rather the great art they were adept of. As a result, due to their enthusiasm they contributed to the great progress of their styles and music at large to the extent that John Coltrane, Ricky Skaggs, and Robert Johnson, directly or indirectly, influenced music of the 20th century and, in a way, shaped some of the modern musical styles.

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