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Bernstein: Tonight Quintet

Discuss the jazz-like features

Bernstein uses many jazz like throughout West Side Story and especially in ‘Tonight Quintet’. Typical
of Bernstein he combines classical features with jazz inspired styles. In particular, he focuses on
dissonant, chromatic and syncopated elements to create musical tension suitable for the story and
its setting. The jazz influence is predominant in Bernstein’s scoring with the use of electric guitar,
drum kit, saxophone and piano, all typical jazz instruments. Combining these instruments with an
orchestra create a certain jazz feeling. Bernstein then builds on this by incorporating specific sections
and riffs for these instruments especially. Bernstein incorporates the use of ostinato and riffs within
the score which is another typical feature of jazz music. This is apparent in the use of 3 specific
themes: A Semiquaver–falling octave motif, a rising chromomeric crochet bassline and an oscillating
quaver ostinato. This ostinato is typical of jazz music and is scored for violins, clarinets and horns but
when repeated is played by ff saxophone. The semiquaver motif is scored for upper woodwind,
trumpet and snare. The fact that this syncopated motif is scored for trumpets and snare, typical jazz
instruments shows the certain jazz influence within the piece. This is reinforced by the rising
chromatic crochet bassline is played by piano and trombones, more typical jazz instruments.
Throughout the piece Bernstein uses glissandi within saxophone and brass. This is typical of jazz
musicians as they would often improvise their melodies and developments. This is also built upon by
the use of guitar portamento which is when the player will slide their finger along the fretboard in
order to bend the pitch. West side story is about feuding gangs: jets (American) and sharks (Puerto
Rican). Bernstein reflects this in the music when he includes many lain American features such as off
beat rhythms. These rhythms are most predominant in the ‘tonight’ section of the piece when tony
is accompanied by syncopated chords which represents Marias nationality. Bernstein also builds on
this by added by jazz features like swung rhythms. He adds this on the 3rd verse sung by Anita. He
incudes triplets which tells the performer to swing the melody and therefore convey a more sexy
mood which reflects Anita’s personality towards bernardo. This is typical of jazz music at the time
where performers will develop an improvised melody by swinging it and being more free.
Throughout the harmony within the piece Bernstein includes many complex chords including 7ths
and 9ths. This chords are typical of jazz music and style where performers would add to chords to
create more complex harmonies and therefore add to the piece. This is shown throughout the
entirety of the quintet and also throughout the musical as a whole. When scoring the piece
Bernstein opted to use both muted and unmuted horns and trumpets. This adds both variety in
dynamics and texture. This is another typical jazz feature which Bernstein includes to further add to
the piece and develop the material.