Sextet Music Definition Essay

Stephen Michael Reich ([1][2] born October 3, 1936) is an American composer who, along with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass, pioneered minimal music in the mid to late 1960s.[3][4][5]

Reich's style of composition influenced many composers and groups. His innovations include using tape loops to create phasing patterns (for example, his early compositions It's Gonna Rain and Come Out), and the use of simple, audible processes to explore musical concepts (for instance, Pendulum Music and Four Organs). These compositions, marked by their use of repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm and canons, have significantly influenced contemporary music, especially in the US. Reich's work took on a darker character in the 1980s with the introduction of historical themes as well as themes from his Jewish heritage, notably Different Trains.

Writing in The Guardian, music critic Andrew Clements suggested that Reich is one of "a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history".[6] The American composer and critic Kyle Gann has said that Reich "may ... be considered, by general acclamation, America's greatest living composer".[7]

Early life[edit]

Reich was born in New York City to the Broadway lyricist June Sillman and Leonard Reich. When he was one year old, his parents divorced, and Reich divided his time between New York and California. He is the half-brother of writer Jonathan Carroll.[8] He was given piano lessons as a child and describes growing up with the "middle-class favorites", having no exposure to music written before 1750 or after 1900. At the age of 14 he began to study music in earnest, after hearing music from the Baroque period and earlier, as well as music of the 20th century.[9] Reich studied drums with Roland Kohloff in order to play jazz. While attending Cornell University, he minored in music and graduated in 1957 with a B.A. in Philosophy.[10] Reich's B.A. thesis was on Ludwig Wittgenstein;[11][citation needed] later he would set texts by that philosopher to music in Proverb (1995) and You Are (variations) (2006).

For a year following graduation, Reich studied composition privately with Hall Overton before he enrolled at Juilliard[12] to work with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti (1958–1961). Subsequently, he attended Mills College in Oakland, California, where he studied with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud (1961–1963) and earned a master's degree in composition. At Mills, Reich composed Melodica for melodica and tape, which appeared in 1986 on the three-LP release Music from Mills.[13]

Reich worked with the San Francisco Tape Music Center along with Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick, Phil Lesh and Terry Riley.[14] He was involved with the premiere of Riley's In C and suggested the use of the eighth note pulse, which is now standard in performance of the piece.



Reich's early forays into composition involved experimentation with twelve-tone composition, but he found the rhythmic aspects of the number twelve more interesting than the pitch aspects.[15] Reich also composed film soundtracks for Plastic Haircut (1963), Oh Dem Watermelons (1965), and Thick Pucker (1965), three films by Robert Nelson. The soundtrack of Plastic Haircut, composed in 1963, was a short tape collage, possibly Reich's first. The Watermelons soundtrack used two 19th-century minstrel tunes as its basis, and used repeated phrasing together in a large five-part canon. The music for Thick Pucker arose from street recordings Reich made walking around San Francisco with Nelson, who filmed in black and white 16mm. This film no longer survives. A fourth film from 1965, about 25 minutes long and tentatively entitled "Thick Pucker II", was assembled by Nelson from outtakes of that shoot and more of the raw audio Reich had recorded. Nelson was not happy with the resulting film and never showed it.

Reich was influenced by fellow minimalist Terry Riley, whose work In C combines simple musical patterns, offset in time, to create a slowly shifting, cohesive whole. Reich adopted this approach to compose his first major work, It's Gonna Rain. Composed in 1965, the piece used a fragment of a sermon about the end of the world given by a black Pentecostal street-preacher known as Brother Walter. Reich built on his early tape work, transferring the last three words of the fragment, "it's gonna rain!", to multiple tape loops which gradually move out of phase with one another.

The 13-minute Come Out (1966) uses similarly manipulated recordings of a single spoken line given by Daniel Hamm, one of the falsely accused Harlem Six, who was severely injured by police.[16] The survivor, who had been beaten, punctured a bruise on his own body to convince police about his beating. The spoken line includes the phrase "to let the bruise’s blood come out to show them." Reich rerecorded the fragment "come out to show them" on two channels, which are initially played in unison. They quickly slip out of sync; gradually the discrepancy widens and becomes a reverberation. The two voices then split into four, looped continuously, then eight, and continues splitting until the actual words are unintelligible, leaving the listener with only the speech's rhythmic and tonal patterns. In 1999, Rolling Stone magazine dubbed Reich "The Father of Sampling" and compared his work with the parallel evolution of hip-hop culture by DJs such as Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash.[17]

Reich's first attempt at translating this phasing technique from recorded tape to live performance was the 1967 Piano Phase, for two pianos. In Piano Phase the performers repeat a rapid twelve-note melodic figure, initially in unison. As one player keeps tempo with robotic precision, the other speeds up very slightly until the two parts line up again, but one sixteenth note apart. The second player then resumes the previous tempo. This cycle of speeding up and then locking in continues throughout the piece; the cycle comes full circle three times, the second and third cycles using shorter versions of the initial figure. Violin Phase, also written in 1967, is built on these same lines. Piano Phase and Violin Phase both premiered in a series of concerts given in New York art galleries.

A similar, lesser known example of this so-called process music is Pendulum Music (1968), which consists of the sound of several microphones swinging over the loudspeakers to which they are attached, producing feedback as they do so. "Pendulum Music" has never been recorded by Reich himself, but was introduced to rock audiences by Sonic Youth in the late 1990s.

Reich also tried to create the phasing effect in a piece "that would need no instrument beyond the human body". He found that the idea of phasing was inappropriate for the simple ways he was experimenting to make sound. Instead, he composed Clapping Music (1972), in which the players do not phase in and out with each other, but instead one performer keeps one line of a 12-eighth-note-long (12-quaver-long) phrase and the other performer shifts by one eighth note beat every 12 bars, until both performers are back in unison 144 bars later.[18]

The 1967 prototype piece Slow Motion Sound was not performed although Chris Hughes performed it 27 years later as Slow Motion Blackbird on his Reich-influenced 1994 album Shift. It introduced the idea of slowing down a recorded sound until many times its original length without changing pitch or timbre, which Reich applied to Four Organs (1970), which deals specifically with augmentation. The piece has maracas playing a fast eighth notepulse, while the four organs stress certain eighth notes using an 11th chord. This work therefore dealt with repetition and subtle rhythmic change. It is unique in the context of Reich's other pieces[clarification needed How so – 'unique'?] in being linear as opposed to cyclic like his earlier works – the superficially similar Phase Patterns, also for four organs but without maracas, is (as the name suggests) a phase piece similar to others composed during the period. Four Organs was performed as part of a Boston Symphony Orchestra program, and was Reich's first composition to be performed in a large traditional setting.


In 1970, Reich embarked on a five-week trip to study music in Ghana, during which he learned from the master drummer Gideon Alorwoyie. Reich also studied Balinese gamelan in Seattle in 1973 and 1974.[19][when?] From his African experience, as well as A. M. Jones's Studies in African Music about the music of the Ewe people, Reich drew inspiration for his 90-minute piece Drumming, which he composed shortly after his return. Composed for a nine-piece percussion ensemble with female voices and piccolo, Drumming marked the beginning of a new stage in his career, for around this time he formed his ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians, and increasingly concentrated on composition and performance with them. Steve Reich and Musicians, which was to be the sole ensemble to interpret his works for many years, still remains active with many of its original members.[citation needed]

After Drumming, Reich moved on from the "phase shifting" technique that he had pioneered, and began writing more elaborate pieces. He investigated other musical processes such as augmentation (the temporal lengthening of phrases and melodic fragments). It was during this period that he wrote works such as Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (1973) and Six Pianos (1973).

In 1974, Reich began writing Music for 18 Musicians. This piece involved many new ideas, although it also hearkened back to earlier pieces. It is based on a cycle of eleven chords introduced at the beginning (called "Pulses"), followed by a small section of music based on each chord ("Sections I-XI"), and finally a return to the original cycle ("Pulses"). This was Reich's first attempt at writing for larger ensembles. The increased number of performers resulted in more scope for psychoacoustic effects, which fascinated Reich, and he noted that he would like to "explore this idea further". Reich remarked that this one work contained more harmonic movement in the first five minutes than any other work he had written. Steve Reich and Musicians made the premier recording of this work on ECM Records.

Reich explored these ideas further in his frequently recorded pieces Music for a Large Ensemble (1978) and Octet (1979). In these two works, Reich experimented with "the human breath as the measure of musical duration ... the chords played by the trumpets are written to take one comfortable breath to perform".[20] Human voices are part of the musical palette in Music for a Large Ensemble but the wordless vocal parts simply form part of the texture (as they do in Drumming). With Octet and his first orchestral piece Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards (also 1979), Reich's music showed the influence of Biblical cantillation, which he had studied in Israel since the summer of 1977. After this, the human voice singing a text would play an increasingly important role in Reich's music.

The technique [...] consists of taking pre-existing melodic patterns and stringing them together to form a longer melody in the service of a holy text. If you take away the text, you're left with the idea of putting together small motives to make longer melodies – a technique I had not encountered before.[21]

In 1974 Reich published the book Writings About Music, containing essays on his philosophy, aesthetics, and musical projects written between 1963 and 1974. An updated and much more extensive collection, Writings On Music (1965–2000), was published in 2002.


Reich's work took on a darker character in the 1980s with the introduction of historical themes as well as themes from his Jewish heritage. Tehillim (1981), Hebrew for psalms, is the first of Reich's works to draw explicitly on his Jewish background. The work is in four parts, and is scored for an ensemble of four women's voices (one high soprano, two lyric sopranos and one alto), piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, six percussion (playing small tuned tambourines without jingles, clapping, maracas, marimba, vibraphone and crotales), two electronic organs, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, with amplified voices, strings, and winds. A setting of texts from psalms 19:2–5 (19:1–4 in Christian translations), 34:13–15 (34:12–14), 18:26–27 (18:25–26), and 150:4–6, Tehillim is a departure from Reich's other work in its formal structure; the setting of texts several lines long rather than the fragments used in previous works makes melody a substantive element. Use of formal counterpoint and functional harmony also contrasts with the loosely structured minimalist works written previously.

Different Trains (1988), for string quartet and tape, uses recorded speech, as in his earlier works, but this time as a melodic rather than a rhythmic element. In Different Trains, Reich compares and contrasts his childhood memories of his train journeys between New York and California in 1939–1941 with the very different trains being used to transport contemporaneous European children to their deaths under Nazi rule. The Kronos Quartet recording of Different Trains was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition in 1990. The composition was described by Richard Taruskin as "the only adequate musical response—one of the few adequate artistic responses in any medium—to the Holocaust", and he credited the piece with earning Reich a place among the great composers of the 20th century.[22]


In 1993, Reich collaborated with his wife, the video artist Beryl Korot, on an opera, The Cave, which explores the roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam through the words of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans, echoed musically by the ensemble. The work, for percussion, voices, and strings, is a musical documentary, named for the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, where a mosque now stands and Abraham is said to have been buried.

Reich and Korot collaborated on the opera Three Tales, which concerns the Hindenburg disaster, the testing of nuclear weapons on Bikini Atoll, and other more modern concerns, specifically Dolly the sheep, cloning, and the technological singularity.

Reich used sampling techniques for pieces like Three Tales and City Life from 1994. Reich returned to composing purely instrumental works for the concert hall, starting with Triple Quartet in 1998 written for the Kronos Quartet that can either be performed by string quartet and tape, three string quartets or 36-piece string orchestra. According to Reich, the piece is influenced by Bartók's and Alfred Schnittke's string quartets, and Michael Gordon's Yo Shakespeare.[23]


The instrumental series for the concert hall continued with Dance Patterns (2002), Cello Counterpoint (2003), and sequence of works centered around Variations: You Are (Variations) (2004), a work which looks back to the vocal writing of works like Tehillim or The Desert Music, Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings in 2005, for the London Sinfonietta and Daniel Variations (2006).

in 2002 Reich was invited by Walter Fink to the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival, as the 12th composer featured.

In an interview with The Guardian, Reich stated that he continued to follow this direction with his piece Double Sextet (2007), which was commissioned by eighth blackbird, an American ensemble consisting of the instrumental quintet (flute, clarinet, violin or viola, cello and piano) of Schoenberg's piece Pierrot Lunaire (1912) plus percussion. Reich states that he was thinking about Stravinsky's Agon (1957) as a model for the instrumental writing.[citation needed]

December 2010 Nonesuch Records and Indaba Music held a community remix contest in which over 250 submissions were received, and Steve Reich and Christian Carey judged the finals. Reich spoke in a related BBC interview that once he composed a piece he would not alter it again himself; "When it's done, it's done," he said. On the other hand, he acknowledged that remixes have an old tradition e.g. famous religious music pieces where melodies were further developed into new songs.[24]


Reich has the world premiere of a piece, WTC 9/11, written for String Quartet and Tape, a similar instrumentation to that of Different Trains. It was premiered in March 2011 by the Kronos Quartet, at Duke University, North Carolina, US.[25]

On March 5, 2013 the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Brad Lubman, at the Royal Festival Hall in London gave the world premiere of Radio Rewrite for ensemble with 11 players, inspired by the music of Radiohead. The programme also included Double Sextet for ensemble with 12 players, Clapping Music, for two people and four hands featuring Reich himself alongside percussionist Colin Currie, Electric Counterpoint, with electric guitar by Mats Bergstrom accompanied by a layered soundtrack, as well as two of Reich's small ensemble pieces, one for acoustic instruments, the other for electric instruments and tape.[26]


Reich was awarded with the Premium Imperial Award in Music in October 2006.[27]

On January 25, 2007, Reich was named 2007 recipient of the Polar Music Prize with jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins.[28]

On April 20, 2009, Reich was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music, recognizing Double Sextet, first performed in Richmond March 26, 2008. The citation called it "a major work that displays an ability to channel an initial burst of energy into a large-scale musical event, built with masterful control and consistently intriguing to the ear".[29][30]

In May 2011 Steve Reich received an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory of Music.[31]

In 2012, Steve Reich received the Gold Medal in Music by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[32]

In 2013 Reich received the US$400,000 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in contemporary music for bringing a new conception of music, based on the use of realist elements from the realm of daily life and others drawn from the traditional music of Africa and Asia.[33]

In September 2014, Reich was awarded the "Leone d'Oro" (Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Music) from the Venice Biennale.[34]

In March 2016, Reich was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Royal College of Music in London.[35]


Reich's style of composition has influenced many other composers and musical groups, including John Adams, the progressive rock band King Crimson, the new-age guitarist Michael Hedges, the art-pop and electronic musician Brian Eno, the experimental art/music group The Residents, the composers associated with the Bang on a Can festival (including David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe), and numerous indie rock musicians including songwriter Sufjan Stevens[36][37] and instrumental ensembles Tortoise,[38][39][40]The Mercury Program (themselves influenced by Tortoise),[41] and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (who titled an unreleased song "Steve Reich").[42]

John Adams commented, "He didn't reinvent the wheel so much as he showed us a new way to ride."[43] He has also influenced visual artists such as Bruce Nauman, and many notable choreographers have made dances to his music, Eliot Feld, Jiří Kylián, Douglas Lee and Jerome Robbins among others; he has expressed particular admiration of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's work set to his pieces.

In featuring a sample of Reich's Electric Counterpoint (1987) the British ambient techno act the Orb exposed a new generation of listeners to the composer's music with its 1990 production Little Fluffy Clouds.[44] In 1999 the album Reich Remixed featured "re-mixes" of a number of Reich's works by various electronic dance-music producers, such as DJ Spooky, Kurtis Mantronik, Ken Ishii, and Coldcut amongst others.[44][45]

Reich often cites Pérotin, J. S. Bach, Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky as composers whom he admires and who greatly influenced him when he was young.[46] Jazz is a major part of the formation of Reich's musical style, and two of the earliest influences on his work were vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Alfred Deller, whose emphasis on the artistic capabilities of the voice alone with little vibrato or other alteration was an inspiration to his earliest works. John Coltrane's style, which Reich has described as "playing a lot of notes to very few harmonies", also had an impact; of particular interest was the album Africa/Brass, which "was basically a half-an-hour in F."[47] Reich's influence from jazz includes its roots, also, from the West African music he studied in his readings and visit to Ghana. Other important influences are Kenny Clarke and Miles Davis, and visual artist friends such as Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra. Reich has also stated that he admires the music of the band Radiohead, which led to his composition Radio Rewrite.[48]



  • Soundtrack for Plastic Haircut, tape (1963)
  • Music for two or more pianos (1964)
  • Livelihood (1964)
  • It's Gonna Rain, tape (1965)
  • Soundtrack for Oh Dem Watermelons, tape (1965)
  • Come Out, tape (1966)
  • Melodica, for melodica and tape (1966)
  • Reed Phase, for soprano saxophone or any other reed instrument and tape, or three reed instruments (1966)
  • Piano Phase for two pianos, or two marimbas (1967)
  • Slow Motion Soundconcept piece (1967)
  • Violin Phase for violin and tape or four violins (1967)
  • My Name Is for three tape recorders and performers (1967)
  • Pendulum Music for 3 or 4 microphones, amplifiers and loudspeakers (1968) (revised 1973)[49]
  • Four Organs for four electric organs and maracas (1970)
  • Phase Patterns for four electric organs (1970)
  • Drumming for 4 pairs of tuned bongo drums, 3 marimbas, 3 glockenspiels, 2 female voices, whistling and piccolo (1970/1971)
  • Clapping Music for two musicians clapping (1972)
  • Music for Pieces of Wood for five pairs of tuned claves (1973)
  • Six Pianos (1973) – also arranged as Six Marimbas (1986) and Piano Counterpoint (2011)
  • Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ (1973)
  • Music for 18 Musicians (1974–76)
  • Music for a Large Ensemble (1978)
  • Octet (1979) – withdrawn in favor of the 1983 revision for slightly larger ensemble, Eight Lines
  • Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards for orchestra (1979)
  • Tehillim for voices and ensemble (1981)
  • Vermont Counterpoint for amplified flute and tape (1982)
  • The Desert Music for chorus and orchestra or voices and ensemble (1983, text by William Carlos Williams)
  • Sextet for percussion and keyboards (1984)
  • New York Counterpoint for amplified clarinet and tape, or 11 clarinets and bass clarinet (1985)
  • Three Movements for orchestra (1986)
  • Electric Counterpoint for electric guitar or amplified acoustic guitar and tape (1987, for Pat Metheny)
  • The Four Sections for orchestra (1987)
  • Different Trains for string quartet and tape (1988)
  • The Cave for four voices, ensemble and video (1993, with Beryl Korot)
  • Duet for two violins and string ensemble (1993, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin)
  • Nagoya Marimbas for two marimbas (1994)
  • City Life for amplified ensemble (1995)
  • Proverb for voices and ensemble (1995, text by Ludwig Wittgenstein)
  • Triple Quartet for amplified string quartet (with prerecorded tape), or three string quartets, or string orchestra (1998)
  • Know What Is Above You for four women’s voices and 2 tamborims (1999)
  • Three Tales for video projection, five voices and ensemble (1998–2002, with Beryl Korot)
  • Dance Patterns for 2 xylophones, 2 vibraphones and 2 pianos (2002)
  • Cello Counterpoint for amplified cello and multichannel tape (2003)
  • You Are (Variations) for voices and ensemble (2004)
  • For Strings (with Winds and Brass) for orchestra (1987/2004)
  • Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings dance piece for three string quartets, four vibraphones, and two pianos (2005)
  • Daniel Variations for four voices and ensemble (2006)
  • Double Sextet for 2 violins, 2 cellos, 2 pianos, 2 vibraphones, 2 clarinets, 2 flutes or ensemble and pre-recorded tape (2007)
  • 2×5 for 2 drum sets, 2 pianos, 4 electric guitars and 2 bass guitars (2008)
  • Mallet Quartet for 2 marimbas and 2 vibraphones or 4 marimbas (or solo percussion and tape) (2009)
  • WTC 9/11 for string quartet and tape (2010)
  • Finishing the Hat for two pianos (2011)
  • Radio Rewrite for ensemble (2012)
  • Quartet for two vibraphones and two pianos (2013)
  • Pulse for winds, strings, piano and electric bass (2015)
  • Runner for large ensemble (2016)

Selected discography[edit]

  • Live/Electric Music, (Columbia, 1968)
  • Music for 18 Musicians, Ensemble Signal, Brad Lubman harmonia mundi
  • Radio Rewrite, Ensemble Signal, Brad Lubman harmonia mundi
  • Double Sextet, Ensemble Signal, Brad Lubman harmonia mundi
  • Drumming. Steve Reich and Musicians (Two recordings: Deutsche Grammophon and Nonesuch) So Percussion (Cantaloupe)
  • Music for 18 Musicians. Steve Reich and Musicians (Two recordings: ECM and Nonesuch), Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble (Innova), Ensemble Modern (RCA).
  • Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase. Steve Reich and Musicians (ECM)
  • Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards/Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ/ Six Pianos. San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Edo de Waart, Steve Reich & Musicians (Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Tehillim/The Desert Music. Alarm Will Sound and OSSIA, Alan Pierson (Cantaloupe)
  • Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint. Kronos Quartet, Pat Metheny (Nonesuch)
  • You Are (Variations)/Cello Counterpoint. Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, Maya Beiser (Nonesuch)
  • Steve Reich: Works 1965–1995. Various performers (Nonesuch).
  • Daniel Variations, with Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings. London Sinfonietta, Grant Gershon, Alan Pierson (Nonesuch)
  • Double Sextet/2×5, Eighth Blackbird and Bang on a Can (Nonesuch)
  • Piano Phase, transcribed for guitar, Alexandre Gérard (Catapult)
  • Reich Remixed, Nonesuch – 79552-2; 1999
  • Phase to Face, a film documentary about Steve Reich by Eric Darmon & Franck Mallet (EuroArts) DVD
  • Radio Rewrite, Alarm Will Sound, Jonny Greenwood, Vicky Chow (Nonesuch)


See also[edit]


  1. ^"Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures". National Library Service. May 2006. Retrieved October 15, 2009. 
  2. ^"Composer Steve Reich on turning 80, writing live music and finding faith". Retrieved January 25, 2018 – via The Globe and Mail. 
  3. ^Mertens, W. (1983), American Minimal Music, Kahn & Averill, London, (p.11).
  4. ^Michael Nyman, writing in the preface of Mertens' book refers to the style as "so called minimal music"[vague] (Mertens p.8).
  5. ^"The term 'minimal music' is generally used to describe a style of music that developed in America in the late 1960s and 1970s; and that was initially connected with the composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass." Sitsky, L. (2002), Music of the twentieth-century avant-garde: a biocritical sourcebook,Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. (p.361)
  6. ^"Radio 3 Programmes – Composer of the Week, Steve Reich (b. 1936), Episode 1". BBC. October 25, 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2011. 
  7. ^Gann, Kyle (July 13, 1999). "Grand Old Youngster". The Village Voice. Retrieved September 27, 2008. 
  8. ^Lightcage. "Jonathan Carroll | Publishers Weekly Interview". Retrieved August 11, 2016. 
  9. ^"Steve Reich - Composer". Famous Composers. 
  10. ^Paul Griffiths, "Reich, Steve [Stephen] (Michael)", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  11. ^"RA: Steve Reich". Resident Advisor. Retrieved 02/26/18. 
  12. ^"Steve Reich | American composer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 26, 2018. 
  13. ^Music from Mills at AllMusic
  14. ^Bernstein, David (2008). The San Francisco Tape Music Center. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24892-2. 
  15. ^Malcolm Ball on Steve Reich
  16. ^James Baldwin (July 11, 1966). "A Report from Occupied Territory". Archived from the original on June 29, 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2013. 
  17. ^Heidi Sherman (March 27, 1999). "The Father of Sampling Speaks: Steve Reich discusses his influence on DJ culture". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 9, 2015. 
  18. ^"Writings on Music, 1965-2000". Retrieved February 28, 2018. 
  19. ^"Steve Reich Biography". Steve Reich. Retrieved 02/26/18. 
  20. ^Liner notes for Music for a Large Ensemble
  21. ^Schwarz, K. Robert. Minimalists, Phaidon Press, 1996, p.84 and p.86.
  22. ^Taruskin, Richard (August 24, 1997). "A Sturdy Musical Bridge to the 21st Century". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2008. 
  23. ^"From New York to Vermont: Conversation with Steve Reich". Retrieved October 16, 2011. 
  24. ^"Steve Reich Remix Contest – 2x5 Movement 3". Indaba Music. Retrieved October 16, 2011. 
  25. ^"Steve Reich – WTC 9/11". April 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  26. ^"Radio Rewrite, Double Sextet". 2013. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  27. ^Reich, Steve. "Biography". The Steve Reich Website. Steve Reich. 
  28. ^Hans Gefors, "Steve Reich", translated by Neil Betteridge. Stockholm: Polar Music Prize, 2007 (accessed January 26, 2015).
  29. ^"The 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Music". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved October 16, 2011.  With short biography and Double Sextet data including Composer's Notes.
  30. ^"2009 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters, Drama and Music," The New York Times, April 20, 2009.
  31. ^"Commencement 2011 | New England Conservatory". Retrieved October 16, 2011. 
  32. ^"Steve Reich: Biography". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 02/26/18. 
  33. ^"BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Contemporary Music 2013". 
  34. ^58th International Festival of Contemporary Music, September 20, 2014.Archived September 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. ^Imogen Tilden (March 10, 2016), "Royal College of Music honours Reich, Norrington and Jurowski", The Guardian 
  36. ^Wise, Brian (2006). "Steve Reich @ 70 on WNYC". WNYC.  Retrieved September 27, 2008.
  37. ^Joana de Belém (November 12, 2006). "O passado e o presente de Steve Reich no Porto". Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on January 15, 2009.  Retrieved September 27, 2008.
  38. ^Hutlock, Todd (September 1, 2006). "Tortoise – A Lazarus Taxon". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on September 17, 2006.  Retrieved September 27, 2008.
  39. ^Ratliff, Ben (March 23, 1998). "TNT : Tortoise : Review". Rolling Stone.  Retrieved September 27, 2008.
  40. ^"Performers: Tortoise (Illinois)". Guelph Jazz Festival. 2008.  Retrieved September 27, 2008.
  41. ^Stratton, Jeff (May 10, 2001). "We Have Liftoff". Broward-Palm Beach New Times.  Retrieved September 27, 2008.
  42. ^"sad". Retrieved October 16, 2011. 
  43. ^John Adams: "...For him, pulsation and tonality were not just cultural artifacts. They were the lifeblood of the musical experience, natural laws. It was his triumph to find a way to embrace these fundamental principles and still create a music that felt genuine and new. He didn't reinvent the wheel so much as he showed us a new way to ride." See for instance the articles section of the "Steve Reich Website". Retrieved January 31, 2010. 
  44. ^ a

by John Edward Hasse and Bob Blumenthal
​The original article, published as a part of the Smithsonian Folkways Magazine, can be found here. 

The challenge of talking about music is compounded when the subject is jazz, a word of clouded origins whose meaning reflects an evolution of astounding rapidity and imposing diversity unlikely to change as we enter jazz’s second century.

Louis Armstrong, 1960.  Photograph by Herman Leonard. Herman Leonard Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

The term was originally applied to the music developed in New Orleans around the beginning of the twentieth century. Initially a product of the city’s African American community, it was quickly picked up by several of the city’s young white musicians as well. Within a mere two decades, as many of these early practitioners left home to perform throughout the United States and around the world, jazz became an international phenomenon. The earliest examples of the style, like those of the related blues, were never documented on sound recordings; but once jazz musicians did begin to record, the music expanded its audience rapidly and attracted practitioners and influences from all classes, cultures, and parts of the world.

In the ensuing decades, jazz has experienced moments of dominance, when it was accepted as popular music and produced universally recognized stars; recognition as an art form worthy of serious analysis and the highest cultural honors; and periods of marginalization, wherein even its most accomplished figures earned respect primarily from peers and enthusiasts. Through all of these shifts, the techniques and vocabulary of jazz have continued to influence other forms of both popular and “serious” music. Often acclaimed as America’s greatest art form, jazz has become accepted as a living expression of the nation’s history and culture, still youthful, difficult to define and impossible to contain, a music of beauty, sensitivity, and brilliance that has produced (and been produced by) an extraordinary progression of talented artists.

Jazz is a fluid form of expression, a quality that led critic Whitney Balliett to characterize the music in an oft-quoted phrase as “the sound of surprise.” Several characteristics contribute to jazz’s surprising nature.

A primary factor is the rhythmic energy of jazz, which incorporates both the motion of dance and the inflections of speech. The syncopations and irregular accents of early jazz styles had a visceral effect on listeners and remain central to the music’s appeal. While sometimes oversimplified as a wholesale shift in accent or emphasis— from beats one and three in a four-beat measure to beats two and four— the evolution of jazz rhythm has incorporated more complex subdivisions and superimpositions on the basic beat, while also assimilating the rhythms of other musics and cultures.

Ella Fitzgerald in 1949. Photograph by Herman Leonard. Herman Leonard Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 

This rhythmic freedom feeds the spirit of improvisation at the heart of jazz. Unlike European classical music, which gives primacy of place to the composer, jazz is performer-oriented, with musicians generally allowed the freedom to improvise solos and even ensemble passages on the spot. While a musical score defines a classical piece, jazz’s improvisatory nature requires that it be defined by specific performances. Some performers evolve set-pieces, as a comparison of Art Tatum’s various recordings of “Willow, Weep for Me” will illustrate; but many jazz musicians pride themselves on creating a unique solo each time they play a tune, as Charlie Parker did in his numerous recordings of “Ornithology.” Even the written portion of a jazz performance can evolve, as was the case with “Mood Indigo” and other classics that Duke Ellington revisited over the decades of his career.

Inevitably, different performers interpret the same source material in different ways. A classic song such as “Summertime” will sound different when sung by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, and when played by Stan Getz, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, John Coltrane, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. The difference goes beyond improvisation and relates to another foundation of jazz surprise—the personal sound of each musician. The young Miles Davis, one of jazz’s supremely personal voices, was chastised by his trumpet teacher Elwood Buchanan for trying to sound like Harry James. “You got enough talent to be your own trumpet man” was Buchanan’s message, though such individuality derives from serious attention to one’s sound, tone, attack, and phrasing, as well as an appreciation of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic options (Davis and Troupe 1989, 32). As Davis put it later in his career, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” Yet sounding like yourself is the ultimate goal, and those jazz musicians who sound most like themselves, to the point that they can be identified after only a few notes, tend to have the greatest impact on other musicians.

As jazz has evolved, it has counterpoised surprise and familiarity, spontaneity and structure, soloist and ensemble, tradition and innovation. The rhythmic élan, improvisatory aesthetic, and quest for personal expression at the heart of the music have created performances in which seemingly opposing qualities are fused into aesthetically successful and often immortal wholes.


Jazz did not appear in a vacuum. Some of its elements can be traced to other cultures—its rhythmic accentuations and call-and-response patterns to Africa, its instrumentation and harmonies to Europe—but the synthesis is entirely American, rooted specifically in the earlier African American blues and ragtime styles.

Charlie Parker in 1949. Photograph by Herman Leonard. Herman Leonard Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

The earliest jazz was not written down but rather passed on aurally among the musicians of New Orleans. This great seaport near the mouth of the Mississippi River was a bouillabaisse of African American, Anglo American, French, German, Italian, Mexican, Caribbean, and American Indian musical influences. Unlike some other U.S. cities, New Orleans had neighborhoods in which families from different ethnic backgrounds lived cheek by jowl, a circumstance that provided exceptional opportunities for musical exchange and is reflected in the music’s vitality. It explains how African Americans such as Buddy Bolden, Creoles of color such as Ferdinand Lamothe (known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton), and Caucasians such as the Italian American Nick LaRocca would all play roles in the early development of jazz. Jazz began as a solo piano music in the city’s “sporting houses”; a small-combo music played for dancers in ballrooms; and a marching band music performed at funerals, parades, and other public events. As riverboats took New Orleans music north, and as the wanderlust of Morton and other early performers brought them to both coasts, jazz became more than a local phenomenon, a process that accelerated greatly once LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded in New York in 1917. Around this same time, changing working conditions in New Orleans brought about a mass exodus of the city’s musical community, launching a creative diaspora that took jazz and many of its most talented practitioners to the rest of the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia.

The imposition of Prohibition in the 1920s, and the prevalence of jazz in the speakeasies that followed in Prohibition’s wake, quickly turned jazz into both a musical and cultural phenomenon, to the point that author F. Scott Fitzgerald dubbed the era the “Jazz Age.” The music identified with this period was initially an ensemble art, with little room for individual solos beyond occasional two-bar and four-bar breaks. This soon changed, thanks in large part to the examples of clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet and cornetist/trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whose abilities to create entire choruses of improvisation were publicly recognized (especially in Armstrong’s case) by increasing activity in recording studios. The works by Morton, jazz’s first great composer, contained similar rhythmic and melodic elements and were also widely heard through recordings. Reviewing his career a decade later, Morton would claim that he was the music’s inventor.

At the same time, the growing popularity of dance orchestras led to the incorporation of jazz techniques by larger ensembles. By the end of the 1920s, a looser, more free-flowing and sophisticated style of dance music had begun to evolve into what in a few years would be called “swing.” Given the racial segregation prevalent in American society, there was less visible interaction among white and black musicians than had occurred in New Orleans, and prominent white bandleaders were quick to add white jazz soloists to their ranks, as was the case when “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman featured cornetist Bix Beiderbecke and trombonist Jack Teagarden. The primary influence on orchestral development, however, came from African American band leaders Fletcher Henderson, who standardized ensemble instrumentation and arranging style, and Duke Ellington, who was particularly attuned to the individual sounds of his musicians and the startling tone colors that they could create in combination. The featured soloists with these bands—Armstrong and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins with Henderson, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges with Ellington—also became the prevailing model for others who played the same instrument. It did not take long for the black and white bands to begin playing the same pieces, often in the same arrangements.

Big bands proliferated in the years before World War II, their popularity spurred by the remote radio broadcasts that brought the sounds of Ellington and others to listeners across the country. Concurrently, “territory” bands arose in various regions, serving as training grounds for young musicians and laboratories for new ideas. Thus the “Jazz Age” gave way to the “Swing Era,” as clarinetist Benny Goodman launched a national jitterbug craze via classic Henderson arrangements, and the band that pianist Count Basie led out of Kansas City introduced a more flowing beat and a renewed emphasis on the blues. Each of these bands in turn featured players who became role models for others: trumpeter Harry James and drummer Gene Krupa with Goodman and trumpeter Buck Clayton and tenor saxophonist Lester Young with Basie among them. When Goodman featured African American artists Teddy Wilson (piano) and Lionel Hampton (vibes) in his live appearances, he also began a push for racial equality. Lionel Hampton stated in 1994 that the Benny Goodman Quartet opened the door for Jackie Robinson to come into major league baseball. “The integration of musicians started a lot of things happening” (Blumenthal 2007, 62-63).

The dominance of big bands through much of the 1930s should not diminish the ongoing importance of smaller groups, which operated in a variety of styles. The multitalented pianist, composer, and vocalist Thomas “Fats” Waller and his Rhythm (as his sextet was known) featured humorous takes on Tin Pan Alley material. A series of small-band recordings under the leadership of Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, and Lionel Hampton featured many of the era’s leading orchestral musicians in more informal settings that allowed for greater solo space. In Europe, the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring the virtuosity of guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli, created a string-centered jazz sound and gave the first indication that one need not be an American to have influence on the music’s international development. With the growth of radio, the appearance of jazz stars such as Armstrong in motion pictures, and the temporary expatriation at the end of the 1930s of such American stars as Hawkins and the composer and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter, the sense that jazz was becoming the musical Esperanto of the era only intensified.

Thelonious Monk in 1960. Photograph by Herman Leonard. Herman Leonard Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

World War II brought upheavals to jazz, and all else. Musicians were drafted, gas rationing and new entertainment taxes made it more difficult for bands to sustain tours, and a contractual dispute between their union and the record companies kept most musicians out of the studios. Unable to sustain themselves financially, most of the big bands dissolved, ceding their popularity to vocalists (who could record during the ban, albeit with only choral accompaniment) such as Frank Sinatra, and to the small-group dance music called “rhythm & blues” that was gaining popularity among younger African Americans. At the same time, a more angular and asymmetrical style of jazz improvisation emerged that came to be known as “bebop.”

Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the leading exponents of the new style, created rhythmically complex, harmonically rich virtuosic improvisations, and displayed an affinity in phrasing rapid-fire bebop melodies that has rarely been matched. Kenny Clarke, the first of the great modern drummers, moved the timekeeping role from the bass drum to the ride cymbal, and used the kick and snare drums for accent and rhythmic stimulus. Pianist Thelonious Monk, whose playing style was more spare and idiosyncratic, initially had a greater impact through his angular compositions, which to this day remain the jazz works most widely performed after those of Duke Ellington.

Bebop’s growth in the years immediately following World War II as both a musical and cultural phenomenon (the latter expressed through the emulation of Gillespie’s goatee and horn-rimmed glasses) paralleled a change in the way in which jazz was presented. With dance halls and ballrooms in decline, the music found a new home in nightclubs and concert halls, where the emphasis was on listening rather than dancing. As often occurs when such transformations take place, more traditional musicians took offense. Bandleader Cab Calloway disparaged bebop as “Chinese music,” while guitarist Eddie Condon, referring to a musical interval indicative of the new style, emphasized that he and his colleagues did not flat their fifths, they drank them.

Yet it did not take long before bebop had generated stylistic variations of its own. The big band that Gillespie formed in 1946 would soon feature Cuban percussion virtuoso Chano Pozo and plant the seeds of merging jazz and Afro-Cuban music, a blend that was also encouraged on the Latin side by the jazz-oriented ensembles of Machito and Tito Puente. In 1948, trumpeter Miles Davis organized a nine-piece band that included French horn and tuba, incorporated counterpoint and subtle ensemble colors, and gave great latitude to the arranger; as this style, quickly identified as “cool jazz,” attracted adherents based in Los Angeles including Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers, and Shelly Manne, it also became known as “West Coast jazz.” By the early 1950s, Davis was moving in another direction, placing greater emphasis on the blues tradition and a more intense emotional expression. This “hard bop” style, defined in the studio recordings of Davis and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins and the touring quintet co-led by drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown, was seen as the East Coast response to cool jazz; and when drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver introduced elements of spirituals and gospel music, hard bop earned another name, “soul jazz.” All the while, musicians were expanding compositional possibilities in a variety of ways, from the use of fugues and other classical techniques in the music pianist John Lewis created for the Modern Jazz Quartet to the introduction of “open” forms and a return to collective improvisation in the works of bassist Charles Mingus.

These simultaneous developments indicate how difficult it had become to pigeonhole jazz into specific time or stylistic periods. By the end of the 1950s, the emergence of other new ideas would only compound the challenge. The use of musical modes based on scales rather than sequences of chords as the basis of improvisation, an approach first championed by composer and theoretician George Russell, made an immediate impact after Miles Davis applied it over the course of his 1959 album Kind of Blue. Another landmark album of the period, Time Out by the quartet of pianist Dave Brubeck, expanded jazz’s rhythmic horizons beyond the standard 4/4 swing and waltz tempos to such then-exotic time signatures as 5/4 and 9/8. Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman eliminated harmonic progression altogether in the music of his quartet, spawning the notion of “free jazz.” Pianist Cecil Taylor took the concept of freedom even further, as song forms, fixed rhythms, and the hierarchy of soloist and accompanist were abandoned in his kinetic creations. Many of these developments were reflected in the music of tenor and soprano saxophonist John Coltrane, whose evolution during the decade before his premature death in 1967 added a personal sense of quest for spirituality and self-improvement to a music now known, for lack of a more precise metaphor, as “the new thing.”

Miles Davis in 1991. Photograph by Herman Leonard. Herman Leonard Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

These developments had been greatly encouraged by related strides in technology. Of particular importance was the introduction of the long-playing record in 1948, an innovation that quickly replaced the 78 rpm record (containing only three or four minutes of music per side) with the 33 1/3 rpm, twenty-minutes-per-side disc. LPs made it possible to document extended compositions as well as longer solos and jam sessions more indicative of the live jazz experience. While the advances in international travel made it easier for musicians to visit cities in Western Europe and Japan, where the popularity of jazz was rising, the worldwide short-wave radio broadcasts of the Voice of America took the music across closed political borders, leading many who lived in repressive societies to view jazz as the sound-image of freedom. All of this activity brought new influences to bear on jazz, from both other countries and American popular culture. Beginning in the 1960s, the pace of cross-cultural synthesis quickened; jazz incorporated Brazilian bossa nova, Indian raga, Eastern European klezmer, and other ethnic styles. The universal popularity of rock music also led musicians such as the vibraphonist Gary Burton and those in the orbit of perpetual innovator Miles Davis to employ more electric guitars and keyboards, and to make rhythmic adjustments that would lead to a style known initially as “jazz-rock” and then more generally as “fusion.” Others, especially the African American musicians who formed the cooperative Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) in Chicago and the Black Artists Group (BAG) in St. Louis, added innovative compositional forms, unusual instruments and ensembles, and a multidisciplinary theatricality to the techniques of free jazz. By 1980, when fusion and free developments had created a “postmodern” surge that diminished the visibility and standing of more swing- and blues-oriented styles, a combination of rejuvenated expatriates such as tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, belatedly celebrated veterans including pianist Tommy Flanagan, and a new generation of technically proficient and historically focused “young lions” led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis redirected attention to the music’s rich history, while also expanding the influence of a jazz education movement that began with isolated summer band camps and college courses in the 1950s.

The sum of these developments is a music as eloquent and influential as any created in the last century. We are long past the point at which one had to be American-born to become an influence on jazz development, as illustrated by the careers of Japanese pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, British saxophonist Evan Parker, Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson, and Austrian keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul, among many others. At the same time, jazz has left its mark on both other styles of music (classical, country, pop, rhythm & blues, rock) and other art forms (cinema, dance, fiction, painting, photography, poetry), not to mention vernacular speech. Once assailed as noisy, discordant, and an assault on moral values, jazz is now taught in high schools and colleges, where it is played by hundreds of thousands of young musicians and studied by a growing rank of scholars. The Smithsonian Institution, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and other major cultural institutions have established important and influential jazz programs, and the National Endowment for the Arts has honored more than one hundred musicians with the coveted title of NEA Jazz Master and a monetary award. Once disparaged and shunned, jazz is now central to America’s cultural heritage.

Sources Cited

Blumenthal, Bob. 2007. Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music. New York: Collins.

Davis, Miles, and Quincy Troupe. 1989. Miles: The Autobiography. New York: Simon & Schuster.


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