ACT Reading Apr. 2017 74F - Passage III

Questions 21-30 are based on the following passage.

HUMANITIES: This passage is adapted from the article "The Quiet Sideman" by Colin Fleming (©2008 by The American Scholar).

Near the end of his eight years as a recordingsession
musician, tenor saxophonist Leon "Chu" Berry
landed a short-lived spot with Count Basie's orchestra.
Standing in for one of the Basie band's two tenor
5 giants, Berry took a Jead solo on "Oh, Lady Be Good,"
the 1924 Gershwin song that Basie had played for
years. In the 28 seconds that the solo lasted on
February 4, 1939, we are treated to no less than the
musical personification of mind and body working
10 together in divine tandem. When you hear the recording
for the first time, you're likely to wonder why you've
never heard of Chu Berry before.

Why you've never heard of him is pretty simple: a
lot of bard-core jazz buffs don't know much about him.
15 Berry was a solid session player who turns up on
recordings ,with Basie, Bessie Smith, Fletcher
Henderson, and Billie Holiday. But he did not cut many
sessions himself as a leader, and when he soloed, he
worked within the recording constraints of the era and
20 the swing genre-fast-moving 78s with solos often lasting
for a mere 32 beats.

The people who loved Berry were, not surprisingly,
other tenor players, a situation leading to the
dreaded "musician's musician" tag. But that's not
25 nearly praise enough to describe Chu Berry, who, when
given opportunity, displayed a musical dexterity that
would be envied by future generations of horn men.

Berry faced the lot of other horn players: having to
grind it out long and hard until something memorable
30 burst through; the prejudices and expectations of the
listening public; and the accepted wisdom of what is
and isn't art in a given medium. In this case, swing was
fodder for dance parties, not music worthy of study.

Oddly enough, Berry's· geniality might help
35 explain bis failure to court history's favor: it wasn't in
his nature to call attention to himself or his playing.
Born in 1908 into the black middle class in Wheeling,
West Virginia, the laid-back, affable Berry attended
West Virginia State in Charleston, where he switched
40 from alto sax to tenor and exhibited the willingness to
fit in that.characterized his presence in so many dance
bands. He was the rare artist who refused to put his
interests above those of the band, even if that meant
playing ensemble passages rather than taking a healthy
45 allotment of solo breaks.

College proved a training ground for Berry the
bandsman, as he teamed up with a number of amateur
outfits. He never played simply to show off. Instead, he
tried to bring out the positive attributes in any given sit-
50 uatioo or setting. Later, when Berry is performing with
the Calloway ensemble, we hear some ragged, out-oftune
playing until Berry's first few solo notes emerge.
The other players, no longer languidly blowing through
their charts, immediately surge up behind him, all
55 fighting-fit. Once Berry finishes his solo, the shenanigans
resume.

After making his way to New York, Berry immediately
became a presence and soon was in demand. The
great jazz orchestras of the swing era were fronted by
60 musical directors/arrangers-Duke Ellington was preeminent-
who drew the acclaim. The sidemen were
musical traveling salesmen who sold someone else's
wares in the best style they could manage. It was with
Fletcher Henderson that Berry began to djtch some of
65 the sideman's subservient trappings. For starters,
Henderson wrote in keys that were rare for the jazz
orchestras of the day, and bis somber, indigo-inflected
voicings were ideal for a player of Berry's introspective
approach to his instrument: Berry sounds as if he's
70 being swallowed by his sax. "Blues in C Sharp Minor,"
for instance, is odd, haunting, and ultimately relaxing.
A Berry solo in it is slightly off mike, making the listener
feel as though he's been playing for some time
before we finally hear him. The effect is unnerving, as
75 if we weren't paying close attention.

In June 1940, Cab Calloway granted Berry a showcase
piece, "A Ghost of a Chance," the sole recording
in Berry's career to feature him from start to finish. It
was his "Body and Soul," a response to Coleman
80 Hawkins's famous recording, intended not as a riposte
to a rival, but as the other half of a dialogue. Its rubato
lines are disembodied from the music meant to accompany
it, which is spartan to begin with. This may be
Berry's one and only instance of indulgence on a
85 record, a cathedral of a solo in its flourishes, angles,
ornamentations, reflexivity. If sunlight could pass
through music, "A Ghost of a Chance" would funnel it
out in the broadest spectrum of colors.

 
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