A-Level Revision

Back in the Day

Back in the Day is a great set work and opens up the world of Courtney Pine to our students. At the start of the essay question you need to make sure that your introduction sets you up for success. I have included two ideas below:

Line of Argument & Introduction:

Example 1:

Courtney Pine was a multi-instrumentalist modern jazz musician who released “Back in the Day” in 2000. The album is a fusion of American Modern Jazz and musical influences from his background, namely Hip-Hop & Reggae. It brings together early jazz concepts with more avant-garde & experimental ideas. He was seeking to keep jazz alive in his music and also use diversity to reach the popular culture of the day. Pine produced and re-mixed the album, focussing on beats & tempo not just scales & keys. In this essay I am going to explore & discuss the various influences that can be heard in this set work as well as looking at how Pine used various elements to create a successful popular album.

Example 2:

Courtney Pine released his album “Back in the Day” in 2000 and it is a great example of popular music that brings together a number of genres including Jazz. Courtney Pine is a leading British Jazz Saxophonist and his music features a number of styles including bebop, Free-Jazz, Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop & Ska. The album was produced by Pine and on the album he plays Saxophone, Bass Clarinet and keyboard. The three songs in the anthology are all great examples of popular music & jazz. This essay will consider how Pine uses [INSERT ELEMENTS] to create music that is full of style and music that draws on a number of different influences.

I think it is good to focus on how these pieces bring together popular music & jazz – almost like considering fusion in music. In order to reach a good mark in the exam you need this clear line of argument and also a good grasp of Wider Listening.

Wider Listening

Charles Mingus – “Moanin’“ from “Blues & Roots” – features a saxophone at the start. You can also hear the use of saxophone improvisation. There is a clear ostinato and harmonic structure to the piece that allows instrumentalists to improvise over the top. The music also features a string bassline as Mingus was a virtuoso bassist.

It is crucial to link to other pieces in the anthology when studying this set-work. You can link to Kate Bush who also produced and recorded her own album and The Beatles who used Modality. You could even link back to Vaughn Williams and his use of Modality.

The key thing for this piece is to make sure that you are showing the features of the music that are – POPULAR & JAZZ. This music brings together these two influences throughout and Courtney Pine uses his own musicianship to create music that is vibrant and exciting.

What is Jazz?

The more you listen to different jazz styles, the more you will realise how diverse it is as a genre. If we are generalising for this set work then we are thinking – Saxophone, chord structures, improvisation, blue-notes, short melodic motifs, repeating chord patterns. It is important not to just think of Jazz in the way that some people think about classical music. There are so many styles and genres and it is important not to use a “broad brush” when talking about it.

Lady Day and (John Coltrane)

Jazz Influences:

  •  12 Bar Blues is the skeleton structure for the piece – varied version of 12 Bar Blues
  • Use of “jazz” instrumentation – saxophone
  • Improvisatory nature of the piece including a saxophone improvisation section
  • Blue Notes
  • High Tessitura of the saxophone.
  • Extended Chords – e.g. Sevenths, Ninths & Thirteenths
  • Use of Pitch Bends, Glissando & chromatics in the improvisation – falling off of notes
  • Key clicks – improvisatory style
  • Ambiguous tonality with use of extended chords.
  • Multi-Phonic techniques.
  • Title links to famous Jazz musicians – John Coltrane & Billie Holiday
  • Coltrane – fast chromatic saxophone “runs”
  • Use of rhythm – sextuplets , quintuplets, duplets & triplets.

Popular Music:

  •  Turntable Effects – linked to popular music at the time.
  • Lyrics & Strophic Form
  • Driving Hip-Hop style drumming
  • Use of sampling – music technology influences
  • Recurring chords & a fairly clear chord progression.

Inner State of Mind

Jazz influences:

  • Syncopated Rhythms
  • Use of Summertime sample – Porgy & Bess by Gershwin
  • “So What” – Miles Davis – Influenced the track
  • Contemporary Jazz style
  • Dorian C-Minor
  • Virtuoso improvisation

 Popular Music:

  •  Rapping
  • Hip-Hop Drum style
  • Lyrics & clear motifs

Love and Affection

Jazz Influences:

  • The least jazz influence of the three in the anthology.
  • Saxophone solo – improvisation – but less adventurous than the other tracks in the anthology.

Popular Music:

  • More of a pop song than a jazz piece
  • Less adventurous harmony and more of an RnB style vocal
  • Cover of a folk/pop song by Joan Armatrading
  • Clear lyrics
  • Synthesised strings which were becoming more popular in pop music – The Beatles.
  • Use of backing vocals – gospel choir & gospel influences

Key Features:

I have focussed on Harmony & Melody here as they are key components of the set work. There are obviously extensive notes available and the textbooks to help add to this. Understanding Harmony & Melody is not only crucial for the essay, but also for questions in the earlier part of the exam.


  •  Fairly clear harmonic structures – eg. 12 Bar Blues influence
  • 1 or 2 chords per bar is fairly common – slow harmonic rhythm
  • Use of extended chords
  • Tonic Pedal used
  • Repetitive Chord progression used in both Lady Day & Inner State of mind


  • Improvisation
  • Short Motifs – End of Love & Affection
  • Ornaments on the saxophone & voice
  • Use of sample & melodies from other songs
  • Chromaticism
  • Pitch Bends & Glissandi
  • Balanced Phrases that fit clearly with chord progressions
  • Wide Range – particularly on sax solos
  • Melodies are generally fairly conjunct

Back in the Day is a fantastic album and one that students will enjoy listening to. Encourage them to listen to as much of his music as possible.

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