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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin


When I stand alone in front of a blank canvas, I am seldom aware of something outside of me sending a message where I should make the first brush stroke on the canvas. I seldom stop to question what is motivating me. However most actions we take are a response to an outside influence, or maybe in the case of great art an accumulation of experiences directing the artist. Sometimes we just can’t help but respond to something that moves us. We react by retelling the message in our own voice. In music this is sometimes a deliberate act called call and response. 


Call and response is a style of music where there are two succeeding phrases of music  played by different musicians. The second phrase is a direct commentary on the first, hence, call and response. It is a common pattern of human communication.

Call and Response is one of the most basic musical concepts in music. Although the use of call and response is found as far back as the middle ages, music with “opposite voices” that started in African work songs can still be heard in modern jazz.

The ships that carried enslaved Africans also carried call and response music with them to the New World. The simplicity of the form was probably the reason it has survived. It was first heard in chants as work was done. It was inclusive.  It allowed, maybe even expected that everyone be part of the response. For all the right reasons call and response has survived through the centuries in various forms of cultural expression—in religious observance, in public gatherings, in sporting events, in children’s rhymes, and in all of our music influenced by African American music including soulgospelbluesrhythm and bluesrock and rollfunk, hip hop and jazz.

The call and response figures we recognize in our music today began in African traditions and eventually found their full expression in blues, spirituals and jazz.

One of the most popular forms of call and response in music is ‘the verse and the chorus.

It is what you think of when you think of gospel music, It is when the pastor or song leader calls out or sings a line, and the congregation or choir responds.

Dennis Slaughter has written:

“Gospel music has a history which can be traced to the 18th century. During this time, hymns were lined and repeated in a call and response fashion and the Negro spirituals and work songs came on the scene. Because the enslaved Africans attended their masters’ worship services, the seventeenth century influences on Negro spirituals and work songs were traditional hymns the enslaved Africans heard in worship. Worship services served several purposes; not only were they a means by which the Africans could be monitored, but they also served as a reinforcement of the slavery indoctrination. Quite often readings were from St. Paul whose message was that good servants should be  loving, obeying, and trusting of one’s master.  The worship music (hymns) of the white masters became the backdrop for the music the enslaved Africans would use at their eventual worship meetings

Call and response fostered dialogue, helped bridge generations and has been an important component of oral traditions in the music of Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize. and many nations of the diaspora, All of this ended up in New Orleans 


Jazz originated in New Orleans.  It has always been a mish-mash of a genre, drawing inspiration from the blues, ragtime, West African music, and European Band music, all of which have some elements of call and response.

This eclectic mix worked, and jazz became an original American art form. All of this blending created complex music. This complexity sometimes requires a level of concentration that sometimes sends casual listeners looking for a time out. We all recognize and are drawn back to the music when suddenly we hear a little familiar call and response refrain. It makes us feel like maybe we understand something about this difficult music. 

Call and response doesn’t mean call and copy. That could be boring like a conversation where everyone one agrees with everything. Jazz is seldom boring.


Musicians, teachers, pastors, parents and anyone else who is trying to recapture someone else’s attention will often use the great communication tool, call and response

Call and response is a great way to speak directly to the listener. In live performances  performers use call and response as a way to connect and sometimes reconnect with their audience.

Here are 5 types of call and response phrases used by jazz artists.

Compiled by Steve Treseler

1. Imitation

The response copies the call.Most jazz musicians find excessive imitation annoying, so they use it sparingly on the bandstand.

2. Question and Answer

Same words, much different meaning. What’s the difference? You may have noticed your voice raised in pitch at the end of the question phrase. Musically, we can play a question phrase by ending with an ascending interval. We can play an answer by ending with a repeated or descending interval.

3. Statement and Commentary

Originally an instrumental response to a vocalized phrase.

4. Affirmation

A short phrase affirming the statement.

5. Surprise

An unexpected and startling response to mix things up.

Here are some call and response attention getters for a classroom

Compiled by Elizabeth Mulvahill

For Quieting A Noisy Classroom

Teacher says: “Hands on top.”

classroom attention-getters

Students respond: “That means stop!”

Teacher says: “When I say PEACE, you say QUIET. Peace…”  Students respond: “…Quiet!”

Teacher says: “Hocus, pocus.”   Students respond: “Time to focus!”

Teacher says:  “Jazz hands.”  Students stop everything, look at teacher and show jazz hands.

Teacher says: “Everybody listen.” (in sing-song voice)  Students respond: “Right now!”


I am about to begin on an adventure. It would ordinarily be a low risk venture as it will be a painting and only I would own failure. This project however involves a second artist in a collaborative endeavor adding an element of risk.

Annually our church has an arts program that is a Call & Response event. It is a dialogue between Artists and Poets that goes like this. Each participating poet brings several poems, while visual artists bring a piece or two that might inspire the poets. Each artist choses a poet and each poet picks an artist. They then try to decipher the piece of work that they have chosen and create a work in response. The work is displayed and at some time after that the artists and poets gather to explain why they painted the paintings and poems that they submitted and and why they responded the way that they did. . Listening to artists talking about their art wears thin after a few minutes. This event is different in that the artists are talking about their response to someone else’s thoughts. I look forward each year to this evening, because of the quality of the discussion

This year I have chosen a poem by Mary Schmidt, Stopping on a Bridge on a September Morning.  In the poem she speaks of stopping on a bridge, being overcome by the peacefulness of the moment and filled with personal memories.

I will be doing a painting in response to her poem.  I am just beginning the creative process, but first I think that I should start with acknowledging that I will be heavily influenced by Edvard Munch and Marc Chagall.

They were both visually creative geniuses and both dove deep inside themselves for subject matter, like Mary has done. Munch also used bridges a lot in his paintings,

Can You Hear Them Speak?

I am not sure that trying to understand the structure of jazz will help me better enjoy listening to jazz in an intimate jazz club like the Dirty Dog. I am usually content to live inside my cone of wonder and amazement. The exception might be when I hear the artists talk to each other. Sometimes they will include me in on the conversation when they are  involved in a deliberate call and response. They will be smiling at each other and I get to knowingly grin back at them.

John Osler




Kevin Jones is a percussionist, educator and band leader. He has worked extensively with icons of the music industry like Whitney Houston, The Isley Brothers, Reggie Workman, Archie Shepp, Charles McPherson, Talib Kibwe, and Winard Harper.

Tenth World is a group formed by percussionist Kevin Jones and pianist/composer, Kelvin Sholar through a partnership created back in 1999 in New York City. Together Jones and Sholar formed a collective of young talented master musicians on the cusp of realizing a new and creative sound that combined the harmonic sensibilities of Jazz and Soul with the rhythms of the African Diaspora. The nucleus of Tenth World formed around Kelvin Sholar’s group Esoterica which was a quartet. This week features Damon Warmack on Bass, Allen Dennard on Trumpet, DeSean Jones on Saxophone, Nate Winn (Wed/Sat) and Madison George (Thurs/Fri) on Drums.

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