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Jazz

I am a huge fan of listening to Jazz Music. There is nothing quite like sitting down and listening to Miles Davis or Johnny Coltrane. You can find dozens of great jazz artists from every decade and for every sub genre. I also heavily recommend you visiting a jazz bar to see live performances.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other Jazz resources. We have a Jazz forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with Jazz how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best Jazz books and products.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis

 

Introduction:


Jazz music, a music form often called America’s classical music and originated back in the 1800s in the south. This African American form of music is one of the oldest and most beloved in America. Popular all over the world, it has the distinction of influencing all kinds of music. Jazz has the uniqueness of being completely flexible and this is what makes it appealing to music lovers of any age. Today, even electronic DJs and hip hop artists include popular jazz music in their repertoire.




Jazz has a strong rhythmic base with blues notes, solos and the ‘call and response’ pattern. One of its specialties is its ability for improvisation. Thus we have jazz music, a constantly innovating musical form made greater by artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and so many more. These outstanding musicians have not only inspired and influenced musicians of today but have also helped develop a strong interest in the history of music in today’s music fans.




The sounds of jazz spread over the US around the 1920s especially in New York and Chicago. The flexibility of jazz allowed musicians to combine the piano for the ‘ragtime’ feel to the existing sounds. In Europe, James Reece improvised with a whole orchestra, bringing in a fresh flavor to this music genre.




Jazz is still the most favorite form of music in Kansas City, Memphis and New Orleans where it all started, but it is obvious to see what a wide influence it has over contemporary music. If you listen to bands like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy, etc. you will hear the kind of jazz sounds enjoyed by the present generation.


 


The question that often arises is “What exactly is Jazz”. There are many stories related to the origin of the word Jazz, and we know that there are plenty of elements that come together to make up this unusual but beautiful music form. Yet, there is no way you can define Jazz because it is something that you experience with your senses. Today there are many types and styles of jazz and you can see its influence on different genres of music in jazz rock, latin jazz, acid jazz, fusion jazz and lots more.




So, what is Jazz?


Jazz is America’s very own musical art form. Jazz has its origins in the beginning of the 20th century from the Afro-Americans. It also has the influence of European and Afro-American culture. One thing we can say for sure – there are so many styles and players in jazz music, that there is something to please every musical preference.




The History Of Jazz And How It Evolved


As we said earlier, Jazz has its origins in the US in the early 1900s. For a century following its beginnings, jazz has evolved from ragtime, to the blues to the big band and Bebop to become an inherent part of the Afro-American tradition. Jazz specifically has its roots in New Orleans, Chicago and New York City where it is as alive as on the day it was born.




Let us now trace a quick timeline in the history of jazz:




Around the 1700s




Music is in the blood of African Americans. Jazz can be tracked back to those days of slavery when the ‘call and response’ style was popular. The slaves developed this to make their work life more interesting. There was a song leader who would sing a line and the others would respond to this call. The slaves also sang spiritual songs to express their religious beliefs and to voice their wish for freedom. These went on to form the foundation of jazz.


Around the 1800s




In the 1800s many Europeans immigrated to America bringing their musical traditions with them in the form of Irish gigs, German waltzes, French quadrilles, etc. It was during this time that Scott Joplin, the afro amercian composer experimented with the European style, combining them with the African rhythm and melody. This came to be known as ragtime.




In the 1900s




New Orleans, with its multi-cultural population, has the credit for its role in the growth of Jazz music during the twentieth century. It was a magical time when new cultures merged to come up with ‘Jazz’ as it is called today. Jazz was thus a result of the union of African American music, European music, blues, ragtime, marching band, etc.




1920s




During this time, the African Americans moved to Chicago and New York in search of a better life. They brought the divine Jazz with them, which was loved by the locals. People danced to jazz and blues. It was time when radios and record players were available, helping in the growth of Jazz. The music spread all over America, thanks to the radio, dance halls and record players.




1930s




The 1930s saw the birth of ‘big band swing’ a new energetci jazz form which became very popular during the next two decades. Swing was the dance music of this time.




1940s




It was World War II and a majority of the African amercian musicians were drafted into the army. There were hardly any musicians to play at the dance halls.




1950s




Television came into our lives and became a major source of entertainment. The dance halls became less important and began to close. It was also a time when rock n roll and Elvis Presley took the young generation by storm.




1960s




The 1960s saw the rebellion of the African American jazz artists against record companies owned by the whites, controlling their income as a result. They broke free to take hold of their own destiny and music.




From the 1970s to the present day


Jazz has constantly evolved and adopted new forms throughout the century and the 1970s was the time for fusion. The 1980s saw the birth of acid jazz and classic blues while the 1990s reveled in smooth jazz and retro swing.




Today, jazz is seen as an eternal music form that thrives and flourishes in the musical taste of music lovers of all ages.




The Elements That Make Jazz So Special


Jazz is similar to other styles of music in many ways, yet the way these elements are handled in jazz is completely unique. Here is an overview of these elements vis-à-vis jazz music:


 



Interpretation


The way a jazz music player handles a melody is called interpretation. Being a flexible form of music, practically any melody can be interpreted with jazz by adding triplets to the basic beat. This is called swinging. Most of the music we hear is just the opposite, with a straight eighth note. For a jazz musician, it is very important to have the ability to do this – swing the beat with triplets.


 



Improvisation:


As with any music form, improvisation requires a lot of dexterity and creativity. To be a truly great musician, improvisation is the one critical element that they need to master. To be able to improvise, the musician must have the ability to not only compose but also revise, edit and perform on the spot. The greatness of a jazz player is evaluated by this element, since it involves a lot of instinct combined with ability.


 



Rhythm


As we mentioned earlier, jazz music shows features similar to other types of music, and the difference lies in the way that jazz treats these features. Of these, one is rhythm. Jazz uses syncopation and this differentiates it because it accentuates the music unexpectedly and this could be on a part of the beat or measure. Syncopation lends variety to the music.


 



Tempo


In Jazz music, tempo tends to be even and steady from the moment the melody starts until it ends.




While playing jazz music, the players choose from two forms of musical styles at the time of improvising. These are the blues and the AABA tune. The blues are usually the favourite since it is a stylized form with 12 measures of music. You will find blues that are 8 or 16 measures long, but it is the 12 measure variety that’s most preferred. That said, blues is easy to improvise on since the basic blues has 3 chords with the player playing on the one blues sc ale.




Most popular jazz music is based on the AABA tune. It is more complex than the blues and calls for more in-depth theoretical and practical knowledge. The AABA tune has 4 phrases, each 8 measures long and while the A phrases are similar; the B acts as a bridge between the As.




Different Jazz Styles


Thanks to its constantly evolving state, jazz music can be broadly classified into the following styles:




Ragtime




Ragtime is the first ever jazz music which originated back in the 1800s and was meant for the piano. Energetic, ragtime is reminiscent of the African dance style. Scot Joplin’s ragtime compositions are legendary.




The Blues




The Blues is significant in jazz music as it has a major influence on it. Blues basically originated as a vocal expression of the Afro-Americans working in the fields in the early 1900s. Blues singers used the guitar, harmonica and piano as the accompanying instruments. W C Handy is called the father of Blues music. Other blues legends are Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and the like.




Dixieland




Dixieland, traditional or New Orleans jazz found its beginnings in the early 1920s at a time when the blues, ragtime and brass band were popular. Dixieland jazz used trumpet-cornet, clarinet, trombone, and the saxophone as accompanying instruments. Distinctive since there was no vocalist, the rhythm part of this kind of jazz also used the banjo tuba, drums, piano or string bass. Some Dixieland legends are trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiterbecke and pianist Jelly Roll Morton.




Big Band




Also popular in the 1920s at the same time as Dixieland, Big Band jazz had an ensemble of more than ten players on the saxophone, bass, trumpets, guitar, piano and drums. These musicians together created the swing style of jazz that was great to dance to. Popular Big Band jazz artists are Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman.




Bebop




The 1940s saw Bebop, as a natural extension of Big Band jazz. Yet Bebop was very different since it had only 4 – 6 players. Its specialty was complex tunes and chord progressions, so not really the best dance music. But it gave birth to ‘scat’ which converted meaningless words into improvised melodies. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie is a Bebop icon.




Free Jazz




Free Jazz grew in the 1960s. It was highly unique in its pitch and tonal quality and played by very few musicians like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, etc.


Now let us take a look at some of the all time greats in Jazz music.




All Time Great Jazz Artists


Jazz music has given rise to hundreds of all-time great musicians. Any talk of jazz music is impossible without mentioning Charlie Christian, known for his innovation with the guitar as his solo instrument. Almost all jazz musicians adopt some of Christian’s techniques.




Next comes Wes Montgomery, who had the natural knack of playing just about any melody, no matter how difficult, with ease. He soloed in single notes, octaves and chord fragments, using a heavy tone and thumb stroke to produce the distinctive sounds so beloved to his fans. Many people consider Wes Montgomery as their all time favourite guitar and jazz artist.




Miles Davis, a boxer, was an original lyrical soloist and known as the most consistently innovative jazz musician from the 1940s to the 1960s.




Barney Kessel was much sought after jazz musician who was highly proficient on the electric guitar. He performed with legends like Artie Shaw and Oscar Peterson. With is smooth west coast style, Kessel also played with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd. Herb Ellis is known for his Bebop style jazz and western swing and was a great guitarist. He played with Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and many more.




The list of legendary jazz musicians is very long with Django Reinhardt, Jim Hall, Louis Armstrong, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Al Di Meola, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, who gave the world jazz music as we know it today, in all its glory.