The JazzInAmerica.org website defines jazz music as “musical conversation: a partly planned and partly spontaneous musical dialogue among the musicians who are performing it.” The description goes on to say that jazz musicians bring their musical and personal experience together to inspire the music that is produced at any given moment. Hence, no two renditions of a jazz song are ever alike.
Jazz is a relative newcomer on the world music scene. It’s only about 100 years old. It first appeared in New Orleans in the early twentieth century. Other music forms, such as symphonic, folk, opera and Eastern, are centuries older.
Jazz is the only truly American genre of music. It evolved out of the experience of black Americans and combines African rhythms with European harmonies and instruments. Today, people worldwide perform, evolve and enjoy jazz.
Other music types have influenced jazz throughout history. Jazz reflects everything from rock to rap to gospel to blues or Eastern styles. However, jazz continues to maintain its uniqueness. It’s a complex art form with highly technical and deep, emotional components. It is more demanding to listen to than most other popular musical styles. Ultimately, however, jazz is about feeling, not intellect.
Although jazz is art music, it is also functional. It can be vocal or instrumental. It is played for dancing, ambiance and even funerals. Jazz performances are enjoyed in every type of venue, from prestigious concert halls to unsophisticated bars.
Here is a timeline of the history of jazz:
The Swing/Big Band Era (1935–1945)
Hard Bop and Funky Jazz (1951-1958)
Modal Jazz (1958-1967)
Avant-Garde/Free Jazz (1959-1970)
Jazz Today (1990-present)
The type of jazz known as smooth jazz is not considered true jazz by many jazz aficionados because it is scripted and programmed and therefore not of the moment. It is mostly derivative and often covers well known hits by soul or R&B artists, copying the vocal melody precisely.
There have been dozens of talented, influential jazz musicians over the years. You may want to find music by some of them and build your own knowledge of jazz. It is easy to find good examples of excellent jazz music on the Internet. Here are some of the greatest and most well-known jazz people:
Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Thelonious Monk are famous pianists. Charles Mingus is well known for his standing bass performances. Art Blakey and Max Roach are celebrated drummers. Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis are renowned for their trumpet-playing. Legendary saxophone players include John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie “Bird” Parker. And, of course, Billie Holiday is probably the most well-known jazz singer in history. Many of these musicians were also composers and bandleaders, like Bennie Goodman.
As you can see, jazz music is a complex art form with a rich, diverse history. Because of this, it has something for everyone. Even if you know nothing about its roots, jazz can be delightful to enjoy.
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