What Is Jazz

According to Wynton Marsalis, jazz is music that swings.

According to the dictionary, jazz is either:-

a. A style of music characterized by a strong but flexible rhythmic understructure with solo and ensemble improvisations on basic tunes and chord patterns, often with deliberate distortions of pitch and harmony.

b. Big band dance music.

Personally I prefer the definition found in the musician’s joke book about jazz being “better than sex, and it lasts longer.”

Ask 100 different people “What is jazz?” and you’re likely to get 100 different answers.

Most people would agree however, that Jazz originated at the start of the 20th Century in the African American Communities of the United States. It developed from a mix of African and European musical traditions and incorporated music from both the 19th and the 20th Century American Popular Music. The word Jazz was first used to refer to music in Chicago around 1915.

As Jazz Music spread around the world it drew on different local, regional and national music cultures which resulted in many distinctive styles of Jazz which continue to grow and reshape itself at an extremely fast pace.

Improvisation is one of the key elements of Jazz Music. A common structure of the Early Blues was the repetitive call-and-response pattern. It is very different from European Classical Music, as the performer’s primary goal in Classical Music is to play a composition as it was written. A skilled Jazz performer however will interpret the tune in individual ways which results in the same composition never being played exactly the same way twice.

A jazz performer may change harmonies, melodies or the time signature when he wants depending on his mood, personal experience, and interaction with other musicians or even members of the audience. A jazz soloist is often supported by a rhythm section that complement the soloist by playing chords and rhythms that outline the song’s structure.

The main instruments used during a Jazz Song are bass, piano, drums, saxophone and the trumpet. The key jazz visionaries include Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Also a number of influential band leaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Glen Miller.

One thing is for sure though, Jazz is the most exciting, entertaining and original living art form.
Call it what you like, Jazz is here to stay!

Enjoy the Festival!

Complied by Gerry Clarke 1.4.15

Learn more about the different styles of Jazz music

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