What is Jazz?
Jazz is a kind of music in which improvisation is typically an important
part. In most jazz performances, players play solos which they make up
on the spot, which requires considerable skill.
There is tremendous variety in jazz, but most jazz is very rhythmic,
has a forward momentum called "swing," and uses "bent"
or "blue" notes. You can often hear "call--and--response"
patterns in jazz, in which one instrument, voice, or part of the band
answers another. (You can hear Ella Fitzgerald and Roy Eldridge do "call
and response" in "Ella's
Jazz can express many different emotions, from pain to sheer joy. In
jazz, you may hear the sounds of freedom-for the music has been a powerful
voice for people suffering unfair treatment because of the color of the
skin, or because they lived in a country run by a cruel dictator.
The Nature of Jazz
Jazz musicians place a high value on finding their own sound and style,
and that means, for example, that trumpeter Miles Davis sounds very different
than trumpeter Louis Armstrong (whose sound you can hear in "Louis's
Match Game" and "Louis's
Music Class.") Jazz musicians like to put play their songs in
their own distinct styles, and so you might listen to a dozen different
jazz recordings of the same song, but each will sound different. The musicians'
playing styles make each version different, and so do the improvised solos.
Jazz is about making something familiar--a familiar song--into something
fresh. And about making something shared--a tune that everyone
knows--into something personal.
Those are just some of the reasons that jazz is a great art form, and
why some people consider it "America's classical music."
The Growth of Jazz
Jazz developed in the United States in the very early part of the 20th
century. New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, played
a key role in this development. The city's population was more diverse
than anywhere else in the South, and people of African, French, Caribbean,
Italian, German, Mexican, and American Indian, as well as English, descent
interacted with one another. African-American musical traditions mixed
with others and gradually jazz emerged from a blend of ragtime, marches,
ragtime, blues, and other kinds of music. At first jazz was mostly for
dancing. (In later years, people would sit and listen to it.)
After the first recordings of jazz were made in 1917, the music spread
widely and developed rapidly. The evolution of jazz was led by a series
of brilliant musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington (listen
to Ellington in "Duke's Match
Game" and "Duke's
Music Class"), Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Jazz developed
a series of different styles including traditional jazz, swing (listen,
for example, to Benny Carter, who got his start in swing music, in "Benny's
Match Game" and "Benny's
Music Class") bebop, cool jazz, and jazz?rock, among others.
At the same time, jazz spread from the United States to many parts of
the world, and today jazz musicians--and jazz festivals--can be found
in dozens of nations. Jazz is one of the United States's greatest exports
to the world.
Duke Ellington discussing, what is jazz? Real