Jazz Music: The Basics

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Jazz music is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, and the use of improvisation.

What is Jazz?

Jazz is a type of music that originated in the African-American community in the late 19th and early 20th century. Jazz is characterized by a strong rhythm section, improvised solos, and a often complex harmony.

Origins of Jazz

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It arose as a fusion of West African and European music traditions. The style’s West African pedigree is evident in its use of blue notes, call-and-response patterns, and polyrhythms. Jazz’s early European influences were evident in its use of improvisation, harmonic structure, and the influence of popular music from the turn of the 20th century.

The earliest form of jazz was known as Dixieland. It wasa style of jazz that developed in New Orleans around 1900. The style was characterized by a fast tempo, collective improvisation, and simple melodies.

New Orleans jazz began to spread to other areas of the United States in the early 1910s. Chicago became an important center for jazz in the 1920s. The city was home to many important jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Earl Hines. Kansas City jazz emerged in the 1930s with its own unique sound that was a blend of New Orleans and Chicago styles.

Jazz continued to evolve in the 1940s with bebop, a style that emphasized complex harmonies and fast tempos. Bebop was popularized by musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

In the 1950s and 1960s, jazz went through another evolution with the introduction of hard bop, modal jazz, free jazz, and fusion. Hard bop undid some of bebop’s emphasis on speed and complexity by fusing it with elements of rhythm and blues. Modal jazz abandoned chord progression altogether in favor or improvisation based on scale modes. Free jazz abandoned all constraints, resulting in a highly experimental type of music. Fusion combined elements of rock music with traditional Jazz instrumentation resulting in a more accessible type of jazz that found favor with younger audiences

Elements of Jazz

Most people can recognize a jazz song when they hear it, but if you ask them to define jazz, you’re likely to get a variety of answers. That’s because Jazz is not just a musical style, it’s an experience. It has been described as America’s classical music, but it is also one of the most complex and difficult to define genres of music. In its simplest form, Jazz is a combination of African and European music traditions. But even that doesn’t fully describe the richness and depth of the genre.

The best way to understand Jazz is to experience it. If you listen to enough Jazz, you’ll start to hear the elements that make it unique. These elements include:

-Swing: The most iconic element of Jazz is swing. Swing is best described as a rhythm that makes you want to tap your foot or dance. It’s not necessarily fast, but it has a steady beat that makes you want to move.

-Improvisation: Another key element of Jazz is improvisation. Improvisation means making up the music as you go along. This doesn’t mean that Jazz musicians are winging it — far from it! The best Jazz musicians have years of training and practice so they can spontaneously create music that sounds planned and structured even though it was created on the spot.

-Blue notes: Blue notes are notes that are played lower than usual. This gives Jazz its distinctive “bluesy” sound.

-Syncopation: Syncopation is when the accent or emphasis in the music falls on an unexpected beat. This can create a feeling of dissonance or tension which is often resolved by the next note or measure.

These are just a few of the elements that make up Jazz. As you listen to more and more Jazz, you’ll start to hear these elements and others that make this musical style so unique and vibrant.

Jazz Styles

Jazz is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities in the early 20th century. It is characterized by a complex structure and improvisation. Jazz has been a major influence on other genres of music, including rock, blues, and pop. There are many different styles of jazz, each with its own unique history and sound. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular styles of jazz.


Dixieland, sometimes referred to as Traditional Jazz or New Orleans Jazz, is the earliest style of jazz. The defining characteristics of Dixieland include a front line of trumpet, clarinet, and trombone playing improvised “riffs” based on a pre-existing melody (usually a hymn or popular song), and a rhythm section consisting of piano, banjo or guitar, string bass, and drums. improvisation is also an important element of Dixieland; soloists take turns playing the melody while the other instruments in the band play supportive accompaniment or “fills.”

The origin of Dixieland jazz is often traced back to New Orleans in the early 1900s, when musicians began playing a lively blend of African and European music. Early Dixieland bands were often informal groups that played for dances or celebrations. One of the most famous early Dixieland bands was The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which made the first recordings of this style in 1917.

While Dixieland jazz is not as popular as it once was, there are still many active performers and bands keeping this style alive. If you’re interested in hearing some traditional Dixieland jazz, seek out recordings by Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, or Bunk Johnson.


The first substyle of jazz is called swing. Swing music was created in the 1920s and 1930s, and was the first style of jazz to be widely popular. At the time, it was known as “hot jazz” because of its fast tempo and “heaviness.” The terms “swing” and “big band” were not used until later. Many famous jazz musicians got their start playing in swing bands, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman.

Swing is a fast-paced style of music with a strong beat. The instruments in a swing band include brass instruments (trumpets, trombones, and saxophones), woodwinds (clarinets and flutes), string instruments (violins and upright bass), piano, drums, and guitar. The lead melody is usually played by the trumpet or saxophone. The other instruments improvise around this melody.


Bebop was the first style of jazz to be played exclusively by musicians who were trained in music theory and instrumental technique. Bebop was also the first style of jazz to be widely accepted by both black and white audiences.

Bebop is characterized by fast Tempos, Lively Rhythms, and Melodic Interplay between instruments. Bebop musicians often improvise off of the melody of a tune, rather than improvising off of the chord progression. This approach to improvisation is what gives bebop its unique sound.

The bebop style was developed in the early 1940s by a group of young jazz musicians who were tired of the “sweet” sounds and predictable arrangements that were popular at the time. These young rebels wanted to create a new kind of jazz that was more complex and more challenging to play.

The term “bebop” is thought to have been coined by trumpeter Roy Eldridge, who used it as a nonsense syllable while scat-singing with saxophonist Lester Young.

Hard Bop

Hard bop is a fusion of bebop, blues, gospel and rhythm and blues that brought jazz back to its roots. It was characterized by a strong backbeat, complex chord progressions and improvised solos. Hard bop was developed in the mid-1950s by a generation of young musicians who were influenced by bebop but wanted to create something new.

The hard bop style was pioneered by artists like Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins. These musicians took the basic elements of bebop and combined them with the soulful sounds of rhythm and blues and the edge of gospel music. The result was a new style of jazz that was more complex and yet more accessible than bebop.

Hard bop quickly became popular with both audiences and critics alike. The style continued to evolve throughout the late 1950s and 1960s with artists like John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean, Grant Green and Freddie Hubbard pushing the envelope. Hard bop remains one of the most popular styles of jazz to this day.

Cool Jazz

Cool jazz is a style of jazz that emerged in the United States and Europe in the aftermath of World War II. It is characterized by a relaxed, subdued atmosphere and lighter overall tone than other styles of jazz.

One of the key figures in the development of cool jazz was pianist and bandleader Miles Davis, who devised a new approach to improvisation that emphasized space and economy of expression. These ideas were influential on subsequent generations of jazz musicians, and cool jazz continues to be an important force in the jazz world today.

Modal jazz is a jazz style that began in the late 1950s and gained popularity in the 1960s. It is characterized by extended harmonic improvisation based on modal scales, rather than the more usual chord progressions. Modal jazz was developed independently by Miles Davis and George Russell. Davis’s 1958 recorded album Kind of Blue is considered to be one of the most influential modal jazz albums.

In modal jazz, musicians use scales or modes rather than chord progressions as the basis for their improvisation. This gives the music a very different feel from that of more traditional jazz styles such as bebop or swing, which are based on chord progressions. Modal jazz is often thought of as being more ‘open’ sounding than other types of jazz, with greater emphasis on space and atmosphere.

One of the most important things to remember about modal jazz is that the mode (or scale) being used will determine the feel of the piece. For example, a piece in the Dorian mode will have a very different feel from one in the Phrygian mode, even if all other elements are identical. This is why it is so important for modal Jazz musicians to be familiar with a wide range of modes.

Free Jazz

In the late 1950s, a new style of jazz began to emerge. Called free jazz, this type of music was characterized by longer and more complex solos, as well as a general feeling of freedom on the part of the musicians. While earlier styles of jazz had been based on specific chord progressions, free jazz allows the musicians to explore any chord progression or even to play without any sort of chord progression at all. This type of music can be difficult to listen to for those who are not used to it, but for many jazz fans, it is some of the most interesting and exciting music ever created.

Jazz Musicians

Jazz music is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, and improvised solos. Jazz musicians are some of the most creative and innovative musicians in the world.

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971) was an American trumpeter, composer, singer and occasional actor who was one of the most influential figures in jazz and in all of American popular music. His career spanned five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and different eras in jazz. Armstrong was a foundational influence in the development of bebop and cool jazz. He is renowned for his distinctive voice and skillful improvisation.

As a professional musician, Armstrong’s influential career began with his days as a cornet player in New Orleans bands including The Hot Five and The Hot Seven. He toured Europe with his own band during the 1930s, then returned to America to team up with pianist Earl Hines for a series of big band recordings which helped popularize both artists. During the 1940s–1950s he achieved great successes with small groups featuring Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard and others, which led to worldwide fame. In his final years he recorded many songs with younger musicians including Wynton Marsalis.

While famous for his outgoing personality and showmanship—he was often known as “Ambassador Satch”, “Satchmo” or “Pops”—Armstrong was also a deeply religious man who spent much of his free time reading the Bible.

Charlie Parker

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1920, alto saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker was a central figure in the development of bebop and cool jazz. Parker began playing the saxophone in his early teens and quickly became proficient. He started sitting in with local bands, which led to him being kicked out of high school for missing too many classes.

In 1935, Parker moved to New York City, where he quickly made a name for himself on the jazz scene. He played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis, and his unique style of playing helped to shape the sound of bebop. In the 1940s and 1950s, Parker recorded several albums that are now regarded as classics, such as “Now’s the Time” (1945) and “Bird’s Best Bop on Verve” (1952). He also composed some of bebop’s most famous tunes, such as “Billie’s Bounce” (1945) and “Ko-Ko” (1946).

Tragically, Parker’s life was cut short by drug addiction and he died in 1955 at the age of 34. However, his influence on jazz is still felt today and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis (1926-1991) was an American trumpeter, bandleader and composer who was at the forefront of several major developments in jazz. He is best known for his work in the bebop, cool jazz, hard bop and modal jazz genres. He also played a significant role in the development of jazz fusion.

Davis began his career as a sideman to other bebop musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He soon developed a style of his own, which combined elements of bebop, cool jazz and hard bop. He also experimented with several different ensembles, including big bands, small groups and solo performances.

In the 1950s, Davis recorded several highly acclaimed albums, including “Round About Midnight” (1957) and “Kind of Blue” (1959). These albums showcased his talent for creating beautiful melodies and his ability to play with subtlety and restraint.

In the 1960s, Davis began to experiment with electric instruments and Wagrante incorporation of rock and funk influences into his music. This period saw the release of some of his most popular albums, including “In a Silent Way” (1969) and “Bitches Brew” (1970).

Davis continued to experiment with different styles throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He made a successful return to acoustical jazz with the release of “The Man With the Horn” (1981). His later years were marked by illness, but he continued to perform and record until his death in 1991.

Miles Davis was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. His recordings have been widely acclaimed and continue to be hugely popular today.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane was an American jazz musician and composer, who was considered one of the most influential saxophonists in jazz history. He played a major role in the development of bebop, post-bop and modal jazz. Some of Coltrane’s best-known works are “My Favorite Things” (1961), “A Love Supreme” (1964) and “Afro Blue” (1965).

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman was one of the most radical and influential figures in jazz history. A self-taught alto saxophonist and composer, he abandoned the conventional harmonic and rhythmic structures of bebop in favor of a highly elastic approach that came to be known as free jazz. In his groundbreaking early recordings, Coleman led a quartet that consisted of two like-minded musicians, trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Charlie Haden, along with a more traditional drummer, Billy Higgins. This band became known as the “Double Quartet” because, in addition to their four main instruments, they also employed pianoless twin tenor saxophone sections. The use of multiple horns playing independently of each other would become one of Coleman’s signatures.

Jazz in the Present Day

Jazz has been around for over a century, and it’s still going strong. This genre of music has evolved significantly over the years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In this article, we’ll be discussing the basics of jazz music and how it’s changed over time.

Contemporary Jazz

Jazz in the present day is a wide-ranging and diverse genre that can be difficult to define. In general, contemporary jazz is used to describe any jazz that is created after 1960. This includes a wide variety of subgenres, such as fusion, experimental, world jazz, and more.

Contemporary jazz is often characterized by its use of electric instruments and a focus on improvisation. However, not all contemporary jazz features electric instruments or improvisation. Some artists, such as Wynton Marsalis, have created music that is heavily influenced by traditional jazz while still being considered contemporary.

With so many different subgenres and styles, it can be difficult to know where to start when exploring contemporary jazz. Here are some essential artists and albums to get you started:

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)
One of the most influential albums in all of jazz, Kind of Blue helped define the modal style of jazz that would become popular in the 1960s. The album features some of Davis’ most famous collaborators, including John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, and Bill Evans.

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1964)
Shorter was one of the most important saxophonists of the 20th century and Speak No Evil is considered one of his best works. The album is notable for its use of modal improvisation, a style that would become increasingly popular in subsequent years.

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1965)
Maiden Voyage is one of Hancock’s most celebrated albums and helped define the direction of his career. The album features Hancock’s now- iconic composition “Maiden Voyage” as well as other standout tracks like “The Eye of the Hurricane” and “Dolphin Dance”.


A new generation of jazz musicians began to play in the bebop style in the early 1940s. They were nicknamed “bop” or “rebop” musicians. Bebop was very different from the smooth, easy-listening swing style that was popular at the time. Bebop tunes were played at a fast tempo and were often based on complex chordProgressions. The solos were also very complex, with lots of fast runs up and down the scale. Some people thought bebop was too difficult to listen to and called it “Chinese music.”

Bebop was largely created by African American musicians, but it also had an influence on white musicians such as alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Lennie Tristano. In the 1950s, a new style of jazz called cool jazz developed. Cool jazz was influenced by bebop, but it was softer and more relaxed. It featured long, flowing melodic lines instead of the fast runs of bebop.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a number of jazz musicians began to experiment with electric instruments such as the electric guitar, electric bass, and keyboards. This new style of jazz became known as hard bop. Hard bop was influenced by both bebop and cool jazz. It sometimes featured more traditional tunes such as blues or standards (often referred to as “jam session tunes”), but hard bop solos were usually more complex than those in cool jazz. Hard bop also incorporated elements of rhythm and blues, gospel music, and even classical music into its recordings.


Jazz-funk is a subgenre of jazz that was popular in the 1970s. Musicians began blending the two genres to create a new sound that incorporated the best aspects of both. The result was a style of music that was polished and sophisticated but still had a strong groove.

Jazz-funk bands often featured electric guitars, electric bass, and horns. The horn section would play catch phrases or riffs that were then passed around the band by the other instruments. This call-and-response style of playing was one of the key elements that made jazz-funk so distinctive.

Another important aspect of jazz-funk was the use of electronic keyboards and synthesizers. These devices allowed musicians to create new and innovative sounds that had never been heard before. Jazz-funk keyboardists were some of the first to experiment with using effects pedals to further change the sound of their instruments.

The result of all these elements was a style of music that was both experimental and accessible. Jazz-funk attracted a wide audience and had a significant influence on subsequent genres such as disco, hip hop, and smooth jazz.


Jazz-rock, also called fusion, popular musical style of the late 1960s and ’70s that blended aspects of jazz with those of rock music, often employing electric instruments and delaying the onset of saxophone solos to build up an atmosphere more indebted to rock than to traditional jazz. The jazz-rock idiom was first displayed on the Miles Davis album Bitches Brew (1970); this style soon spread throughout the jazz world and became fashionable in many rock circles as well, with such groups as Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago achieving wide commercial success in the early 1970s.

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