What is Jazz? A Definition of Jazz Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Jazz is a type of music that originated in the African-American communities of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is characterized by a complex structure, improvisation, and often a wide range of emotions.

The Origins of Jazz

Jazz is a genre of music that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a blend of African and European musical traditions. Jazz is characterized byswing rhythms,call-and-response patterns,polyphonic ensemble playing, and improvisation.

The African American experience

The origins of Jazz are often debated by music experts. However, it is generally agreed that Jazz did not just appear out of nowhere. Instead, it is a product of various cultures and musical traditions, with its roots primarily in the African American experience.

African American music, like all American music, is a blend of many different influences. African American musical traditions were shaped by the experience of slavery and the African cultural traditions that were brought over to America by slaves. These traditions were then further influenced by the music of European immigrants and Native Americans. All of these different influences came together to create a unique form of music that we now know as Jazz.

Jazz is often seen as being synonymous with improvisation, but this is only one aspect of the genre. Jazz also includes elements of blues, ragtime, and even classical music. It is a truly unique form of music that has been enjoyed by people all over the world for more than a century.

The influence of blues and ragtime

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as “America’s classical music”. Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime. As jazz spread around the world, it drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles. New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s swing big bands emerged from New Orleans brass bands. In the 1930s through the 1950s bebop emerged as a major jazz style with stars like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Cool jazz developed near the end of the 1940s while hard bop emerged as a reaction against bebop in 1955. Modal jazz developed during the late 1950s after Miles Davis recorded “Kind of Blue”, while free jazz developed out of hard bop during the late 1950s led by saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

The Elements of Jazz

Jazz is a type of music that originated in the United States in the early 20th century. It is characterized by a complex system of improvisation and swing. Jazz has been a major influence on other styles of music, such as rock and roll, blues, and even classical.


One of the most important and defining elements of jazz is improvisation. Jazz musicians create improvised solos within the structure of a piece of music. Improvisation is often based on the melody and chord progression of a song, but can also be inspired by the rhythms, harmonies, and emotions that the musician is feeling at the moment.

Great jazz improvisers are able to think on their feet and come up with creative, original ideas in the moment. This spontaneity is one of the things that makes jazz so exciting to listen to. It’s also what makes it such a challenging genre for musicians to master.

If you’re interested in learning more about jazz improvisation, there are a few good resources out there. The book “The Jazz Theory Book” by Mark Levine is a great place to start. It covers all aspects of jazz theory, including improvisation.


Swing is a feel, not a time signature. It’s generally agreed that the term “swing” can be applied to any style of Jazz where the 8th notes are felt to be played “in triplets.” That is, instead of playing 1-e-&-a (counting 1,2,3,4), you play 1-&a-2-e. The result is a laid back triplet feel – think of it as shorthand for saying “in 3.” This can be accomplished in various ways – one popular method is playing quarter notes on beats 1 and 3, and eighth notes on beats 2 and 4 (Ta da DA ta da DA).

Swing styles developed during the 1920s and 1930s. The earlier Swing styles were associated with the territory bands which played in Midwestern cities such as Kansas City and St. Louis. These bands were made up of musicians who had come up through the ranks playing in dance bands. They tended to play in a septet or octet format (7 or 8 horns plus rhythm section). The repertoire was heavily blues based, and they improvised extensively within the framework of the blues. The result was a style that was hard driving and intense – perfect for getting people up and dancing!


In music, syncopation is an accenting of a normally unaccented beat. Syncopation is often used in jazz. It helps to create a “groove” or “feel” for the music.

Syncopation creates a different sound from simply playing the notes on the beat. When notes are played on the off-beats, it gives the music a more syncopated and complex sound. It can make the music sound more “jazzy.”

off-beat | syncopated
1 | 2
3| 4

The Styles of Jazz

Jazz is a type of music that originated in the United States in the early 20th century. The style of jazz is characterized by a strong rhythm section, improvisation, and a combination of different musical genres. Jazz has been described as “the sound of America” and has influenced many other genres of music.

New Orleans Jazz

New Orleans jazz is a style of music that originated in New Orleans, Louisiana in the early 1910s. The style is marked by its use of brass instruments, including trumpets, trombones, and clarinets, as well as by its African-American influences. It was one of the first styles of jazz to gain widespread popularity, and it laid the foundation for many subsequent jazz styles.

New Orleans jazz was based on a number of earlier music traditions, including blues, ragtime, and marching band music. The style was also indebted to the work of African-American composer Jelly Roll Morton, who helped to popularize the musical form with his recordings in the 1920s.

The style reached its peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, with such famed musicians as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Duke Ellington leading the way. New Orleans jazz began to decline in popularity after World War II, but it has remained an important influence on subsequent jazz styles.

Chicago Jazz

Chicago jazz is a form of the music that developed in the early 1920s in Chicago’s south side. It was influenced by New Orleans jazz but developed its own style that was based on a more complex structure and improvisation that was based on what was happening in the city at the time. The style became popular in the clubs of the city’s south side and many of the city’s most famous jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Earl Hines, developed their own unique styles within this genre.

Kansas City Jazz

Kansas City Jazz is a style of jazz music that was developed in the city of Kansas City, Missouri in the 1920s and 1930s. The style is characterized by a focus on blues and rhythm, as well as a strong influence from ragtime and big band music. The Kansas City Jazz scene was particularly influential in the development of bebop and cool jazz.


Bebop was the first style of jazz to be called “jazz”. It was developed in the early and mid-1940s in African American communities in Harlem and the surrounding boroughs of New York City. Bebop was characterized by fast tempos, improvisation, complex harmonic structures, and rapidly executed runs. The rhythms of bebop were often complex and syncopated, with accents on off-beat or “upbeat” notes (that is, accents falling between beats). This approach to rhythm is known as “swing”, which was also characteristic of bebop. In contrast to the four-beat rhythm (also known as common time) that characterized most other styles of jazz at that time, bebop divided the beat into subunits (usually eighths or sixteenths), creating a more syncopated sound.

One of the most important aspects of bebop was the way it broke away from the conventions of swing music. In swing, bands often arranged their music in advance and improvised very little; in bebop, however, much of the music was improvised. Bebop musicians also tended to play their solos over the basic chord progression of a song rather than confining themselves to playing only on the melody or ” head” (the main theme). This approach to improvisation became known as modal jazz.

Cool Jazz

Cool jazz is a style of jazz that emerged in the United States in the late 1940s and reached its height of popularity in the 1950s. It is characterized by a smooth, relaxed style that downplays the aggressive tempos and improvisational elements of other types of jazz. Cool jazz often features intricate arrangements and ultra-sophisticated harmony, as well as an emphasis on atmosphere and mood.

Hard Bop

Hard bop is a subgenre of jazz that was developed in the mid-1950s, largely in reaction to the light and airy styles of cool jazz that were popular at the time. Hard bop is considered a bridge between bebop and later styles of jazz such as soul jazz and modal jazz.

While hard bop was initially defined by its rejection of cool jazz’s less intense emotions and cerebral harmonic structures, it went on to absorb influences from other musical styles, including gospel music, rhythm and blues, and even Western classical music. Hard bop is often characterized by a strong rhythmic groove, complex harmonic progressions, and a mixture of improvised solos and melodic themes.

Modal jazz is a style of jazz that was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The term “modal” refers to the use of scale modes instead of chord progressions as the basis for improvisation. Scale modes are sets of notes that create a particular melodic or harmonic flavor. The most famous modal jazz composition is Miles Davis’ “So What,” which is based on the Dorian mode. Other well-known modal Jazz tunes include John Coltrane’s “Impressions” and Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.”

Free Jazz

Free Jazz is an approach to jazz characterized by improvisation, a resistance to compositional rules, and often an exploration of unusual timbres and extended techniques. While the origins of free jazz are often traced back to ideas explored in bebop, free jazz represents a departure from the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic conventions of earlier styles of jazz. Free jazz is sometimes seen as a reaction against the limitations of bebop and other mainstream styles of jazz, but it can also be seen as a natural extension of the experimental spirit that has been present in jazz since its inception. Whatever its origins, free jazz hasw become one of the most important and influential styles in jazz history.

The Future of Jazz

Jazz is a type of music that was created by African Americans in the early 20th century. It is a mix of African and European music traditions. Jazz has been a part of American culture for over a century. It is a popular art form that has influenced other genres of music. Jazz is a unique genre of music that is enjoyed by many people around the world.

The influence of technology

As jazz has evolved, so has the technology used to create and disseminate it. In the early days of jazz, musical instruments were limited to those that could be played acoustically. This meant that most jazz was created using acoustic instruments such as piano, percussion, brass, and woodwinds.

However, with the advent of electrical instruments and amplification in the 20th century, jazz began to incorporate electric guitars, basses, and keyboards into its sound. This change led to a new style of jazz known as electric jazz or fusion. Fusion further blurred the lines between jazz and other genres such as rock, funk, and R&B.

Today, technology continues to shape the sound of Jazz. Thanks to advances in recording and production techniques, Jazz musicians are now able to experiment with a wide range of sounds and textures. As a result, Jazz is now more diverse than ever before.

The influence of other genres

Jazz has been influenced by many other genres of music, including blues, gospel, and European classical music. The most important influences on jazz, however, came from the Afro-American vernacular traditions of work songs, field hollers, spirituals, and ragtime. These forms were blended into a new African-American style that became known as jazz.

In its early years, jazz was often condemned by religious and civic authorities in the United States as a vulgar, sinful form of music. Nevertheless, it quickly gained popularity among young people in the cities of the Northeast and Midwest. By the 1920s, jazz was becoming popular in Europe as well. In the 1930s and 1940s, African American musicians such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman became stars of the American musical landscape.

Since its inception, jazz has constantly evolved to incorporate elements from other genres of music. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, many jazz musicians began to experiment with rock and roll. More recently, some jazz artists have incorporated hip-hop into their work. As it has continued to evolve, jazz has become one of the most popular and influential genres of music in the world.

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