What Defines 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 music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime.


Jazz music is a type of music that originated in the African-American community in the early 20th century. It is characterized by a number of elements, including improvisation, blues and gospel influences, and a focus on collective rather than individual expression. Jazz has been called America’s “national soundtrack” and has had an impact on other genres of music, including rock and roll.

The Birth of Jazz

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a genre of music that is characterized by improvisation, rhythmic syncopation, and a swing feel.

New Orleans

New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz. The early sounds of jazz were a melting pot of African and European music, and the city’s unique cultural history played a major role in its development. Jazz is a style of music that originated in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it has since become one of the most popular and influential genres in the world.

Early New Orleans jazz was characterized by its syncopated (off-beat) rhythms, complex harmonies, and improvisation. The earliest jazz bands were typically made up of 7 to 12 musicians, and they often played for dances or parties. The first known recording of jazz was made in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and the first major jazz composer was Jelly Roll Morton.

Jazz quickly spread from New Orleans to other parts of the United States, as well as to Europe and beyond. In the 1920s, New York City became a major center for jazz, and many of the genre’s most iconic songs were composed during this period. Some of the most famous jazz musicians include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker.

Today, jazz is enjoyed by people all over the world, and it continues to evolve as new artists add their own twist to the style.

The Jazz Age

In the early 20th century, jazz began to spread out of its New Orleans birthplace and gain popularity throughout the United States. Jazz music quickly spread to Europe, influencing many of the great classical composers of the time. The Jazz Age, as it came to be known, reached its peak in the 1920s. This was a decade of great change, and jazz reflected that in its music. New styles were developed, such as Chicago jazz and Swing. Jazz bands became more popular and began to experiment with different instrumentation and rhythms.

By the 1930s, jazz was becoming more commercialized and less experimental. This trend continued into the 1940s with the rise of Big Band swing music. However, there was still plenty of innovation going on in the world of jazz. Bebop, a more complex style of jazz, emerged in the 1940s. This style emphasized improvisation and individual expression over band conformity.

Jazz has continued to evolve since then, giving birth to new styles like cool jazz, hard bop, free jazz, and fusion. Today, jazz is enjoyed by people all over the world and its influence can be heard in many different genres of music.

The Elements of Jazz

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It 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.


One of the most important and defining elements of Jazz is improvisation. This is when a musician creates or invents their own melody, without having any music to read from. Most Jazz standards are improvised upon, giving each musician the opportunity to put their own spin on the tune. This freedom to improvise allows for a lot of creativity and expression within the music. When improvisation is combined with the other elements of Jazz, it creates an exciting and dynamic style of music.


Swing is a feel or groove that goes from the 4 beat to the 2 beat. That can be difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced it, but suffice it to say that when you’re Swingin’ – you know it!
The fundamental characteristic of all swing rhythms are triplets. A triplet is simply 3 notes played within the space of one beat. The most common way to divide up a beat into triplets is evenly, so each note gets 1/3 of thebeat:

Beat 1 – triplet 1 – 2 – 3
Beat 2 – triplet 1 – 2 – 3
Beat 3 – triplet 1 – 2 – 3
Beat 4 – triplet 1 – 2 – 3

In this evenly divided case, we would count it “1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3”. But there are other ways to divide up the beats into triplets. The two common uneven ways are:

Beat 1 – triplet 1 – 2 – 3
Beat 2 – 1 – 2 – 3
Beat 3 1 – 2 -3
Beat 4 1-2--3


Beat 1 1 2 3 4
Beat 2 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Blue Notes

Blue notes are those that are flattened or lowered ( slightly) in pitch from the major scales, which creates a ‘bluesy’ or melancholic sound. The lowers 3rd, 5th and 7th scale degrees are blue notes.

The term “blue note” can refer to either the 3rd, 5th or 7th degree of a major scale, or to one of the three notes (from low to high: flat 3rd, flat 5th and flat 7th) that make up the blues scale:

The major blues scale:

1 2 b3 4 b5 5 b7

C D Eb F Gb G Ab Bb

In C this would be C – Eb – F – Gb – G – Bb

The Greats of Jazz

Jazz is a music genre 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 brass and woodwind instruments. The greats of jazz have been innovators in this field, developing new styles and sounds that have influenced generations of musicians.

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong is one of the most defining artists in jazz history. Born in 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Armstrong was a trailblazer in the development of jazz. He was a master of improvisation, playing with a unique style that incorporated elements of ragtime, blues, and traditional jazz. His infectious personality and virtuosic playing inspired many other musicians to create their own styles of jazz.

Armstrong’s career spanned five decades, during which he toured extensively and recorded hundreds of songs. He popularized many songs that became standards of the genre, including “Star Dust,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “Mack the Knife.” His influence can be heard in the playing of virtually every subsequent jazz artist.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was born on August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas. He is considered one of the most influential figures in jazz history. Parker was a master of bebop, a style of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique and improvisation.

Parker’s innovative approach to melody, rhythm and harmony influenced generations of musicians and earned him the nickname “Bird.” He is one of the most idolized figures in jazz — his life was as troubled as it was gifted. Parker battled drug addiction for much of his career and died at the age of 34 from complications related to heroin use.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis (1926-1991) was a pivotal figure in the development of jazz music, and is revered as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. A versatile trumpeter, bandleader and composer, Davis was at the forefront of almost every major development in jazz from bebop to cool jazz, hard bop to modal jazz, and jazz fusion. He also experimented with rock, funk and hip hop, and his impact on popular music is immeasurable.


In conclusion, jazz is a uniquely American art form that has had a profound and lasting impact on music and culture around the world. While there is no single defining characteristic of jazz, the genre is united by its improvisational nature and its focus on creative self-expression. Jazz has been described as “one of America’s original art forms,” and its influence can be heard in a wide range of musical genres including rock, blues, and even classical music. If you’re curious about jazz, the best way to get started is to listen to as much of it as possible and to find your own favorite artists and styles.

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