What Was Jazz Music?

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 of New Orleans, United States. It developed from roots in blues and ragtime and features brass instruments, complex chord progressions, and improvisation.

Origins 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 style of music that is characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and a strong rhythm. Jazz has been influenced by other genres of music such as blues and European classical music.

African-American music

African-American music is a term used for the music of black people in the United States. It includes a wide range of styles, including rap, rock, blues, jazz, R&B, and gospel. The term is used to refer to all American music that is not of European origin.

African-American music has its roots in the African slave trade. Slaves were brought to the Americas from Africa and forced to work on plantations. They were not allowed to bring their musical instruments with them, so they had to create new ones from whatever materials they had available. They also borrowed musical elements from their European masters and created new styles of music that combines African and European influences.

African-American music has been a major influence on American popular music for centuries. Blues, jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop are all genres that have been shaped by African-American musicians. African-American music is also an important part of American culture and identity.


Ragtime, born in the African-American communities in St. Louis and elsewhere along the Mississippi River around the end of the 19th century, was characterized by its syncopated or “ragged” rhythms. In Ragtime music, theelligent men played a march-like melody while the more unruly men improvised. One of these intelligent men was Jelly Roll Morton. Jelly Roll Morton used to say that he created Jazz while playing piano in a brothel on Basin Street in New Orleans in 1902.


The blues is a musical genre that originated in the African-American communities of the United States around the end of the 19th century. The genre developed from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes (or “worried notes”), usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as groove.

The earliest reference to “the blues” was in 1843166 when northern philosopher Theodor Geiger counterposed it against “the englightenment”167 He then wrote on “blue devils”, meaning melancholy and depression.168 In 1912 W.C. Handy published “The Memphis Blues”, one of many hits he wrote in a style often called “third stream” music because it was neither classical nor ragtime but something new that arose from them both.

Characteristics of Jazz

Jazz music was born out of a mix of African and European musical traditions. It is characterized by syncopated rhythms, blue notes, and improvisation. Jazz has been described as “the sound of surprise.” Let’s explore some of the key characteristics of jazz music.


Jazz is a type of music characterized by improvisation, swing, and blue notes. Jazz developed from a mix of African and European music traditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jazz musicians typically improvise solos within a song structure. The style originated in New Orleans in the early 1900s, but soon spread to other parts of the United States and Europe. Jazz has elements of blues, ragtime, and traditional marching band music.


Swing was the most popular style of jazz music from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. It was named for its characteristic “swing feel” which created a relaxed, propulsive rhythm that was easy to dance to. Swing can be heard in the work of legendary bandleaders such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller.

The first half of the 20th century saw a tremendous increase in the popularity of jazz music. Jazz bands began to spring up all over the country, and soon there were dozens of different regional styles of jazz. Chicago and New York were hotbeds of jazz activity, and it was in these cities that swing developed.

Swing is characterized by a strong rhythm section, often featuring a powerful bass player and drums, as well as a horn section made up of saxophones, trumpets, and trombones playing melodic riffs. The melodies are often based on familiar pop tunes or blues progressions, but the improvisation associated with jazz is what give swing its distinctive sound.


One of the most distinctive features of jazz is its rhythm.syncopation, which is the displacement of the normal accent by stressing an unexpected beat. This gives jazz its characteristic “swing.” The use of “swung” eighth notes also contributes to the illusion of a continuous flow of sound even though most jazz tunes are based on shorter phrases.

Another important element in the rhythm section is the concept of polyrhythm, or the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms. This was originally developed by African musicians who were often required to play several drums at once. In jazz, polyrhythm is usually created by having the bass play a different rhythmic figure than the drums. This gives the music a more complex and propulsive feel.


In music, syncopation is a variety of rhythms, usually in the middle or end of a measure, in which some but not all the beats are left out, or emphasized. This emphasizes certain beats over others, giving the music a “loping” feel. It is used extensively in jazz and some forms of funk.

Upbeat songs often have syncopated rhythms. For example, the song “Yankee Doodle” has a very light and fast syncopated rhythm in the last verse. The opposite of syncopation is steady beat or omission of accents.

Jazz in the 1920s

Jazz was a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the early 20th century. It was a blend of European and African musical traditions. Jazz became popular in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, it was the dominant form of popular music in the United States.

New Orleans jazz

New Orleans jazz is a style of jazz music that originated in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is considered the first style of jazz and helped to shape the development of subsequent styles of jazz.

The origins of New Orleans jazz are closely linked to the history of African Americans in New Orleans. In the late 19th century, many African Americans living in New Orleans found work as musicians playing in “bucket brigades” or “parades.” These parades were a form of street theatre that featured marching bands playing a mix of popular songs, African American spirituals, and traditional European marches.

As the popularity of these parades grew, so did the need for more professional musicians. In the early 1900s, a number of African American pianists, cornetists, and trombonists began to develop their own style of playing that incorporated elements of both European and African musical traditions. This new style of music became known as “jass” or “jazz.”

The first recorded use of the word “jazz” was in a 1912 review of a New Orleans performance by bandleader Jelly Roll Morton. The review praised Morton’s “undleavened syncopations which make up what is called jas or Jazz music.”

Jazz quickly spread beyond New Orleans and became very popular nationwide. In 1917, bandleader James Reese Europe took his all-African American military band to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. It was one of the first times that jazz had been heard by a mainstream audience.

By the 1920s, jazz was becoming increasingly popular with white audiences as well. Jazz clubs began to spring up in cities across America and famous Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were born.

Today, jazz is enjoyed by people all over the world and continues to evolve as new artists add their own unique twist to this American art form.

Chicago jazz

In the early 1920s, jazz began to spread out of New Orleans and into other parts of the country, particularly Chicago. Chicago was a major center for jazz in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of the most important musicians of this period, such as Louis Armstrong, got their start in Chicago.

The spread of jazz was also helped by the development of new technologies, such as phonograph records and radio. These technologies made it possible for people to hear jazz music even if they lived far from where it was being played.

By the late 1920s, jazz was becoming very popular with young people all over the United States. It was seen as a rebellious form of music that fit well with the growing culture of freedom and individualism that was developing at this time.


Dixieland, sometimes referred to as traditional jazz or early jazz, was the first style of jazz music. It originated in New Orleans in the early 1900s and was quickly adopted by musicians in other cities, such as Chicago and New York. Dixieland is known for its fast tempo, syncopated rhythms, and catchy melodies. It is often played on marching band instruments such as trumpets, trombones, and clarinets.

Jazz in the 1930s

Jazz music became increasingly popular in the early 1930s. It was a style of music that was rooted in African American culture and incorporated elements of blues and ragtime. Jazz was played in nightclubs and on the radio, and it soon became one of the most popular genres of music in the United States.

Big band swing

The big band swing sound of the 1930s was characterized by a full, rich sound featuring brass and reed instruments, with a strong rhythm section keeping the music moving. This type of jazz was perfect for dancing, and it became very popular in nightclubs and dance halls. Some of the most famous big band leaders of the era include Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller.


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 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. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as “one of America’s original art forms”.

Jazz in the 1940s

Jazz was a music genre that originated in the African-American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jazz was characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and swing. The 1940s was the era of the big bands and the swing era. Many of the greatest jazz musicians came to prominence during this time.


Bebop is a style of jazz characterized by fast tempo, complex chord progressions, and often improvised solos. It developed in the 1940s and graduated from the “jam session” culture of after-hours clubs and reached its height of popularity in the mid-1950s. Bebop pioneers such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk created a new musical language that influenced generations of musicians.

Hard bop

In the 1940s, hard bop emerged as a reaction to the lightening and relaxing of the big band sound in the post-World War II era. 2020s audiences would find hard bop to be swinging and fairly conservative, with its roots firmly entrenched in bebop and blues. But at the time, hard bop represented a return to “serious” jazz after years of what many considered to be lightweight pop-jazz.

Hard bop was faster, harder-hitting and more earthy than earlier styles of jazz – hence its name. Albums such as Horace Silver’s Song For My Father(1964) and Art Blakey’s Moanin’ (1958) are considered classic examples of the genre.

Cool jazz

In the early 1940s, a new style of jazz emerged that was characterized by a more relaxed approach and lighter, more delicate sound. This style came to be known as “cool jazz,” and it represented a departure from the more passionate and emotive playing that typified earlier jazz styles.

One of the most significant figures in the development of cool jazz was tenor saxophonist Lester Young, who played with Count Basie’s band in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Young’s approach favored a light touch and skilled use of space and nuance, rather than pyrotechnic displays of technical virtuosity. These qualities can be heard in his famous recordings with Billie Holiday, such as “Mean to Me” (1941) and “God Bless the Child” (1942).

Other important early exponents of cool jazz included trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Kenny Clarke, both of whom played in the groundbreaking bebop group led by clarinetist Charlie Parker in the mid-1940s. In 1947, Davis made his first recordings under his own name with a group that featured pianist John Lewis and guitarist Barney Kessel; these records are now regarded as classics of the cool jazz idiom. Davis continued to pursue a cooler sound throughout his career, although he would also experiment with other styles, such as hard bop, modal jazz, and fusion.

The popularity of cool jazz reached its peak in the 1950s with the rise of West Coast jazz. This scene was centered in Los Angeles and featured groups led by such figures as pianists Dave Brubeck and Gerald Wilson, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and trumpeter Chet Baker. The music these musicians created was often delicately textured and harmonically adventurous, yet still accessible to mainstream audiences. It remains some of the most beloved jazz ever created.

Jazz in the 1950s

Jazz music was born in the early 1900s in New Orleans. It is a mix of African and European music traditions. Jazz was originally played on brass instruments. The most popular jazz musicians in the 1950s were Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Modal jazz is a style that began in the late 1950s with Miles Davis’s album Kind of Blue. It uses the modes of traditional tonal jazz, but employs a greater range of harmonic possibilities. Instead of using chord progressions, modal jazz uses improvised soloing over static background chords. This provides a greater sense of freedom and flexibility for the soloist, while still remaining within the confines of tonality.

Some of the most famous modal jazz tunes include “So What” and “All Blues” from Kind of Blue, as well as “Impressions” and “My Favorite Things” from John Coltrane’s Impressions.

Free jazz

Free jazz began in the early 1960s with musicians like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, who were influenced by bebop but sought to break away from its conventions. Free jazz is characterized by extended improvisation, a rejection of traditional chord progressions, and a focus on collective rather than individual expression. While it can be difficult to listen to for those unaccustomed to its freedom of form, free jazz is nonetheless an important development in the history of the genre.

Third stream

In the 1950s, a new type of jazz emerged that blended classical and jazz styles, known as “third stream.” This type of jazz was pioneered by pianist George Russell and saxophonist Dave Brubeck. Russell’s “The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization” (1953) was an early work to explored the use of advanced harmonic ideas in jazz. Brubeck’s “Jazz Goes to College” (1954) featured full symphony orchestra backing a jazz combo, and his “Gates of Justice” (1963) incorporated Jewish liturgical themes.

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