Jazz Music is best described as a musical tradition, consisting of a number of related styles and forms, nearly all of which have their roots in early 20th century African-American culture. Jazz is considered to be the foundation for most modern popular music, including rock, hip-hop and R&B.
Because jazz has repeatedly evolved over the course of the last century, attempts to easily define the form have been unsatisfying for many experts. They claim that conventional definitions define the genre using the rules of European music, many of which do not apply to jazz. Still, most experts agree that most jazz music has a few defining characteristics, such as improvisation, group interaction, syncopation and swing.
Indeed, swing is perhaps one of jazz’s most noticeable features. In a swing passage, players perform notes with different durations than those written. For instance, instead of playing a series of perfectly subdivided eighth notes, a jazz musician would generally swing the pattern and play the notes unevenly, usually in an alternating long-short pattern. How exactly these notes are divided is usually not notated, but rather varies on the tempo at which a group chooses to play, the style of the piece in question and the individual tastes of the performers.
You can find some interesting examples to various jazz music examples, and see for yourself how vast the genre really is. Jazz first began to take shape in the early 19th century, when African American musicians began to learn and experiment with traditional European instruments, such as violins, pianos and wind instruments. By incorporating hymns, classical music and other European forms with folk music, country, blues and traditional African music, these musicians developed what we now call jazz.
After slavery was abolished, many African Americans began to move to more urban areas, bringing jazz to an even greater number of people and turning it into an immensely popular style of music. The introduction of jazz clubs, more affordable phonograph technology and radio, jazz transformed from a fledgling form of music into a worldwide cultural phenomenon, dominating airwaves for several decades.
While swing and big band music were popular at dance halls and other such establishments, the 1940s saw the introduction of bebop, which aimed to present itself as an art form rather than popular music. Instead of being danced to, bebop was intended to be listened to intently and analyzed. As such, the rise of bebop saw the development of new characteristics, including faster tempos, dissonance and more abstract improvisation. In giving rise to artists like Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gilespie and Thelonius Monk, bebop became one of the most influential forms of jazz, and today is synonymous with modern jazz for many listeners at Jazz clubs the world over..
Bebop eventually evolved into cool jazz, which became particularly prominent in the early 1950s. Cool jazz is markedly more calm and relaxed than the fast-paced bebop that preceded it, favoring easily discernible, linear melodies over bebop’s frenetic and unorthodox lines. Some of the most famous cool jazz musicians include Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker.
Free jazz and avant-garde jazz were first introduced at the end of the 1950s, but are still criticized by some traditionalists. These forms are designed to allow players to experiment more than in other, more restricted styles. In free jazz, harmony and tempo are generally loose, allowing players to improvise in whatever manner they choose.
Jazz music continues to be an enduring genre, due in large part to its versatility and ability to adapt and evolve. While not as popular among mainstream audiences as it once was, jazz is still a thriving art form that is enjoyed by millions of people across the globe as can be seen by the numbers of enthusiasts who attend Jazz festivals worldwide.
Read more about Jazz History here.