Jazz is a measured music, the structure of which depends upon fixed beats, occurring in rhythmic
patterns as unmistakable and immediately identifiable as the pulse of a metronome.
When it comes to jazz music, no common definition of this music has been reached. It resists dictionary definition, and its musicians splutter nervously and take refuge in the colorful ambiguities of its argot.
The world of jazz includes many different kinds of music. Some is light and happy. Some is heavy and serious. Some makes you want to dance. Some makes you think. Some is filled with surprises. Some is smooth and easy. Some is fast and complicated. Some is slow and mellow. Jazz is played by big bands and small groups. It has been played on almost every musical
instrument. It comes in varieties called Dixieland and swing, bebop and cool, hard bop and fusion. But most jazz has no style designation.
No matter what the fortunes of jazz, its nucleus has remained constant, little touched by extravagances of opinion, sympathetic or unsympathetic. The nucleus of jazz as differentiated from its cortex contains its nerve center, its source of life, and here arc its mystery and meaning. The nucleus of jazz is made up of melody, harmony, and rhythm, the triune qualities of the art of music which, as everybody knows, can be fairly simply defined.
Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Manolo Badrena, Alex Acuna, and Jaco Pastorius, leading musicians in jazz of the 1960s and 70s.
Photo by Andrew Putler, courtesy of Getty Images
According to legend, the beat which is at the center of jazz, as well as a fringe of decorative melody, came over to the Americas from West Africa in the slave ships. This tradition holds that the American Negro shaped jazz by imposing a heavy layer of his native jungle chants and rhythms upon the European materials he found in the land of his enforced adoption.
Certainly, the African background of the first jazz musicians played some part in their music. But one must remember that they were at a considerable remove from “the Dark Continent.” The music they fashioned in New Orleans, where jazz began, was an elaborate compound of many folk strains, few of them bearing more than an echo, a distant one, of Africa.
Jazz is America’s music. It has deep roots in ragtime, blues, and the music of the black church. It was shaped in American cities such as New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Los Angeles after the mass migration of African Americans and immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century. Musicians steeped in these American urban cultures exercised their freedom of expression and made jazz their own.
Rodney Whitaker, one of the Jazz from A to Z workshop organizers, engages a high school student in singing the blues, January 14, 2015
JAZZ STYLE PERIODS
Early Jazz/New Orleans & Chicago Style Dixieland (1920-1930)
Swing/Big Band Era (1930-1945)
Hard Bop (1955-1960)
Free Jazz/Avant Garde (1960s)
Fusion/Jazz Rock (1970s)
Eclecticism (1980s & 1990s)
(source: An Outline History of American Jazz by Sharp, Snyder & Hischke, pub. Kendall/Hunt)
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Kaminsky, Max and V.E. Hughes, My life in Jazz (New York: Harper & Row,
1963). *London: A. Deutsch, 1964. London: Jazz Book Club, 1965. New York: Da
Feather, Leonard. 1957, 1965, 1976. The Book of Jazz . New York: Horizon-Dell.
Gridley, Mark, Robert Maxham, and Robert Hoff. 1989. “Three Approaches to Defining
Jazz.” Musical Quarterly, 73(4):513–31; reprinted and updated in Lewis Porter, Jazz:
A Century of Change. New York: Schirmer, 1997, and at http://www.jazzstyles.net/
Ostransky, Leroy. 1960. Anatomy of Jazz . Seattle: University of Washington Press, reprinted
1973 by Greenwood, Westport, CT.