May 31, 2024

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Jazz – a beautiful genre where unique rhythmic melodies come alive and improvisation plays a key role in this type of music. There s much to uncover about about this genre, so let us jump right into the world of jazz.

New Orleans map


In the late 19th century, in a place called New Orleans, jazz was born. New Orleans, situated along the Mississippi River in the southeastern region of Louisiana, is a port city where many people from all over the world would meet.

Thus having the opportunity to experience the nightlife this city had to offer and celebrate different ethnic groups and cultures through music.

People would share their musical skills and influence one another’s styles. The music was a blend of different elements and ultimately led to the genre we call Jazz today.

Since then it has been changing and evolving, yet never losing its core components.

Luis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Buddy Bolden

Influential Artists

Some of the most influential Jazz musicians of all time are Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Buddy Bolden – just to name a few.

Buddy Bolden is seen as one of the many fathers of jazz. He was a cornetist and was a powerful jazz musician. He led a band for a time in his life, and was acknowledged cornet king of New Orleans.

Bolden worked with multiple different bands at the same time quite frequently. Unfortunately his mental health started to deteriorate which ultimately led to his passing. Although he has passed, the music he left behind continues to live.

Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans and grew up in dire poverty. As a child He worked odd jobs to help make ends meet. He sang in a boy’s quartet and was soon sent to the Colored waifs Home where he learned to play cornet – an instrument almost like a small french horn. He fell in love with playing music and pursued his passion by joining various jazz bands.

Later he quit playing for a band and decided to release Jazz music as a soloist. Fame chased him rather quickly and he became a well known jazz artist, releasing masterpieces of music still known today. Louis had a tremendous impact on the evolution of jazz and still inspires many with his story today.

Another one of the most influential jazz artists is Miles Davis. Unlike Louis, Davis stated that had a comfortable upbringing, studying the trumpet in his early teens. He also played in jazz bands.

He even had jam sessions and recorded with Charlie Parker, another influential jazz artist, many times. Davis won multiple Grammy Awards for his works and his music grew all the more popular. Like Louis, he contributed to the development of jazz music and is seen as a great influential jazz artist.

Piano with jazz word written on it

What is Jazz, Really?

Jazz is a mix of syncopated rhythm, virtuous improvisation, deliberate deviations of pitch and more. Jazz is constantly expanding, changing and evolving.

The genre is often recognised as swing. Swing, as well as syncopation, are key elements in Jazz. Swing is a style where emphasis is placed on off-beats or weaker beats of music. Syncopation is basically the same, also accentuating the weaker beat in music.

As mentioned before, improvisation plays a big role. Improvisation refers to the musician’s ability to act with confidence and lean on their practice, knowledge and creativity to create spontaneous responses while playing music. It often displays a musician’s virtuosity.

Improvisation is important when playing jazz, because it adds to the flexible structure and ultimately makes jazz, jazz. Thus one can make the assumption that most jazz pieces are never played the same – adding to the uniqueness of the genre.

Jazz band performing

Key Jazz Characteristics

Jazz is a very distinct genre, thanks to its many characteristics. Although almost all jazz differs from another, have you ever noticed a trend? Here are a few characteristics that are dominantly found in most jazz music;

Improvisation, as defined earlier, is where the musician uses their knowledge to create a new melody, phrase, etc. Basically where the musician ‘improvises’ music.

Swing Rhythm puts emphasis on dividing the beats unequally and alternating between long and short durations. It quite literally sounds like the music is swinged through dragging one note longer and swinging to the next short one.

Syncopation is a key element. It emphasises and accentuates an off beat. It creates an unexpected accent and is basically a disturbance of the regular flow of rhythm.

Use of the blues scale. Blues as a genre has impacted jazz a lot. The blue scale is commonly found in jazz music, by making use of a blues chord progression and ‘blue’ notes.

Complex harmonies and chord progressions are a vital part of jazz music. The harmonies are extended, including many unexpected notes. The same applies to the chord progressions, where they also include unexpected progressions and added notes.

Saxophone and piano

Popular Jazz Styles

Jazz being its own genre, has many different styles that form part of it. There are around 40 jazz styles. Let’s take a brief look at some of the well known sub-genres.

Ragtime is one of the forerunners of jazz, with its syncopated rhythms and upbeat tempos. True to its name, this style is quite literally “ragged time”, referring to placing accents on off-beats. Scott Joplin is seen as the king of ragtime, composing the famous “The entertainer”.

Characterised by relaxed tempos and a lighter tone, cool jazz is a lot more laid back – especially when compared to ragtime.

Cool jazz shifts emphasis from rhythm rather to musicality and refined melodic performance. Cool jazz can be seen as reserved and introverted, its energy lower than a lot of the other styles, and one of the most listened to jazz styles.

Bebop, considered the first kind of jazz, is technically the opposite of cool jazz. Known for its loud and exciting music, Bebop is seen as an escaping harmonic and melodic restraints while liberating the musician to express themselves however. It is characterised by fast tempos, asymmetrical phrasing and fun and vibrant complex melodies.

This is a genre full of vibrant and exciting melodies, improvised phrases and a little bit of the unexpected. This is jazz.

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