What is Jazz?

Jazz is widely thought of as the most successful point or "pinnacle" of African American Music. Jazz is distinguished by the originality of its improvisation, the skill and knowledge of the performers and composers, and its artistry.

Styles of Jazz

Swing is a big band jazz style that evolved in the 1930s. This style of jazz emphasizes horn riffs and a rhythmic drive. The use of repetition was one of the trademarks of the swing style. 

Bebop is an improvised style that derived from big band swing. This style of jazz is characterized by vigorously fast tempos. The improvised lines are based more on the harmonic structure as opposed to the melody. 

Leaders in the Bebop Movement: 

  • Charlie Parker
  • Dizzie Gillespie 
  • Thelonious Monk
  • Bud Powell 
  • Max Roach 

Modal jazz is based on the repetition of one or two chords, or music based on scales rather than chord progressions. The creation of modal jazz was different in that it encouraged a more open approach to harmonic voices.

Free jazz began in the late 1950s. It disregarded the practice of using fixed harmonic and rhythmic patterns in music. This style provided a more open basis for improvisation. 

Pioneer for Free Jazz

  • Ornette Coleman – In early 1960, Alto saxophonist, Ornette Coleman, arrived on the New York music scene. His use of harmonic dissonance, and disregard for choral structures brought a new sound to jazz that was dubbed by some as the “Shape of Jazz to Come.”

Jazz Fusion is a style that began around the 1970s. This style of jazz is very unique in that it incorporates harmonies, rhythms, and melodies from other popular genres  of music such as funk and rock.

Prominent Fusion Bands of the 70s:

  • Weather Report
  • Return to Forever 

Jazz style which appeared in the 1950s. This style of Jazz is typiclly associated with the West Coast. The main characteristics of the style of jazz is relaxed, with a light tone and texture. 

  • Louis Armstrong
  •  Buddy Bolden
  • Ornette Coleman 
  • John Coltrane 
  • Miles Davis 
  • Duke Ellington
  • Dizzy Gillespie
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Charlie Parker
  • Thelonious Monk

Key Jazz Names

Jazz Gets Political

Towards the mid-1950s the growing Civil Rights Movement put pressure on many musicians during this time to play a more significant role in supporting the movements efforts to end Jim Crow Laws. The black community wanted and expected for musicians to display their commitment to the larger cause of racial justice. The jazz community quickly responded to the black community’s plea by engaging in civil rights events, recording albums with political themes, and engaging in conversation about race and racism within the jazz industry.