The Subgenres of Jazz

Jazz is one of the most known genres in the Black community in America. Originating in New Orleans, jazz music began during the slave trade from the Caribbean when new slaves would sing and dance in the Congo Square. At this time, the genre was considered sin music and was looked down on, but as time continued and the genre began to grow, jazz music gained popularity in both the Black and White communities. By the 1920s, jazz music had reached its peak.  For the next four decades, dozens of subgenres would emerge from the all-growing jazz genre. 

Traditional Jazz

Louis Armstrong- I Can't Give you Anything but Love

Traditional Jazz is the most prominent subgenre of jazz. It is the type of jazz that was played in the clubs and on the streets in the 1920s. The genre encompasses folk music, blues, African classical music, and ragtime in its sound. 

Louis Armstrong is one of the most famous traditional jazz artists. Born in New Orleans, Armstrong founded the sound of jazz as he’s known as the Father of the Trumpet and Father of the Organized Solo. By 1923, Armstrong was in Chicago with his partner Joe “King” Oliver, playing in jazz bands and recording tracks that took America by storm. With their two-cornet breaks, Armstrong and his band became the most influential sound of jazz. 

Charlie Parker- All the Things you are

Be-Bop and Swing

Be-Bop is another one of the many subgenres of jazz. Originating in New York, be-bop (or bebop) jazz is one of the most controversial forms of jazz as it was thought to be unholy or provocative. Charlie “Bird” Parker was one of the few artists that changed the sound of Jazz. In his short lifetime, Parker had a strong solo career, while also being known to play with bands and small groups. People would crowd the stage just to hear the works of this revolutionary musician. 

Inspiring bebop, swing is one of the big band forms of jazz. Its fast-paced and hard to dance to which oftentimes means enjoying this is just listening to it. Around 1935, the end of the Great Depression, swing jazz grew in popularity. Swing band leaders enjoyed fame and success, but none more than Jimmy Dorsey and his brother Tommy Dorsey. 

Cool Jazz and Free Jazz

Ornette Colman

Inspired by bebop, cool jazz emerged in the late 40s on the West Coast. It’s a softer, slower form of jazz that reflects life in California. Trumpet player, Miles Davis, inspired this sound. Davis’ rise to fame was a quick one.  After attending Juilliard School of Music in 1944, Davis began leading his own groups playing all over New York City, spreading the sound of cool jazz. 

Completely opposite of cool jazz, free jazz developed in New York in the 1960s. Its sound is more aggressive than most forms of jazz as it’s mainly improvisation and musicians breaking all rules of traditional jazz. There are few free jazz bands, but you’ll mostly hear this subgenre played by small groups or solo artists. 


There are many other subgenres of jazz, all differing from each other in their own unique way. Each artist, band, group, and subgenre add their own elements to the genre to make it the sound we know and love today. 

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