Jazz music definition

Updated: May 23, 2020

Jazz is one of the most popular genres in the world. It has been without a doubt very influential in many cultures around the world. Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States.

Jazz has been developed from Ragtime and Blues music in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The rhythm of Jazz music:

The main characteristic of Jazz music is its rhythmic quality. Unlike many other genres before it, Jazz has an offbeat accentuation. It means that Jazz music is not being played on the powerful beats of the rhythm. It also has a swing quality in it.

The rhythmic elements of Ragtime have been transferred to Jazz. you can change any piece of music in any genre to Jazz, by changing its rhythm and making it swingy.

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Harmony of Jazz music:

Jazz has been developed at the same time that classical music was going through a big change from tonal music to Atonal and A-tonal.

Jazz also came up with its own specific theory and did not use classical harmony. Instead Jazz players tried to imitate the harmonic and melodic qualities of African music on the western instruments. It resulted in completely new harmony and theory which we are not going to review in detail here.

Let’s just say that trying to reach the pitch that did not exist on a piano, made the harmony of Jazz music exotic and different.

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Performance of Jazz music:

The main characteristic of Jazz music is its improvisations. The greatest difference between a Jazz pianist and a Classical pianist is their eagerness for Improvisation. Though it should not be taken as that performers of other genres don’t improvise or can’t do it. But Jazz players, on any instrument, play their repertoire with improvisations in it.

A Jazz concert without at least one part improvisation is not a decent one. If you ever go to a Jazz concert and players did not improvise on the scene, well you should just sue them and take your money back, because improvisation at the moment for the audience present, is a part of Jazz music definition.

Instruments of Jazz:

there is no musical instrument defined as to be only played in Jazz music. all sorts of instruments from acoustic to electronic instruments are being used in Jazz music.

however, some instruments are more related and used in this genre. Piano, Saxophone, Clarinet, and Trompet are among them.

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Origin of the word Jazz:

The origin of the word jazz has resulted in considerable research, and its history is well documented. It is believed to be related to jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 meaning "pep, energy". The earliest written record of the word is in a 1912 article in the Los Angeles Times in which a minor league baseball pitcher described a pitch which he called a "jazz ball" "because it wobbles and you simply can't do anything with it".

Jazz music subgenres:

  • Acid Jazz (with thx to Hunter Nelson)

  • Avant-Garde Jazz

  • Bebop (thx Mwinogo1)

  • Big Band

  • Blue Note (with thx to Jillian Edwards)

  • Contemporary Jazz

  • Cool

  • Crossover Jazz

  • Dixieland

  • Ethio-jazz (with thx to Jillian Edwards)

  • Fusion

  • Gypsy Jazz (kudos to Mike Tait Tafoya)

  • Hard Bop

  • Latin Jazz

  • Mainstream Jazz

  • Ragtime

  • Smooth Jazz

  • Trad Jazz

Complete list of musical genres

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