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What is jazz?


Eric VB

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This question came up elsewhere. I thought it would be interesting to hear how we LDers would answer this question in comparison to others, so answer as you normally would. If you've already read or participated on the other thread, please refrain from responding here.

I've heard the term "Jazz" a lot. What exactly is Jazz? Dixieland bands are called Jazz. There's this style known as "Smooth Jazz". There's Gypsy Jazz. There's the big band music from the 40's and 50's that is sometimes called Jazz. There are modern artists like Fiona Apple and Nora Jones that are sometimes classified as Jazz.

Does Jazz break down like Rock where you have Alternative, Pop, Punk, Metal, Industrial, etc.?

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Jazz has had a long history with some distinct periods. Some of those eras have overlapped and coincided with each other. Hell, I even took a course in college that dealt with the history of Jazz as an artform. There is definitely enough music that falls under the umbrella of jazz that it can take a college semester just to take it all in. And the thing is that yes, it is all jazz.

 

Jazz developed from black spiritual music in the south. Spirituals were work songs that slaves sang while working the plantations of the south. That music slowly started to develop into what we now know as Blues, Gospel and Jazz.

 

Dixieland is the first,widely recognized form of Jazz. It's played by lineups of about 6 musicians who are all improvising over a song at the same time. The traditional Dixieland lineups usually include a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums, guitar or banjo and tuba or bass. Louis Armstrong came up in the Dixieland era playing for King Oliver's band. His work in that group and later on was pivotal in the development of jazz, where the concept of a featured soloist came to the forefront. This style is still the dominant style in New Orleans. It spread out with the migration of more and more black musicians from the south to the northern cities like Chicago and then New York. Dixieland was the primary form of Jazz up until the late 1920's.

 

The Dixieland era then started to change. Band lineups evolved as soloists came more to the forefront and more organized and arranged concepts started to be worked out. This became the Swing era. Bigger and bigger bands started to form up, ranging from 7 to 19 pieces or more. While Louis Armstrong was still one of the hottest performers in Jazz during the Swing era, it was Duke Ellington that was the true architect of this period. He was the most prolific composer and arranger that Jazz had ever known. The arrangements during this era were more complex harmonically and rhythmically, and the soloist and vocalists were featured more and more. However, the arrangements during this time tended to be tighter, with more restrictive arrangements for the majority of the band, but a fair ammount of freedom for the featured soloists. The Big Band was a major part of this period, and that's what gained ground with mainstream America as Jazz became the popular music of the late 1920's through the early 1950's.

 

(TO BE CONTINUED!)

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Louis Armstrong Quote (Response when asked to define jazz.)

Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know.
Fats Waller, in a similar circumstance, is supposed to have replied,

If you don't know, don't mess with it.

Seriously, though, there are all kinds of sub-categories of jazz. Some of these are:

Dixieland or Trad Jazz

Swing (which includes Big Band Jazz)

Bebop

Cool Jazz

Free Jazz

Jazz Fusion

The New Thing (some late 60's jazz- which can include Free Jazz)

Jazz-rock

Funk-Jazz

Latin Jazz

Third Stream (which is a fusion of jazz and classical)

 

There are Jazz Vocalists---and there is a constant crossing over of categories with singers as to whether they are pop singers, cabaret singers, lounge singers, singers of standards or actual jazz singers.

 

There are newer categories such as:

Newgrass (a blend of bluegrass and jazz)

Smooth Jazz (which seems to be instrumental pop songs with a little soloing included)

Jazztronica (it is what the name sounds like)

and

Acid Jazz (Related to the Jazz-funk of the early seventies with a little less jazz in it)

 

There are also newer singers who are lumped in with jazz singers....not because they are jazz singers but because they don't sound like rock singers or most other pop singers.

 

 

Many jazz musicians would argue that "smooth jazz" and Norah Jones are not jazz at all, even though many of the people playing on these records are jazz musicians.

 

Duke Ellington once said,

There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.
You may like any kind of music you want and you can call it anything you want.

 

Just don't call me late to dinner.

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Dixieland is the first,widely recognized form of Jazz. It's played by lineups of about 6 musicians who are all improvising over a song at the same time. The traditional Dixieland lineups usually include a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums, guitar or banjo and tuba or bass. Louis Armstrong came up in the Dixieland era playing for King Oliver's band. His work in that group and later on was pivotal in the development of jazz, where the concept of a featured soloist came to the forefront. This style is still the dominant style in New Orleans. It spread out with the migration of more and more black musicians from the south to the northern cities like Chicago and then New York. Dixieland was the primary form of Jazz up until the late 1920's.
Even Dixieland can be separated between New Orleans and Chicago. In New Orleans, the music was paraded down the street -- therefore in the original Dixieland groups you will hear tuba (who the hell marches an upright down the street?) and a hard four beat pounded by a bass drum. Once migrated to Chicago, where the music became popular in clubs did the upright replace the tuba and more intricate drum patterns (played on trap sets) become more popular.

 

If I recall correctly, banjos were more popular in the Big Easy while guitars handled the duties in the Windy City.

"Women and rhythm section first" -- JFP
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Originally posted by RicBassGuy:

Does Jazz break down like Rock where you have Alternative, Pop, Punk, Metal, Industrial, etc.?

Jazz is like every other genre of music in that it breaks down into many categories. Some of the categories of rock were listed. Classical music can be broken down into Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Modern, Contemporary and many subcategories thereof. Jazz music is similar. It can be dated back further and into even more categories than have been listed so far.

 

I will let the actual defining be done by those much more qualified than I but the quotes that Jeremy mentioned came to mind while I read your initial post. There's much more of a mentality and feeling that goes into jazz than actual theory and concept. That's not to say that theory and concept don't play a major role as they do in any other style of music but in the case of jazz there is more of an intangable aspect that most musicians I meet at this school don't understand. I'm not saying that I fully understand it or that I'm even decent at playing jazz but I have some level of awareness of it which sets me apart from the average orchestral player. What this awareness is good for combined with my inherent inept-ness is little more than a laugh when a violinist tells me that playing jazz is easy and proceeds to show me they can play 1, 3, 5, 6, b7 and back.

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Thanks for cutting me off at the pass Jeremy. I was on my way to something bordering a disertation with my initial post.

 

The comparison between Jazz and Rock music offshoots is definitely a valid one. All of these various forms of Jazz have been divergent offshoots at some period in time. The original forms have tended to continue on while a new form develops. Some of the older forms have definitely lived on in one form or another. Dixieland still continues on to this day through bands in New Orleans. However, one of the offshoots of Dixieland and the early Swing era, Stride, doesn't get practiced to the same extent.

 

Some of the offshoots of Jazz have been provocative in some crowds. That could be attributable to a generation gap of sorts. But there are definitely instances where the lines have been blurred.

 

Toward the end of the Big Band era (the early 50's), the arrangements for these orchestras got more and more restrictive, and the focus was more on the singer than anything else. Frank Sinatra came out of this school when he was fronting Tommy Dorsey's band. The band really became much more of a dance band with Sinatra wooing the girls than an improvisational act. And what's even more interesting is that early Rock n' Rollers like the guys from Bill Haley's Comets came from swing bands like these.

 

The Fusion movement of the 60's & 70's is one of the other great crossover moments. The lines were getting blurred again with groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever venturing in a Rock direction, while a Rock band like Steely Dan was moving in something of a Jazz direction. While a lot of people here wouldn't see these groups as being comparable, much of the listening public did. Miles Davis did some serious experimentation with albums like "Bitches Brew". The lines were definitely blurred in times like this.

 

Smooth Jazz is probably one of the more irksome topics for a lot of people. The improvisational vibe seems to be lost to a great degree in this form and it doesn't seem as engaging. I guess it's fitting that it was spawned in such a superficial time as the 80's.

 

As for vocalists like Fiona Apple and Norah Jones? I love their work. I think they're truly gifted singers with beautiful voices. Do I think they're playing Jazz? No. They have something special about their voices, but they're playing pop music that's sprinkled with Jazz influences and elements. Frankly that's fine by me. People being influenced by Jazz working in pop music is definitely not a bad thing.

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I've come to the conclusion that it is a living, breathing language that can be found all over the planet. Most fail to recognize the hints of jazz in Eastern music, but it's there. Many catch the polyrhythms inherent in African music, but it also existed in the ritual tribal music of the Americas. It encompasses innovation, creativity, a respect for tradition, a disrepect to conservatism, worship of the Divine and the carnal. It can be heard in the notes of a Scott Joplin piece, a Miles Davis solo, a Mahalia Jackson spiritual, the mating song of a wild bird and in rush hour traffic in Spanish Harlem. Some of it is also enroute to another galaxy as proof of our existence on this big blue-green marble we call home. (and I for one can't wait to hear the response from "out there")

 

Jazz refuses to have boundaries or definitions; it is what it is. :wave:

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Bill Evans Quote:

You can't explain it to anyone without losing the experience. It's got to be experienced, because it's feeling not words. Words are the children of reason and, therefore, can't explain it. They really can't translate feeling because they're not part of it. That's why it bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling.

Music has no boundaries. It is yours to discover, to enjoy, to draw from and to pass on to others.
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This is an easy question- Jazz is something that I'm trying to learn enough technique and theory to be able to play before I turn 30! I have 6 years to go...

 

It's kind of funny- I now get as angry when people call something nonjazz jazz as I used to get when people labeled nonpunk music as punk 10 years ago.

 

I'll leave the proper definition to people here who are jazz musicians. I'm merely an apprentice.

Insert inaccurate quote here
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Originally posted by jeremy c:

Jazz Fusion

Jazz-rock

I'm confused. What are the differences between those two styles? Is Fusion, jazz with rock tendencies while Jazz-rock is Rock with jazz tendencies?

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The term jazz-rock originated during a remarkably open period for cross-fertilisation between (the largely acoustic) jazz and electric music. The term rock was used in a very broad sense, remember - at this time Santana or Hendrix were just as likely to play funk jams as eighth note rock. Miles, Chicago (I have read), BST and the other originators used were at least as much influenced by soul and funk as by rock. So jazz-rock didn't actually have to have any 'rock' elements - although most did.

Nowadays the term is much less used however. Fusion was a later term which initially applied to a range of cross-fertilisations in the same way as jazz-rock. It later came to be applied to at least three different streams of musical development - the smooth radio-friendly stuff; electric jazz featuring elements of funk, rock, world-music etc, or also technique-focused jazz-influenced instrumental rock.

At the end of the day they're only words and there relation to sound and music is ephemeral. Still, they help you find stuff and in that sense - labels are invaluable.

So...

Jazz-rock was rock/soul/funk influenced jazz

Fusion can be practically anything

Jazz fusion usually applies to the second definition of fusion above - pretty much the same thing as jazz-rock really.

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bottle 12 am, I presume you are talking about Kenny Garrett! ;)

 

Jazz means differrent things to different people at different times. Jazz is! To someone like me, who has spent a lifetime immersed in it, it seems almost a living thing - a spiritual force (I laugh at myself writing this, but it's how it seems). It means playing something that has it's foundations in the entire history of and evolution of jazz regardless of how out or in, acoustic or electric.

The great philologists (word-historians) like Tolkien couldn't use a word without being aware of that word's history and evolution (ie use an English word without being aware of it's origin and it's earlier forms in Old English, Proto-Germaic or whatever; or it's related words in Norse, Latin or whatever,

That's a bit long-winded but, to me, jazz is like that. When you here a great jazz musician play, you hear the whole history of jazz reflected in a note or phrase and along with that - a great part of the history of the black experience in America.

 

 

Oh, on jazz-rock, read Stuart Nicholson's book on the origins and development of jazz-rock (called Jazz-Rock or similar I think).

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I asked my bass teacher what his definition of jazz was a while back and he said:

 

Jazz is when the bass plays in that quarter tone (or double time) style. Weather Report is not jazz.

 

He's pretty darn good, and that's his take.

 

My definition is much broader - I'd say the only prerequisite to jazz is superior musicianship. If you have that, you can call it jazz.

 

Jack Bruce said he always thought Cream was a jazz band, and I don't see any reason to strenuously disagree.

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Originally posted by ZZ Thorn:

I asked my bass teacher what his definition of jazz was a while back and he said:

 

Jazz is when the bass plays in that quarter tone (or double time) style. Weather Report is not jazz.

 

He's pretty darn good, and that's his take.

 

My definition is much broader - I'd say the only prerequisite to jazz is superior musicianship. If you have that, you can call it jazz.

 

Jack Bruce said he always thought Cream was a jazz band, and I don't see any reason to strenuously disagree.

I hope you misheard your teacher. I think he was trying to tell you that only music with a swing feel...with the bass player playing quarter notes....is jazz. Maybe he meant that music with a straight-eighth note feel wasn't jazz in his opinion. That's a pretty limiting description..and it omits huge amounts of music that I would certainly call jazz. By that definition, Getz-Gilberto is not a jazz album. Neither is Light as a Feather. Those two albums are two of the greatest jazz albums ever made and I have worn out several copies.

 

As far as superior musicianship defining jazz, that doesn't make sense. There is superior musicianship found in every type of music from Indian ragas to bluegrass to polka bands to Tuvan throat-singing and everything in between. None of that is jazz.

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No, with a straight or swing feel he believes if the bass player is keeping that steady pulse (with quarters or eights), its jazz. I think it's a good definition for what I'd call 'straight-ahead' jazz, which seems to me to be jazz at its zenith.

 

But he clearly meant to omit stuff like Light as Feather in his definition of jazz. He'd say Weather Report is closer to funk-pop than jazz, and there's a lot of truth in that.

 

It is a very limiting description to me. My definition is very broad.

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Originally posted by bottle12am:

Jazz can easily be defined in two words:

 

"Kenny G"

 

Thank you.

YES! Kenny G rulz! :love::D

Tenstrum

 

"Paranoid? Probably. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face."

Harry Dresden, Storm Front

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

ZZ, I think you are wiser than your teacher.

 

 

Meanwhile, if I ever hear Weather Report on a pop music station or on a funk station (I guess that is called urban contemporary these days) I will consider them a funk-pop group.

LOL, I'll bet you're wrong on the former, but he really does have a very narrow definition of jazz. In his defense, a lot of Weather Report wouldn't sound out of place on either of those types of radio stations (of course you never will hear Weather Report on any station whose FM frequence is over 90, unfortunately).

 

My teacher is hard core old school I guess...kinda like Pat Metheny, LOL! Good article.

 

Here's an old musicians joke:

 

Question: You have one bullet, who do you kill: Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.

 

Answer: Kenny G

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