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Jazz is an original American musical art form that originated around the start of the 20th century in New Orleans, rooted in African American musical styles blended with Western music technique and theory. Jazz uses blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation.


Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong is a well-known jazz musician.Jazz has roots in the combination of Western and African music traditions, including spirituals, blues and ragtime, stemming from West Africa, western Sahel, and New England's religious hymns, hillbilly music, and European military band music. After originating in African American communities near the beginning of the 20th century, jazz styles spread in the 1920s, influencing other musical styles. The origins of the word jazz are uncertain. The word is rooted in American slang, and various derivations have been suggested. [1]

Jazz is rooted in the blues, the folk music of former enslaved Africans in the U.S. South and their descendants, which is influenced by West African cultural and musical traditions that evolved as black musicians migrated to the cities. Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis states that "Jazz is something Negroes invented...the nobility of the race put into sound ... jazz has all the elements, from the spare and penetrating to the complex and enveloping.[2]

The instruments used in marching bands and dance band music at the turn of century became the basic instruments of jazz: brass, reeds, and drums, using the Western 12-tone scale. A " musical spirit (involving rhythm and melody) was bursting out of the confines of European musical tradition [of the marching bands], even though the performers were using European styled instruments.[3]

Small bands of Black musicians which led funeral processions in New Orleans played a seminal role in the articulation and dissemination of early jazz, traveling throughout black communities in the Deep South and to northern cities. This early proto-jazz music was done primarily by self-taught musicians.

The postbellum network of black-established schools, as well as civic societies and widening mainstream opportunities for education, produced more formally trained African-American musicians. Lorenzo Tio and Scott Joplin were schooled in classical European musical forms. Joplin, the son of a former slave and a free-born woman of color, was largely self-taught until age 11, when he received lessons in the fundamentals of music theory. Black musicians with formal music skills helped to preserve and disseminate the essentially improvisational musical styles of jazz.

[edit] Improvisation

Reggie Workman, Pharoah Sanders, and Idris Muhammad, c. 1978Jazz as a genre is often difficult to define, but improvisation is a key element of the form. Improvisation has been an essential element in African and African-American music since early forms of the music developed, and is closely related to the use of call and response in West African and African-American cultural expression.

The form of improvisation has changed over time. Early folk blues music often was based around a call and response pattern, and improvisation would factor in the lyrics, the melody, or both. In Dixieland jazz, musicians take turns playing the melody while the others improvise countermelodies. In contrast to the classical form, where performers try to play the piece exactly as the author envisioned it, the goal in jazz is often to create a new interpretation, changing the melody, harmonies, even the time signature. If classical music is the composer's medium, jazz belongs to the performer. On the other hand, rhythmic elements are strictly controlled. The leader sets the tempo, often by snapping fingers or counting off "one, two, three, four." Many jazz performances contain no variation in the basic tempo -- there is no room for rubato.

By the Swing era, big bands played using arranged sheet music, but individual soloists would perform improvised solos within these compositions. In bebop, however, the focus shifted from arranging to improvisation over the form; musicians paid less attention to the composed melody, or "head," which was played at the beginning and the end of the tune's performance with improvised sections in between.

As previously noted, later styles of jazz, such as modal jazz, abandoned the strict notion of a chord progression, allowing the individual musicians to improvise more freely within the context of a given scale or mode (e.g., the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue). The avant-garde and free jazz idioms permit, even call for, rhythmic variety as well.

When a pianist, guitarist or other chord-playing instrumentalist improvises an accompaniment while a soloist is playing, it is called comping (a contraction of the word "accompanying"). "Vamping" is a mode of comping that is usually restricted to a few repeating chords or bars, as opposed to comping on the chord structure of the entire composition. Most often, vamping is used as a simple way to extend the very beginning or end of a piece, or to set up a segue.

In some modern jazz compositions where the underlying chords of the composition are particularly complex or fast moving, the composer or performer may create a set of "blowing changes," which is a simplified set of chords better suited for comping and solo improvisation.


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