Blog #14
Blog #14: Genre of the week

The most important development and aspect of the jazz genre throughout out its history is the use of improvisation.  Improvisation is when the performer creates their part on the spot.  They might have a few ideas that they are working with, but unlike other forms of music, the end product is always different.  Whether it is a soloist making up the solo on the spot, or the background musicians changing some notes to create a different part, the improvisation makes jazz a very unique experience.  No two performances are the same, and the live performance gives the viewer a unique experience.  Most of the time, the musicians have a very vague concept of a song, maybe a repeating melody that comes up a few times, a basic harmonic structure to play around with, a tempo (speed) or key (scale), and then from there they improvise their own version of the song. 
Big Band/Swing

Jazz began very much like many other genres do, as a way for young people to separate themselves from their parents generation of music and rebel against the popular music at that time.  Jazz in the early stages was dance music, and young people would go to jazz clubs and dance and have fun, much to the distaste of their parents.  The music was fast, up beat, and the bands were made up up to 20 musicians, so the music was also loud.  These big band orchestras were an updated version of the traditional orchestras, where the instruments sat in their groups and were led by a conductor who was the face of the group.  There was usually one instrument to a part, so each voice was it's own and they could freely improvise some of their parts (within reason) as they felt necessary.  This age of jazz was called the Jazz Age and took place between the 1920's and the 1950's.  Unfortunately for these groups, post war America became a harder place to maintain the level of success they had seen early on due to Americans not having as much money to spend on going out and the invention and popularity of the radio. 
Chamber Groups

Because of these hardships, groups became smaller, between 3 and 6 people, and the venues became much more intimate, living rooms and small restaurants instead of big dance halls and theaters.  This caused the role of each performer to change as well.  Each performer had to take a larger part that was previously shared by three to five people.  The drummer had to be the entire percussive force behind each moment, the pianist had to take over most of the harmonic voicings that would have been shared between the brass and woodwind sections, the soloists voices had to be as strong and independent enough to take over the stage, since there was only a few musical lines behind them.  This lead to the performers themselves becoming more notorious and their individual popularity rose to new heights.  Improvisation was still as important as ever, but jazz continued to change to fit these situations, at times being slower and more emotional, and then other times much faster and aggressive depending on the musicians take on it.  Other influences such as Cuban music and Latin percussion became common place as jazz evolved.  Most of these changes took place between the 1930's through the 1960's.

Later Years 

Since there is always overlap of new genres forming over old forms, the genre continued to change due to the changes happening in the world and in the music landscape at the time.  The rise in popularity in rock music influenced jazz musicians in the 1960's and 1970's. electronic music influenced the sound of the 1980's and many jazz musicians followed this trend. Art music in the classical world led to the Free Jazz movement where at times it seemed like musicians were just playing what ever they wanted reguardless of the other musicians.  The rise of RnB and Hip Hop influenced the Neo Soul Jazz sound.  The old styles continued to be kept alive by musicians who performed them or who enjoyed performing them and wanted to keep sharing them with audiences who wanted to hear them, but change continues until this day.  
Sub Genres of Jazz 

Acid Jazz
Afro-Cuban Jazz
Asian American Jazz
Avant-Garde Jazz
Bossa Nova
Chamber Jazz
Cool Jazz
Crossover Jazz
Dark Jazz/Doom Jazz
Electro Swing
Free Jazz
Hard Bop
Jazz Fusion
Jazz Rap
Kansas City Jazz
Latin Jazz
Neo-Bop Jazz
Nu Jazz
Orchestral Jazz
Punk Jazz
Smooth Jazz
Third Stream
Vocal Jazz
West Coast Jazz


Louis Armstrong
"What a wonderful world" by Louis Armstrong

Duke Ellington
"Take the "A" Train" by Duke Ellington

Billie Holiday
"Summertime" by Billie Holiday

John Coltrane
"Blue Train" by John Coltrane

Miles Davis
"Freddie Freeloader" by Miles Davis

Ornette Coleman
"Free Jazz" by Ornette Coleman


Click this link to respond to the questions below

Improvisation (where the music is not planned but figured out/created on the spot) is one of the most important characteristics of Jazz. Can you think of a time when you have had to improvise, either musically or in any context?  What was the situation, what did you do, and how did you make the choice you made?  How do you think this same thinking fits with how musicians used it in Jazz?

Listen to a few moments of the last listening "Free Jazz" by Ornette Coleman and share your thoughts on what you hear.  Do you like it? Does it remind you of anything? What do you think the musicians were thinking when they created this music? Any other thoughts you have listening to this music.