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What is Jazz Music? (a broad look)

Our final genre to take a look at is Jazz. Most people will have heard some of the jazz standards, whether or not they were aware at the time.

Recognised by it’s syncopated (swung) beats, jazz developed from the music of African Americans and is influenced from by European structure and African rhythms. The world of jazz is very varied due to its ever-developing styles and improvisation techniques. For this reason, it would be impossible to cover the genre fully in one post, so today we will look at just 3 of the most recognisable styles.


In 1899, pianist called Scott Joplin brought ragtime into the pubic eye with his now well-known piano rags, “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” and was subsequently called “King of Ragtime”. Although, Joplin considered ragtime to be a serious branch of classical music, it was the immediate precursor to jazz and so is important to be noted here. Listen to the dancing syncopated rhythms and the use of what we would now consider to be jazz harmony in this example.


New Orleans Style

As the popularity of Ragtime grew, a new kind of music was being developed in New Orleans. Limited to cornet, clarinet, trombone, tuba or bass, piano, banjo and drums, black musicians in the area began to form groups and develop the jazz style through assigning roles to each of the instruments. The cornet, carried the main theme, the clarinet, embellishments and upper harmonies, the trombone offered extra melody lines to add texture while the remaining instruments provided clear rhythms and harmonic structure. At this time, many musicians could not read music and so this idea was a brilliant solution. As this style developed, musicians started to improvise within the structure.



In 1924, cornetist, Louis Armstrong broke away from the mold and matured insto a major soloist and single-handedly developed a rhythmic style called swing. In his recordings with Henderson band, you can hear this beginning to be formed. His distinctive voice was soon added to the mix in the form of scat, a vocalised version of his instrumental solos.


He went on to record many songs including Mack the Knife:


Another jazz musician who is not to be forgotten is Amy Winehouse who brought jazz to popular culture with her swung, bluesy style. Here’s Back to Black.

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