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Jazz is a music genre that includes improvisation, particularly in American music that has African-American and European roots. Over the years, it has gained influences from other cultural music styles, particularly the music of Latin America and classical music.
—Ted Joans (graffiti)
Improvisation is the main thing that separates jazz from other genres of music. In most jazz tunes, a melody is played by a front-line musician before each musician takes an improvised solo. Improvisation is hard to explain to a non-jazz musician, but it basically involves a musician playing phrases based upon the melody or chords played at the beginning of the tune. A selected group of musicians improvises on a track before the melody is returned to.
Jazz music began after the Civil War in Louisiana with New Orleans jazz and Dixieland jazz, but new styles of jazz evolved over time. Buddy Bolden and Bunk Johnson were some of the original creators of the first branch of jazz, which is now known as "traditional jazz". Traditional jazz involves ensemble playing, where multiple musicians improvise at the same time. Jazz groups in traditional jazz usually included six musicians, but they sometimes included more. New Orleans jazz prospered in and around New Orleans until the Great Depression, which forced many New Orleans jazz musicians out of work. New Orleans and Chicago, during the 1920s, became major jazz cities, with Louis Armstrong being one of the top traditional jazz trumpeters.
As the Great Depression came to an end in the late 1930s, big bands began to dominate not only the jazz scene in America, but also the music scene. Big bands were larger and more arranged than traditional jazz bands. Famous big bandleaders included Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller; these bandleaders created record-selling recordings in the late 1930s and early 1940s.With the growth of the big bands, jazz music spread from the southern parts of the United States and moved into the Midwest and the Northeast.
While big bands were becoming popular, however, another style of jazz developed that permanently changed the course of the jazz permanently - "modern jazz". The first major style of modern jazz was called bebop. Bebop had its roots with jazz pianist Art Tatum in the early 1930s; however, big band musicians were incorporating some bebop-like phrases into their improvised solos in the early to mid-1940s: in particular, jazz pianist Dodo Marmarosa and jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who was also known as "Bird". Charlie Parker developed a complex improvisation style in the late 1930s in Kansas City and he joined the Jay McShann Band in the early 1940s. He then went to New York City and began recording with another bebop pioneer, Dizzy Gillespie. By late 1945, Gillespie's quintet included Parker and other upcoming bebop musicians. Charlie Parker left Gillespie's group in 1946 and created his own quintet in 1947. He had a couple years of successful bebop recordings, but by the 1950s, new musicians had become major figures on the modern jazz scene.
Bebop improvisation, unlike other improvised music styles, includes long, dramatic phrases based upon chords and scales. Important bebop musicians include of course Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, but also pianist Bud Powell, trumpeter Fats Navarro, and trumpeter Clifford Brown, who recorded a famous masterpiece version of the ballad "Tenderly". Bebop eventually grew into West Coast jazz on the western coast of the United States.
In the mid-1950s, Charlie Parker died, and modern jazz began to return to its African roots and began to be more influenced by blues music. By 1957, bebop drummer Art Blakey's jazz group, the Jazz Messengers, included saxophonist Benny Golson and trumpeter Lee Morgan. Morgan and Golson both had blues influences in their improvisation, and pianist Bobby's Timmons gospel music-like style continued to push jazz in the "soul jazz" direction. Over the next few years, younger musicians like Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley began to improvise with slower phrases and incorporate more blues into their styles. The growth of rock and roll and other music styles also influenced jazz at this time. Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock made many important soul jazz recordings during the early 1960s, and his music group at times included jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Dexter Gordon.
During the early 1960s, free jazz, jazz with improvisation not based on chords or melodies, developed with Jimmy Giuffre's Free Fall and the recordings of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Free jazz and avant-garde jazz became particularly popular in the late 1970s and 1980s with Bob Berg, Michael Brecker, and the free improvisation music in Europe during that time, but free jazz's influence with the public proved to not be as permanent as other types of modern jazz.
Another important development in the early 1960s and onwards was Latin jazz, which began to develop when Charlie Parker played with Latin American music groups. In the 1960s, the introduction of Brazilian rhythms to jazz began with Stan Getz, who recorded "The Girl from Ipanema", one of the most famous songs of all time.
Since the 1980s, different styles of jazz have blended, particularly in American education systems, and colleges have gradually become as closely related to jazz as they have with many standard curriculum subjects. This resulted in the production of Fakebooks during the 1970s to the present, which helped musicians play quality music at jam sessions, and groups of jazz musicians could now come together and perform without a rehearsal.
There were, however, downsides to these changes: first, the African-American population, which had previously dominated the jazz scene, largely left it because they did not see jazz as an academic subject, but instead saw it as enjoyment and expression of emotions. This meant that many people who had been important figures in jazz found themselves playing the popular music of the 1970s. Second, the white population that took over jazz continued to pull it in the direction of classical music, but jazz and classical music did not blend well and jazz began to lose its audience during this time. Another factor that caused jazz to lose much of its audience was the changes in popular music which had since the late 1950s been changing from jazz-like music to what it is today.
|City/Region||Main jazz subgenres||Important musicians||Time of importance|
|Marshall area||Boogie woogie||None (lack of written record and musical recordings)||Late 1800s|
|New Orleans||Traditional jazz, soul jazz||Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, etc.||c. 1900-1930s, 1960s-present|
|Chicago||Traditional jazz||King Oliver, Louis Armstrong||late 1910s-late 1920s|
|Midwestern United States||Swing, bebop||Jay McShann, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster||1930s-early 1940s|
|New York City||Bebop, hard bop, soul jazz, free jazz||Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, etc.||1940s-present|
|Paris||Traditional jazz||Sydney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow||Mid 1940s-early 1960s|
|Southern California||Bebop, West Coast jazz||Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Bud Shank, etc.||Late 1940s, mid 1950s-1960s|
|Bay Area||West Coast jazz||Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond||mid 1950s-present|
|Europe (excluding Paris)||Numerous||Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, Benny Golson||1960s-present|
Eastern coast & southern
Much of the Eastern United States' jazz scene can be covered in an itinerary called the Jazz Track.
- 1 Boston, Massachusetts. This is the location of the famous Berklee College of Music, where the five illegal editions of the Real Book were written. Many important jazz musicians were involved at the Berklee College of Music during the 1970s.
- 2 Marshall, Texas. This was the birthplace of boogie woogie, a version of the blues that was incorporated into jazz in the 1920s and 1930s. Boogie-woogie music was based upon the sounds of the steam trains that would have gone through the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and boogie woogie itself began in the late 1800s. However, the city of Marshall itself is not considered an important city in relation to jazz music and jazz is not a major tourist attraction there as it is in some other American cities.
- 3 New Orleans, Louisiana. Being the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans is still probably the best place in America to hear jazz music. Music can be heard on almost every street in the city, but the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is probably the most famous traditional jazz group in New Orleans. Louisiana's strong culture accentuates the jazz scene in New Orleans, which prospered in the early 1900s and had a rebirth in the 1960s with the growth of blues music.
- 4 New York City, New York. New York City, being America's largest city, has since the early days of jazz been an important center for the development of the music. There are many well-known jazz nightclubs in New York City, including Minton's, Birdland and the Village Vanguard, and also has Jazz at Lincoln Center. New York City's jazz scene is probably the liveliest in the country, reflecting the city's bright lights and busy streets.
- 5 Washington, District of Columbia. This is not referring to Washington state, but instead to America's capital city. This was the birthplace of Duke Ellington and is now the home of the D.C. Jazz Festival.
- 6 Chicago, Illinois. Chicago was an important city during the 1920s, a period that is now called the "Jazz Era". This is when Louis Armstrong, one of the best-known jazz musicians, reached his peak. During this time, jazz became the main music for dancing, and this expanded jazz's following from the African-American community to all Americans.
- 7 Bay Area. The Bay Area, particularly in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, has been an important area for jazz not only because of some of the recordings made there, but also for being an important intellectual center for the music. Yoshi's is a well-known jazz club in Oakland, and local wineries sometimes have jazz concerts featuring first-class jazz musicians; for example, George Shearing with Mel Torme at the Paul Masson Winery near Saratoga in the late 1980s and Diana Krall at Wente Vineyards in Livermore in the 2010s.
- 8 Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles and the surrounding cities welcomed bebop in the 1940s when Charlie Parker came, recorded for several months, became ill, and stayed at a local hospital for several months. Once Parker arrived in the Los Angeles area, Los Angeles became an important location for the development of bebop. West Coast jazz (the West Coast version of bebop) was centered in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Outside of the United States
As jazz expanded in its number of subgenres and jazz musicians began to tour the world, jazz became popular in Europe and some non-European countries, such as Japan. While Jazz also gained some popularity in Germany, the Nazis - perhaps due to the music's association with African Americans, which the Nazis emphasized and bizarrely combined with their antisemitism - heavily cracked down on Jazz and even after the war some "respectable bourgeois" Germans demeaned the music with words not fit for print which made it hard for the music to get a foothold. That said, Nazi records indicate that listening to Jazz was one of the main reasons for Germans to engage in the capital crime of listening to foreign radio stations, though if it was "just" that, even the Gestapo would often let the "delinquent" off with a warning.
Similar things happened in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. During some of his period as leader of the USSR, the Soviet Union treated jazz like the Nazi government did.
- 9 Copenhagen, Denmark. Copenhagen has a significant jazz scene that has existed for many years. It developed when a number of American jazz musicians such as Ben Webster, Thad Jones, Richard Boone, Ernie Wilkins, Kenny Drew, Ed Thigpen, Bob Rockwell, and Dexter Gordon came to live in Copenhagen during the 1960s. Every year in early July, Copenhagen's streets, squares, parks as well as cafés and concert halls fill up with big and small jazz concerts during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. One of Europe's top jazz festivals, the annual event features around 900 concerts at 100 venues with over 200,000 guests from Denmark and around the world.
- 10 Paris, France. Immediately after the War the Saint-Germain-des-Pres quarter and the nearby Saint-Michel quarter became home to many small jazz clubs, mostly found in cellars because of a lack of space; these included the Caveau des Lorientais, the Club Saint-Germain, the Rose Rouge, the Vieux-Colombier, and the most famous, Le Tabou. They introduced Parisians to the music of Claude Luter, Boris Vian, Sydney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, and Henri Salvador. Most of the clubs closed by the early 1960s, as musical tastes shifted toward rock and roll.
- 11 Japan. Jazz has long been popular in Japan, but it became very popular when traditional jazz clarinetist George Lewis toured there. Since then, many jazz coffee shops have emerged in the country. These coffee shops are intended for listening to the jazz only and not for casual music listeners and conversationalists.
- 12 South Africa. Although - somewhat surprisingly - most of Africa does not have much of a jazz scene, Africa's southernmost country has been an important location in the development of jazz since the Apartheid days. Since most of the South African jazz musicians were native Africans, many of them moved from South Africa to England to escape the South African government's racist organization. These musicians then recorded significantly in the United Kingdom and developed some new jazz sounds. Although most South African jazz is quite similar to soul jazz and the 1960s New Orleans blues music, South African musicians have also experimented with free jazz.
There are several notable jazz clubs around the world, but they are usually found in large metro areas where there are plenty of people who like jazz. These jazz clubs have become well-known, often due to their interesting history.
Famous jazz clubs in the United States
- 1 Birdland (Theater District). This jazz club is named after Charlie Parker, whose nickname was "Bird". The jazz club has over the years been at many different addresses: it began at 1678 Broadway, then went out of businesses for twenty years, and then returned to businesses for ten years on 2745 Broadway before finally moving to 315 W. 44th Street in the mid-1990s. George Shearing named a tune after Birdland called "Lullaby of Birdland", which is in the 6th Edition of the Real Book.
- 2 Minton's. Minton's Playhouse was an important jazz club in modern jazz's early development and lasted until the 1970s before it closed for about thirty years. It was then revived for a while, closed again, and then opened for a third time in the 2010s. A tune called "Up at Minton's" is named after the jazz venue.
- 3 Village Vanguard. This was originally not just a jazz club but increasingly became a jazz club in the 1950s and has existed almost continually since then. Many live recordings have been made at the Village Vanguard, and many of the great jazz musicians, including Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jimmy Giuffre, Sonny Rollins, Anita O’Day, Charlie Mingus, Bill Evans, and Stan Getz, have performed there.
- 4 Yoshi's (Oakland). Interestingly, this is a combination of a restaurant and jazz club; it was started as a Japanese restaurant in Berkeley by Yoshie Akiba, a World War II war orphan, and her friends Kaz Kajimura and Hiroyuki Hori, the club soon moved to a larger space on Claremont Avenue in Oakland, California and began to feature live jazz music. It eventually gained a reputation as one of the most significant jazz venues on the West Coast. In May 1997, the club moved to Jack London Square during the revitalization of the Port of Oakland, as a 330-seat, 17,000-square-foot (1,600 square meters) jazz concert hall with an attached 220 seat Japanese restaurant, assisted by funding from the Oakland Development Agency.
There are many jazz concerts all around the world. Jazz concerts are often either part of a concert series dedicated to jazz concerts or are part of a concert series featuring multiple music genres, although sometimes there are single events. Many libraries occasionally host jazz concerts, but jazz concerts are also an occurrence in concert halls, whether these concert halls are at a 300-seat theater or 100-person capacity concert hall that is owned by a store or other business.
There are several well-known annual jazz festivals around the United States and other parts of the world. This does not by any means cover every single jazz festival in the United States, let alone the world, because so many cities and towns have jazz festivals. However, this includes the best-known American jazz festivals and some others scattered around the United States and a few in other parts of the world.
- 1 Kansas City Jazz Festival. Kansas City, the birthplace of Charlie Parker, hosts a jazz festival with a mixture of jazz musicians and performances from other genres. Near the location of the jazz festival is the American Jazz Museum and a Charlie Parker statue.
- 2 Monterey Jazz Festival. Monterey is in itself just a large town an hour's drive from San Jose, but its jazz festival is very well-known. Since the late 1950s, this jazz festival has included performances by the Montgomery brothers, Louis Armstrong, Sonny Rollins, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Oscar Peterson.
- 3 New Smyrna Beach Jazz Festival. New Smyrna Beach, a town in Central Florida, has its jazz festival in September. The music performances in New Smyrna Beach's jazz festival take place around the town rather than being in one specific location.
- 4 Newport Jazz Festival. This is probably the best-known jazz festival in the United States. It is hosted in the Rhode Island town of Newport and has hosted many famous jazz musicians, including Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, and Duke Ellington.
- 5 San Jose Jazz Festival, 38 West Santa Clara Street. This is an important jazz event for the Bay Area. It has existed for about thirty years and includes a summer festival and a winter festival.
- 6 Savannah Jazz Festival. This jazz festival is celebrated in the southern city of Savannah, a city known for its rich cultural history. The Savannah jazz festival is celebrated in September and the festival has in the past included jazz musicians Stanley Turrentine and Ray Charles.
- 7 Montreal International Jazz Festival. If you're looking for jazz festivals, they don't get any bigger than this: this is the largest jazz festival in the world. This jazz festival has featured Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Ray Charles, and Chick Corea.
- 8 Toronto Jazz Festival, Cumberland Street. This jazz festival has jazz events in multiple venues that are near Cumberland Street in Toronto.
- 9 Montreux Jazz Festival (The main city gardens). This is the second-largest jazz festival; the Montreal Jazz Festival is even larger. However, the list of performers at the Montreux Jazz Festival is impressive: Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, and Ray Charles have all performed there.
- 10 Nice Jazz Festival (The main city gardens). This jazz festival has existed since 1948, making it the earliest major jazz festival. Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis have performed at this jazz festival.
- 11 Umbria Jazz Festival (Perugia). This consists of two jazz festivals, one in summer and one in winter. The summer jazz festival takes place in Perugia and the winter jazz festival takes place in Orvieto.
Over the years, and particularly since the 1970s, many universities have begun teaching jazz. The universities will teach you music theory and give you ways to improvise, but the basis for improvisation is the music you hear, so if you want to learn jazz, you will need to listen to jazz outside the college classes.
- Berklee College of Music (Boston). This has become an academic center for jazz, and many students who want to get a degree in jazz or music in general go there.
Once universities started to teach jazz, the majority of jazz musicians in the United States gradually shifted from African-Americans to White Americans. This resulted in jazz, particularly in the university areas, being less like blues and gospel music and became more like classical music. As a result, the production of sheet music for jazz tunes or as part of jazz arrangements became more common. While this has helped to open improvisation to a wider range of people, it has also brought the standard for improvisation down to a lower standard and many jazz musicians play jazz like a formula instead of playing it "from the soul".
Many music stores and bookstores sell jazz fakebooks, the most famous of which is the "Real Book". These books usually include a few hundred pages of sheet music, with each page or two pages (depending on the composition's length) having a composition written on it. Chords are also written in these fakebooks so you can improvise with them. Each tune that is written in the book is called a "lead sheet". Fakebook lead sheets are an excellent way to learn many standard jazz tunes, or play them with a band.
Keep in mind, however, that many fakebooks are illegally produced and copyrights have not been paid. The exception is the Real Book, which for five editions was written illegally; more recently, though, the publishing company Hal Leonard made a sixth, legal edition of the Real Book that now dominates the fakebook market.
A jazz musician, Jamey Aebersold, has created hundreds of play-a-longs, which include a short equilavent of the fakebook (usually with 8-15 tunes in it) and a CD with accompaniment for the tunes that are notated. This means that jazz musicians can play along with the CD as if they were playing with a real band. Play-a-long books can be purchased on the internet.
If you're interested in expanding your CD collection, a good place to go is a jazz concert or other event where there is a jazz musician or group of jazz musicians performing. A stack of CDs is one of the items many jazz musicians take to every event at which they perform - they will take the big stack and put it on a table near the place where they are performing if they are playing background music at a restaurant or bar, and they will quite possibly bring stacks of CDs to their concerts.
At some point during a jazz event, the leading jazz musician at the event will ask you to check out their CD collection and buy one of their CDs, usually for quite a high price. These CDs will usually include a lot of the musician's own compositions so they do not need to pay publishing companies for rights to songs composed by other individuals. Also, the typical jazz musician's CD will include at least one 12-bar blues and a few relaxing music pieces or perhaps a few tunes with modern music rhythms and instruments.
- Cuban music was a major contributor to Latin jazz.
- European classical music laid the foundations for jazz; many jazz instruments are also used in classical music, and jazz as it is today would not have been possible without the existence of classical music in the first place.
- In Japan, jazz has become more popular than it has in some places, and jazz clubs are common in Japan.
- The Jazz Track is an itinerary that covers traditional jazz in the Eastern United States.
- The Southern United States was an important region for the development of jazz.