Characteristics of the Jazz Music

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Updated: Aug 20, 2023
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Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans. It developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Many see jazz as “America’s classical music”. Recognized as a major form of musical expression, it has a huge combination of instruments from different musical genres. Jazz has spread around the world, drawing on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles.

Often called improvisational, it was developed and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. Jazz evolved partly from ragtime and blues and is often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate deviations of pitch. An all-encompassing definition of Jazz is probably futile. From its very beginnings until the 20th century, it has been a constantly evolving, expanding, changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development.

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Music traditions that influenced jazz include slave songs. African-American slaves would often sing spirituals such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. These songs were a method used by slaves to express themselves. Work songs, often sung as “call-and-response”, became an important component in improvisation. Brass bands, made up of trumpets, trombones, clarinets, saxophones, and drums, also contributed to the development of jazz. The 12-bar blues harmonic pattern in blues music, in particular, became the basis for improvisation with jazz musicians. Ragtime, developed primarily by black pianists, also informed the style.

Jazz can be very upbeat and very low down. It’s often referred to as being both sweet and hot. Jazz is very hard to define because there is so much room for creation during performance. Jazz is about communication between musicians, and it always seems to be a mix of conversation and meditation. As an example of this, consider jazz icons like Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, and John Coltrane. These musicians embraced a combination of different music genres – Rock, Classical, or Folk – which have a unique relationship in their exposition. They all have several key components different from those typically found in jazz.

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Characteristics of The Jazz Music. (2020, May 15). Retrieved from