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.
Improvisation separates jazz from some 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 involves a musician or singing or playing phrases, melodic patterns, riffs or rhythms 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.
HistoryJazz music began in early 20th-century Louisiana with New Orleans jazz and Dixieland jazz, but new styles of jazz evolved over time. Jazz was initially a development from ragtime, a style of late 19th-century origins that took America by storm around the turn of the 20th century. A related African-American style, the blues, grew out of preexisting West African and African-American improvisatory storytelling and work song styles, starting probably after the Civil War in rural areas and small towns in the South and starting to gain wider notice in the first decades of the 20th century. While the influence of ragtime on jazz waned drastically over the years, the blues has remained a big part of jazz repertoire and vocabulary to the present day, at the same time that it also developed separately.
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 in which multiple musicians improvise at the same time. Jazz groups in traditional jazz usually included at least six musicians. 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.
Another early jazz style, which grew almost directly out of ragtime, with its virtuosic right hand melodies and "oom-pah" chord patterns in the left hand, was stride piano. This style, somewhat influenced by that of the Creole ragtime/early jazz pianist from New Orleans, Jelly Roll Morton, was popular from the '20s to the '40s, particularly in New York City. Famous stride pianists included James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller, Erroll Garner and Earl Hines, and Art Tatum, arguably the greatest jazz pianist of all, took stride as his foundation and extended it wherever he wanted to go. As the Great Depression came to an end in the late 1930s, swing music played by big bands began to dominate not only the jazz scene in America, but also the music scene in general, with a style that was more arranged than heretofore traditional jazz. Famous big bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller created record-selling recordings in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
While big bands were becoming popular, however, another style of jazz developed that changed the course of jazz permanently - "modern jazz". The first major style of modern jazz was called bebop. One of bebop's founders, 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. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that bebop set the tone for just about all the new jazz styles that were developed since World War II, as they were either extensions of bebop ideas and material and/or reactions against bebop.
The late 50s and early 60s also saw the rise of cool jazz, a more relaxed style than bebop and its hard-driving descendants. Quite a few musicians are associated with this style, but probably most of all, Miles Davis and his collaborators in the Birth of the Cool (1957) and Kinda Blue (1959) albums and the Dave Brubeck Quartet in albums such as Time Out (1959).
During the early 1960s, free jazz, which uses improvisation that is not based on standard 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 prominent as other types of modern jazz.
Another important development, particularly from the '40s onwards, was the increasing popularity of Latin jazz, with Afro-Cuban and other, similar Latin-American rhythms being integrated into a number of jazz styles. In Brazil, bossa nova was first developed in the late '50s by composers João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim as a sort of minimalist variety of samba combining spare acoustic guitar arrangements with an almost whispered singing style. But the massive success of the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto—saxophonist Stan Getz's incursion into the genre which featured the hit song "The Girl from Ipanema", sung by Gilberto's then-wife Astrud—veered bossa nova firmly into the orbit of jazz, setting the stage for its nearly decade-long period of worldwide popularity during which the careers of such additional greats as Sérgio Mendes, Nara Leão, Luiz Bonfá, and Walter Wanderley were launched. Other important Latin jazz performers include trumpeter Herb Alpert, who, along with his band the Tijuana Brass, fused swing and cool jazz with Mexican mariachi music for a string of hit albums in the 60s, and percussionist Tito Puente, whose mambo-inflected style is best exemplified by his 1958 album Dance Mania.
Although jazz albums were still able to have commercial success into the 60s, the popularity of jazz was increasingly eclipsed by that of rock 'n' roll/rhythm & blues in the 1950s and to a much greater extent by 1960s and '70s rock. Relatedly, the late 1960s saw the rise of a new style, jazz-rock fusion, which did indeed have a mass audience. Among the more famous exponents of fusion were the trumpeter, Miles Davis, previously known as a bebopper and then a leader of the cool jazz movement in the late '50s and early-to-mid '60s; Chick Corea; Herbie Hancock; Wayne Shorter and his band, Weather Report; Mahavishnu Orchestra; and Alan Holdsworth. Many listeners and musicians were captivated by the creativity of some of these artists and the literally groovy, virtuosic songs they wrote and performed, but there was also a backlash from a more purist faction of jazz musicians in the '70s who did not want to integrate rock elements into their work and were afraid fusion would take over from jazz completely. The result is that while fusion gradually morphed into radio-friendly smooth jazz, with artists such as Kenny G, Al Jarreau, and George Benson enjoying continued commercial success in the '80s and '90s, the more orthodox branch of jazz also survived as a niche genre, integrating some fusion elements but mostly going its own way.
The 1980s and subsequent decades have seen more of a blending of the various different strains of jazz — not only does no single aesthetic predominate within the modern-day scene, but individual musicians too have become adept at mastering a variety of jazz styles, sometimes even within the same performance. Furthermore, jazz has become a more and more important influence on other genres of music: not only rock and pop (chanteuses such as Diana Krall and Norah Jones have enjoyed massive crossover success in the 21st century, and Rod Stewart saw enormous success in the '00s revisiting old big-band standards in his Great American Songbook series of albums) but also hip-hop (the music of A Tribe Called Quest, Stetsasonic, and other artists of the early-'90s "Native Tongues" collective was largely built on samples of old jazz records, while Guru of the rap duo Gang Starr performed with greats such as Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis, and David Sanborn in his Jazzmatazz side project), electronica (in the form of acid jazz which came roaring out of the UK in the '80s and '90s; the band Jamiroquai is the most famous exponent of the style), and even hardcore punk (Greg Ginn's innovative solos as lead guitarist for L.A.'s Black Flag, especially toward the latter part of the band's career, owe a huge stylistic debt to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman).
East CoastMuch of the Eastern United States' jazz scene can be covered in an itinerary called the Jazz Track.
Boston, MassachusettsThis is the location of the famous Berklee College of Music, whose students wrote the five illegal editions of the Real Book, starting in the 1970s. Many important jazz musicians have been involved at the Berklee College of Music since its founding in 1954, and it is considered one of the most important institutions of jazz studies in the U.S.
New York City, New YorkAmerica'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, Blue Note 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. New York also has important schools for jazz studies, including the New School, which rivals Boston's Berklee in producing flashy young players.
Washington, D.C.The birthplace of Duke Ellington is now the home of the D.C. Jazz Festival.
Marshall, TexasThis 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.
New Orleans, LouisianaBeing 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.
Chicago, IllinoisChicago 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. Chicago is also home to many jazz bars, the most famous perhaps being the Green Mill, which was the favourite hangout spot for the famous mobster Al Capone in the 1920s.
Kansas City, MissouriKansas City was the birthplace of Bennie Moten, whose orchestra flourished there in the 20s and 30s during the rollicking days of Prohibition when the city was under the control of Boss Tom Pendergast, who kept the liquor flowing and the jazz playing. Moten hired Count Basie in 1929, and after Moten's death in 1935, Basie formed his own orchestra which became one of the best-known big bands of the swing era. Charlie "Yardbird" Parker was also born in Kansas City and started his career there before moving to New York and becoming a seminal figure in bebop. The American Jazz Museum is in this city, which still has a jazz performance scene and was designated a "Creative City" by UNESCO in 2017.
Bay AreaThe 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.
Los Angeles, CaliforniaLos 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 StatesAs 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.
Copenhagen, DenmarkCopenhagen 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, cafés and concert halls fill up with big and small jazz groups 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.
Paris, FranceImmediately 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.
JapanJazz 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.
South AfricaAlthough - 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 UK 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.
Famous jazz clubs in the United States
BirdlandThis 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.
phone: +1 212 475-8592address: 131 West 3rd St.The Blue Note has a lineup of famous jazz and blues performers. Sometimes, they make sure patrons are quiet while the musicians play, but not always, as they do at Birdland and Village Vanguard.
phone: +1 212-258-9800address: Frederick P. Rose Hall, 5th Floor, Broadway at 60th StThis organization was founded by the well-known jazz trumpeter and educator, Wynton Marsalis. Many famous jazz musicians perform solo or small combo sets at this venue and there is also a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which is quite excellent.
Minton'sMinton'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.
Village VanguardThis 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, Stan Getz and Bill Charlap, have performed there.
Yoshi'sInterestingly, 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.
address: 4802 N BroadwayLocated in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, this live jazz music venue is known for being a favorite hangout spot for the famous Prohibition-era mobster Al Capone, with his booth still surviving and available to patrons on a first-come-first-serve basis.
address: 11 E Hubbard StLocated two miles west of Michigan Avenue, Chicago's main shopping street, this is one of the city's most respected jazz venues, regularly attracting world-class performers.
address: 726 St Peter St.No-nonsense live jazz venue in the French Quarter with its own in-house band, dedicated to preserving the traditional New Orleans style of jazz. No bars, public toilets or microphones inside, just a couple of benches, some floor cushions, standing room and world-class jazz musicians, though you may bring your own drinks to the performance. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band also goes on tour to other cities around the world; check to see if they are coming to a venue near you. You can either line up outside before each performance for general admission, or reserve better seats in advance for a higher price. Young children are welcome as long as they do not disrupt the performance.
address: 623 Frenchmen St.Small, cash-only jazz bar in Faubourg Marigny that is a favorite hangout spot for locals, with reasonably-priced drinks. Considered by many to be the quintessential jazz bar of New Orleans, and frequently hosts the best of New Orleans' local jazz bands.
phone: +1 321 783-4559address: 7 N Orlando Ave, Cocoa Beach, FloridaRestaurant and jazz club combined; the restaurant serves Central and Eastern European cuisine, and includes a lot of meat. There are jam sessions regularly.
Jazz concertsThere 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.
Jazz festivalsThere 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.
Monterey Jazz FestivalMonterey 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.
New Smyrna Beach Jazz FestivalNew 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.
Newport Jazz FestivalThis 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.
Rochester International Jazz FestivalThis nine-day festival takes place every June, right on the doorstep of the Eastman School of Music. Over 200,000 people attend more than 300 concerts each year.
address: 38 West Santa Clara StreetThis 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.
Savannah Jazz FestivalThis 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.
Montreal International Jazz FestivalIf 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.
address: Cumberland StreetThis jazz festival has jazz events in multiple venues that are near Cumberland Street in Toronto.
address: Aberdeen, UKFestival in about 15 venues in Aberdeen, Stonehaven and Portsoy.
address: Edinburgh, UKFestival of about 150 concerts in 11 venues.
address: MontreuxThis 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.
address: NiceThis 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.
phone: +1 716 855-9383address: 145 Broadway, BuffaloLocated on the city's East Side, the historic Colored Musicians' Club is easily the most storied jazz club in Buffalo. Founded in 1918 as the social club of the all-black, segregated American Federation of Musicians Local 533, the second-floor performance space quickly became the place to see informal jam sessions and rehearsals by members of Buffalo-area jazz bands. Soon enough, the Colored Musicians' Club was a venue in its own right, playing host to world-famous luminaries like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, and more. The club continues to host live music (show up for big-band concerts on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights or the legendary Sunday-night open jam session), but the attached museum contains a range of artifacts and exhibits that detail the history of the club and of jazz music in Buffalo.
phone: +1 415 673-7144address: 2097 Turk Street, San FranciscoNamed after the famous jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.
Over the years, and particularly since the 1970s, universities and conservatories finally began to recognize jazz as an appropriate subject for academic study. This had a number of profound effects: one, the ethnic makeup of jazz musicians, especially in the U.S., gradually shifted from majority-black to majority-white, and two, the structure of jazz music, particularly that performed in areas near universities, became more like classical music, rigidly formalized rather than improvised "from the soul". As a result, the production of sheet music for jazz tunes or as part of jazz arrangements became more common (see below). While this has helped open jazz performance up to a wider range of people, many fans complain that modern-day jazz sounds more homogenized and formulaic than before, and the quality of improvisation has gone down.
If your goal is to learn to play jazz yourself, the universities listed below 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 really know what you're doing, you will need to listen to jazz outside the college classes.
CDsIf 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.
Fakebooks are collections of sheet music of popular jazz compositions (called "lead sheets"), including chords so you can improvise along. The first fakebook was published in the early 1970s at Boston's Berklee College of Music under the title of "The Real Book", and the aforementioned academicization of jazz starting in the '80s have led to more and more of them being published. They're widely available at music stores and bookstores and can be an excellent way to learn to play many standard jazz tunes, either on your own or with a band, but keep in mind that many are illegally produced and copyrights have not been paid. (For example, the first five editions of the Real Book were illegal bootlegs, though the version sold nowadays isn't.)
Basically miniature fakebooks (usually including about 8-15 lead sheets) plus a CD with accompaniment that you can play along with as if it were a real band. Play-a-long books can be purchased on the internet.
- 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 prior existence of classical music.
- In Japan, jazz has become more popular than in some places, and jazz clubs are common.
- 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.