Defining Jazz - Decades and Decades of Styles

Jazz music is difficult to define by one sound or one identity. Throughout time, jazz has evolved significantly into specific styles, sounds, and techniques. A misconception about jazz is that it all sounds the same. Oh how wrong this misconception is. Jazz has many sounds that have resulted in several distinctive styles. Keep in mind that not all styles are for everyone as they all are not alike. In order for one to understand and appreciate jazz they must do one thing... listen. Finding the specific style of jazz that suits your interests most is the true key to appreciating and understanding such a unique genre. Here are just some jazz styles and examples to help illustrate their notable differences.

Ragtime - Often referred to as the founding form of jazz, ragtime originated in the southern United States during the late 1800s. Ragtime consists of vibrant rhythms associated with African dance. It was primarily composed for the piano.

Dixieland - "New Orleans Jazz" - This style of jazz is an integration of blues, ragtime, and brass instruments. Most common instruments played in Dixieland jazz include a trumpet-cornet, clarinet, trombone, and, sometimes, the saxophone. In the rhythm section, instruments could include a banjo, piano, drums, string bass, or tuba.

Original Dixieland Jazz Band - Jazz Me Blues (1921)

Big Band - Following the dixieland era, big band became really popular in the 1920s. Big band jazz was performed by an ensemble of at least 10 or more instruments ranging from saxophones, trumpets, piano, drums, guitar, and bass. All these instruments combined created a very high energy sound, known as swing, that was very popular to dance to.

Count Basie Orchestra

Bebop - Following the popularity of big band, bebop was a very different style of jazz. Bebop consisted of a small group of musicians (usually between 4-6). It had very complex melodies and chord progressions that were difficult to dance to. This style also gave birth to what we know as "scat" singing.

Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker - Ko Ko

Cool - Cool jazz evolved from the bop styles in the late 1940s and 1950s. Cool jazz had a smoother mixture of bop and swing tones. Cool jazz is also known as "West Coast Jazz" because of the many innovations coming from Los Angeles. By the end of the 1950s, cool jazz spread nation wide with significant contributions from east coast musicians.

Miles Davis - Birth of the Cool

Modal - Modal jazz is based on individual scales or modes rather than keys. With modal jazz, there are fewer chord changes, which allows more time and freedom for melodic improvisation.

Miles Davis - Freddie Freeloader

Because jazz is so diverse, there are countless styles. These are just some that greatly demonstrate the sound and help to give a better understanding of jazz music to those who are just starting out with their discovery. Happy listening!

Takin' Five...

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Illinois Jacquet on Prestige!

One of my absolute favorite saxophonists is Illinois Jacquet. A tenor sax player, Jacquet was best known for his solo in "Flying Home", which was recognized as the first R&B sax solo. Not only was he a pioneer of the "honking" tenor sound that became a regular feature of sax playing and a hallmark of rock and roll, he was also a skilled and melodic improviser, both on up tempo tunes and ballads. Illinois Jacquet is considered to be one of the most influential tenor saxophonists in jazz music history.

Flying Home

I Don't Stand A Ghost of A Chance With You

Jacquet's solos of the early and mid 1940s and performances at the Jazz Philharmonic concert series greatly influenced rhythm and blues, the rock and roll saxophone sound, and continue to be heard throughout the jazz scene.

Kind Of Blue - Top 25 Most Influential Albums of All Time

Kind of Blue... what can I say? Easily considered one of the most influential albums to music, Kind of Blue is an ingenious collaboration of Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb. This album is not only considered to be one of Davis' best selling records but also the best selling jazz record of all time. In 2008, Columbia Legacy Records released the 50th anniversary edition of this jazz masterpiece.

Clearly, I'm quite a huge fan of Kind of Blue. It was the very first jazz album I bought, and I literally played it everyday for nearly a year straight. So, yes, I'm a little bias. Below is a link to So What, my favorite song. Enjoy!