What Is Jazz?

Jazz is a very young genre of music that continues to evolve and reshape itself at a breathtaking pace. Every ten years or so, jazz seems to reinvent itself; the rate of change is astounding. Jazz is categorized by several important elements. One is instrumentation: bass, piano, drums, saxophone, and trumpet come to mind. The other main part is improvisation. It's actually the strongest component of playing jazz: improvising melodic solos over chord changes. It's one of the things that truly sets jazz apart. Now, look at the elements of jazz as they relate to music theory.

Jazz is one of the few purely American art forms that do not directly come from the European tradition. Instead, it was slowly formed from its origins in gospel music and the blues music of the Deep South. It quickly grew into art music through the great jazz innovators such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, to name a few.

How is jazz different from other styles of music? Primarily, improvisation and instrumentation are the aspects that are unique to jazz. Consider jazz in relation to other styles of music. Does jazz use scales, diatonic chords, triads? How does its harmony work? What are the essential ingredients of jazz? The rest of this chapter is devoted to breaking jazz into its small parts.

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