Home » Szwed, John F. Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz

Szwed, John F. Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz

John F. Szwed resides in Connecticut, and he is currently a professor of anthropology, African-American studies, music, and American studies at Yale University. He has written seven books on music and African-American culture and numerous articles and reviews on similar subjects. Szwed has received honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship. Knowledge of jazz has fallen far behind its development. Most people do not know the facts on jazz, only some generalities and stereotypes.

Often being called America’s only original art form, jazz began as an ethnic music, but there is much more to jazz than music. It is difficult to think of jazz without thinking of African-American people, but it was probably the first art to challenge European culture and the idea of the classes as time-honored and serious. Jazz was not only musical, but physical, visual, social, and emotional. The popularity of jazz all of a sudden diminished, but it continues to define and give shape to American culture. Many people do not realize its significance.

Jazz has developed from the mix of African and European music. The rhythm patterns, articulation, staggered entry, and percussion enrichment are some of the contributions that African music made to jazz. This is why African-Americans have been called the pioneers of jazz. Jazz has been relatively free of constraints. It is usually improvised, but many times it is not. It is usually considered as music characterized by a rhythmic feel or influenced by the blues. Throughout the history of jazz, there have been people of other races and ethnicities involved in its creation.

Jazz might be the best documented art in the history of the world. There are not one or two specific instruments that characterize jazz. Almost all instruments have been used by jazz musicians at some time. The saxophone, trumpet, trombone, bass, drums, piano, and guitar are the most popular instruments still being used. Jazz is polymeric, which means that there is more than one rhythm playing at a time. Double-time is a main concept with jazz. This means the tempo is doubled in the melody while the other instruments continue at the same speed.

The opposite of this, half-time, is another key part of playing jazz. The most fundamental forms of jazz are pop songs and blues. Another form is improvisation, which is when the melody or harmony of the song is varied. Improvisation, the art of composing in the moment while performing, has been seen as the key mark that sets jazz apart from other music. The musicians have to be incredibly creative to do this, but it is kind of unrealistic. They are expected to sound different from other musicians and from themselves each time they perform.

Another form is composition, which is when they play music they have already written. Arranging is when the musicians make a plan that they agree to play by beforehand. This is supposed to give shape to their performance. Out of these three forms, the jazz musicians usually choose improvisation over the others. When listening to jazz, people hear it different ways. Some people like the physical level and others use more intellect. Many keep score, make lists of names, and guess the outcomes of the music. People listen to recordings or attend live performances.

Listening to recordings is not even close to being at a performance. Recordings are usually only a few minutes long, but performances can last an hour or longer. There has to be an interaction between the performers and the audience to get the full effect of jazz. Jazz was performed wherever there was space and demand. The music first came about and still is popular in nightclubs. Small clubs were the places where jazz musicians came to maturity. Clubs in New York City were the center of jazz activity. Although New York City was a main location of jazz, New Orleans has more recognition and more history of jazz.

Most New Orleans jazz bands included a trumpet, clarinet, trombone, and a rhythm section. Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton were some of the first important musicians in New Orleans. Bands from New Orleans got their melodies from almost everywhere: hymns, marches, pop songs, blues, rags, and vaudeville songs. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band from New Orleans first recorded what we have come to call jazz in 1917. Jazz has been divided into many styles and periods. Each of these periods is associated by composers who define the time.

The first period of jazz is considered pre-jazz, which consists of ragtime. The next period is early jazz, which was dominated by Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington, arguably the greatest jazz composer, and Count Basie characterize the swing period. Then, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker are associated with bebop. Miles Davis was popular during more than one period. He is associated with the next two periods: cool jazz and hard bop. A key figure of soul, or funk, jazz was Jimmy Smith. Modal jazz came next and then third-stream jazz, which was defined by Gunther Schuller.

John Coltrane was one of the main musicians of the next period, free jazz. Larry Coryell was popular for fusion and jazz rock. Wynton Marsalis is a key figure of the present period, which is neo-traditionalism. These styles did not just end during their period. They persist and change throughout time. The media and fans of jazz are the ones that single out the styles, but they have blended together throughout the periods. Certain aspects of jazz gained popularity while others became less popular, thus causing the change in periods. After reviewing this book I have a new understanding of jazz.

This book explained the historical significance of jazz in our culture. Many people today do not truly understand the importance of jazz. The author explained the complexities, the styles, and the musicians of jazz, which were much larger than I knew about. I agree with the author on attending live performances over listening to recordings. Recordings are often short, premeditated events. When attending live performances you get the true feel of the musician and their music. Jazz has much more to it than other music styles, and now I appreciate it and have a greater understanding of jazz.

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