- For other article subjects named Jazz see jazz (disambiguation).
Jazz is a musical art form characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. It has been called the first original art form to develop in the United States of America.
Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. After originating in African American communities near the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s. Since then, jazz has had a profoundly pervasive influence on other musical styles worldwide. Today, various jazz styles continue to evolve.
According to Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American composer and classical and jazz trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis:
- Jazz is something Negroes invented, and it said the most profound things -- not only about us and the way we look at things, but about what modern democratic life is really about. It is the nobility of the race put into sound ... jazz has all the elements, from the spare and penetrating to the complex and enveloping. It is the hardest music to play that I know of, and it is the highest rendition of individual emotion in the history of Western music.
The word jazz itself is rooted in American slang, probably of sexual origin, although various alternative derivations have been suggested.
Roots of jazz
At the root of jazz is the blues, the folk music of former African slaves in the U.S. South and their descendants, heavily influenced by West African cultural and musical traditions that evolved as black musicians migrated to the cities.
Early jazz influences found their first mainstream expression in the marching band and dance band music of the day, which was the standard form of popular concert music at the turn of century. The instruments of these groups became the basic instruments of jazz: brass, reeds, and drums.
Black musicians frequently used the melody, structure, and beat of marches as points of departure; but, says "North by South, from Charleston to Harlem," a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities: "...a black musical spirit (involving rhythm and melody) was bursting out of the confines of European musical tradition, even though the performers were using European styled instruments. This African-American feel for rephrasing melodies and reshaping rhythm created the embryo from which many great black jazz musicians were to emerge." Many black musicians also made a living playing in small bands hired to lead funeral processions in the New Orleans African-American tradition. These Africanized bands played a seminal role in the articulation and dissemination of early jazz. Traveling throughout black communities in the Deep South and to northern big cities, these musician-pioneers were the Hand helping to fashion the music's howling, raucous, then free-wheeling, "raggedy," ragtime spirit, quickening it to a more eloquent, sophisticated, swing incarnation.
For all its genius, early jazz, with its humble, folk roots, was the product of primarily self-taught musicians. But an impressive postbellum network of black-established and -operated institutions, schools, and civic societies in both the North and the South — of which the Jenkins Orphanage was only one — plus widening mainstream opportunities for education, produced ever-increasing numbers of young, formally trained African-American musicians, some of them schooled in classical European musical forms. Lorenzo Tio and Scott Joplin were among this new wave of musically literate jazz artists. Joplin, the son of a former slave and a free-born woman of color, was largely self-taught until age 11, when he received lessons in the fundamentals of music theory from a classically trained German immigrant in Texarkana, Texas.
Also contributing to this trend was a tightening of Jim Crow (racial segregation) laws in Louisiana in the 1890s, which caused the expulsion from integrated bands of numbers of talented, formally trained African-American musicians. The ability of these musically literate, black jazz men to transpose and then read what was in great part an improvisational art form became an invaluable element in the preservation and dissemination of musical innovation that took on added importance in the approaching big-band era.
The national music scene at the start of the 20th century
By the turn of the century, American society had begun to shed the heavy-handed, straitlaced formality that had characterized the Victorian era.
Strong influence of African American music traditions had already been a part of mainstream popular music in the United States for generations, going back to the 19th century minstrel show tunes and the melodies of Stephen Foster.
Public dance halls, clubs, and tea rooms opened in the cities. Curiously named black dances inspired by African dance moves, like the shimmy, turkey trot , buzzard lope , chicken scratch, monkey glide , and the bunny hug eventually were adopted by a white public. The cake walk, developed by slaves as a send-up of their masters' formal dress balls, became the rage. White audiences saw these dances first in vaudeville shows, then performed by exhibition dancers in the clubs.
The music of the time was not jazz, though some of it was a was among jazz's precursors along the blues-ragtime continuum of musical experimentation and innovation that soon would blossom into jazz. Popular Tin Pan Alley composers like Irving Berlin incorporated ragtime influence into their compositions, though they seldom used the specific musical devices that were second nature to jazz players—the rhythms, the blue notes. Few things did more to popularize the idea of hot music than Berlin's hit song of 1911,"Alexander's Ragtime Band," which became a craze as far from home as Vienna. Although the song wasn't written in rag time, the lyrics describe a jazz band, right up to jazzing up popular songs, as in the line, "If you want to hear the Swanee River played in ragtime...."
The early New Orleans "jass" style
A number of regional styles contributed to the early development of jazz. Arguably the single most important was that of the New Orleans, Louisiana area, which was the first to be commonly given the name "jazz" (early on often spelled "jass").
The city of New Orleans and the surrounding area had long been a regional music center. People from many different nations of Africa, Europe, and Latin America contributed to New Orleans' rich musical heritage. In the French and Spanish colonial era, slaves had more freedom of cultural expression than in the English colonies of what would become the United States. In the Protestant colonies African music was looked on as inherently "pagan" and was commonly suppressed, while in Louisiana it was allowed. African musical celebrations held at least as late as the 1830s in New Orleans' "Congo Square" were attended by interested whites as well, and some of their melodies and rhythms found their way into the compositions of white Creole composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In addition to the slave population, New Orleans also had North America's largest community of free people of color, some of whom prided themselves on their education and used European instruments to play both European music and their own folk tunes.
By the end of the 19th century, the city was a regional center of Tin Pan Alley popular music and the young style of ragtime, and a distinctive, new musical style began to develop.
According to many New Orleans musicians who remembered the era, the key figures in the development of the new style were flamboyant trumpeter Buddy Bolden and the members of his band. Bolden is remembered as the first to take the blues — hitherto a folk music sung and self-accompanied on string instruments or blues harp (harmonica) — and arrange it for brass instruments. Bolden's band played blues and other tunes, constantly "variating the melody" (improvising) for both dance and brass band settings, creating a sensation in the city and quickly being imitated by many other musicians.
By the early years of the 20th century, travelers visiting New Orleans remarked on the local bands' ability to play ragtime with a "pep" not heard elsewhere.
Characteristics which set the early New Orleans style apart from the ragtime music played elsewhere included freer rhythmic improvisation. Ragtime musicians elsewhere would "rag" a tune by giving a syncopated rhythm and playing a note twice (at half the time value), while the New Orleans style used more intricate rhythmic improvisation often placing notes far from the implied beat (compare, for example, the piano rolls of Jelly Roll Morton with those of Scott Joplin). The New Orleans style players also adopted much of the vocabularity of the blues, including bent and blue notes and instrumental "growls" and smears otherwise not used on European instruments.
Key figures in the early development of the new style were Freddie Keppard, a dark Creole of color who mastered Bolden's style; Joe Oliver, whose style was even more deeply soaked in the blues than Bolden's; and Kid Ory, a trombonist who helped crystallize the style with his band hiring many of the city's best musicians. The new style also spoke to young whites as well, especially the working-class children of immigrants, who took up the style with enthusiasm. Papa Jack Laine led a multi-ethnic band through which passed almost all of two generations of early New Orleans white jazz musicians (and a number of non-whites as well).
Other regional styles
Meanwhile, other regional styles were developing which would influence the development of jazz.
- African-American minister Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins of Charleston, South Carolina, was an unlikely figure of far-reaching importance in the early development of jazz. In 1891, Jenkins established the Jenkins Orphanage for boys and four years later instituted a rigorous music program in which the orphanage's young charges were taught the religious and secular music of the day, including overtures and marches. Precocious orphans and defiant runaways, some of whom had played ragtime in bars and brothels, were delivered to the orphanage for "salvation" and rehabilitation and made their musical contributions, as well. In the fashion of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Fisk University, the Jenkins Orphanage Bands traveled widely, earning money to keep the orphanage afloat. It was an expensive enterprise. Jenkins typically took in approximately 125 – 150 "black lambs" yearly, and many of them received formal musical training. Less than 30 years later, five bands operated nationally, with one traveling to England — again in the Fisk tradition. It would be hard to overstate the influence of the Jenkins Orphanage Bands on early jazz, scores of whose members went on to play with jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. Among them were the likes of trumpet virtuosos Cladys "Cat" Anderson , Gus Aitken and Jabbo Smith.
- In the northeastern United States, a "hot" style of playing ragtime developed. While centered in New York City, it could be found in African-American communities from Baltimore, Maryland, to New York City. Some later commentators have categorized it after the fact as an early form of jazz, while others disagree. It was characterized by rollicking rhythms, but lacked the distinctly bluesy influence of the southern styles. The solo piano version of the northeast style was typified by such players as noted composer Eubie Blake, the son of slaves, whose musical career spanned an impressive eight decades. James P. Johnson took the northeast style and around 1919 developed a style of playing that came to be known as "stride." In stride piano, the right hand plays the melody, while the active left hand "walks" or "strides" from upbeat to downbeat, maintaining the rhythm. Johnson influenced later pianists like Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller and Willie "The Lion" Smith.
The top orchestral leader of the style was James Reese Europe, and his 1913 and 1914 recordings preserve a rare glimpse of this style at its peak. It was during this time that Europe's music profoundly influenced a young George Gershwin, who would go on to compose the jazz-inspired classic "Rhapsody in Blue." By the time Europe recorded again in 1919, he was in the process of incorporating the influence of the New Orleans style into his playing. The recordings of Tim Brymn give later generations another look at the northeastern hot style with little of the New Orleans influence yet evident.
- In Chicago at the start of the 1910s, a popular type of dance band consisted of a saxophone vigorously ragging a melody over a 4-square rhythm section. The city soon fell heavily under the influence of waves of New Orleans musicians, and the older style blended with the New Orleans style to form what would be called "Chicago Jazz" starting in the late 1910s.
- Along the banks of the Mississippi around Memphis, Tennessee to Saint Louis, Missouri, another band style developed incorporating the blues. The most famous composer and bandleader of the style was the "Father of the Blues," W.C. Handy. While in some ways similar to the New Orleans style (Bolden's influence may have spread upriver), it lacked the freewheeling improvisation found further south. Handy, indeed, for many years denounced jazz as needlessly chaotic, and in his style improvisation was limited to short fills between phrases and considered inappropriate for the main melody.
The national spread of "jass"
A number of educated "colored" New Orleanians left the South due to increasingly restrictive Jim Crow laws, at first heading mostly to California. One of these was musician Bill Johnson, who thought a good New Orleans-style band would have commercial possibilities out West. Johnson sent for some of the city's best hot musicians, including Freddie Keppard, to join him at the start of the 1910s, forming the Original Creole Orchestra . A vaudeville promoter caught the band playing to ethusiastic crowds in between rounds at a boxing match and booked the band to tour the nation on the Orpheum Circuit . The members of the Creole Orchestra wrote their colleagues back home that hot New Orleans musicians could make much better money playing their style up North and out West than they could at home, encouraging many to start spreading the style around the nation.
Chicago was one of the first cities to embrace the new style, and from some accounts it was here that the New Orleans style was first popularly christened "jass." Back in New Orleans, it was called by such names as "ratty music", "hot music," or simply "ragtime" (Sidney Bechet often continued to call his music "ragtime" as late as the 1950s). The style was so different from the ragtime and dance music of the rest of the nation, that a new name was needed to distinguish it. Apparently, the first band billed as playing "jass" was that of trombonist Tom Brown. The term "jass" was rude sexual slang (related to the term "jism").
One group that followed the Original Creoles and Tom Brown to Chicago went North in 1916 as "Stein's Dixie Jass Band." These veterans of the Papa Jack Laine bands made their way to New York City the following year, calling themselves "The Original Dixieland Jass Band." In New York, they had an opportunity to record phonograph records. The discs, recorded as a novelty, were a surprise national hit, and "jass" quickly became a national craze.
It was in New York where "jass" became "jazz" in the late 1910s, purportedly because mischievous people were making a habit of scratching out the "J"s on posters, which then, unfortunately, advertised "ass band"s.
Two disparate, but important, inventions of the second half of the nineteenth century quietly had set the stage for jazz to capture the spotlight in American popular music by the 1920s. George Pullman's invention of the sleeping car in 1864 brought a new level of luxury and comfort to the nation's railways; and Thomas Edison's invention, in 1877, of the phonograph record made quality music accessible to virtually everyone.
Pullman's ingenious, rolling sleeping quarters provided employment to legions of African-American men, who criss-crossed the nation as sleeping car porters; and by the second decade of the twentieth century, the Pullman Company employed more African-Americans than any single business concern in the United States. But Pullman porters were more than solicitous, smiling faces in smart, navy blue uniforms. The most dapper and sophisticated of them were culture bearers, spreading the card game of bid whist , the latest dance crazes, regional news, and a heightened sense of black pride to cities and towns wherever the railways reached. Many porters also sold "race records" to augment their income, speeding artistic innovations to musicians eager to hear the latest; spreading among the general public an awareness of and appreciation for this rapidly evolving musical form; and, in the process, putting jazz on the fast track to first U.S., then worldwide, acclaim.
With Prohibition, the constitutional amendment that forbade the sale of alcoholic beverages, the legal saloons and cabarets were closed; but in their place hundreds of speakeasies appeared, where patrons drank and musicians entertained. The presence of dance venues and the subsequent increased demand for accomplished musicians meant more artists were able to support themselves by playing professionally. As a result, the numbers of professional musicians increased, and jazz—like all the popular music of the 1920s—adopted the 4/4 beat of dance music.
Another nineteenth-century invention, radio, came into its own in the 1920s, after the first public radio station in the U.S. began broadcasting in Pittsburgh in 1922. Radio stations proliferated at a remarkable rate, and with them, the popularity of jazz. Jazz became associated with things modern, sophisticated, and decadent. The second decade of the new century, a time of technological marvels, flappers, flashy automobiles, organized crime, bootleg whiskey, and bathtub gin, would come to be known as the Jazz Age.
Key figures of the decade
King Oliver was "jazz king" of Chicago in the early 1920s, when Chicago was the national hub of jazz. His band was the epitome of the New Orleans hot ensemble jazz style. Unfortunately, his band's recordings were little heard outside of Chicago and New Orleans, but the ensemble was a powerful influence on younger musicians, both black and white.
Sidney Bechet was the first master jazz musician to take up what previously often had been dismissed as a novelty instrument, the saxophone. Bechet helped propel jazz in more individualistic personality- and solo-driven directions.
In this last point, Bechet was joined by a young protege of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, who was to become one of the major forces in the development of jazz. Armstrong was an extraordinary improviser, capable of creating endless variations on a single melody. Armstrong also popularized scat singing, an improvisational vocal technique in which nonsensical syllables or words are sung or otherwise vocalized, often as part of a call-and-response interaction with other musicians onstage. His unique, gravely voice and innate sense of swing made scat an instant hit.
Arguably, Bix Beiderbecke was both the first white and the first non-New Orleanian to make major original contributions to the development of jazz with his legato phrasing, bringing the influence of classical romanticism to jazz.
Paul Whiteman was the most commercially successful bandleader of the 1920s, billing himself as "The King of Jazz." Sacrificing spontaneous improvisation for the sake of elaborate written arrangements, Whiteman claimed to be "making a lady out of jazz." Despite his hiring Bix and many of the other best white jazz musicians of the era, later generations of jazz lovers have often judged Whiteman's music to have little to do with real jazz. Nonetheless, his notion of combining jazz with elaborate orchestrations has been returned to repeatedly by composers and arrangers of later decades. It was Whiteman who commissioned Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which was debuted by Whiteman's Orchestra.
Fletcher Henderson led the top African American band in New York City. At first he wished to follow the lead of Paul Whiteman, but after hiring Louis Armstrong to play in his band, Henderson realized the importance of the improvising soloist in developing jazz bands. Henderson's arrangements would play a significant role in the development of the Big Band era in the following decade.
Young pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington first came to national attention in the late 1920s with his tight band making many recordings and radio broadcasts. Ellington's importance would grow in the coming decades.
1930s to 1950s
While the solo became more important in jazz, popular bands became larger in size. The Big band became the popular provider of music for the era. Big bands varied in their jazz content; some (such as Benny Goodman's Orchestra) were highly jazz oriented, while others (such as Glenn Miller's) left little space for improvisation. Most were somewhere inbetween, having some musicians adept at jazz solos playing with section men who kept the rhythm and arrangements going. However even bands without jazz soloists adopted a sound owing much to the jazz vocabularity, for example sax sections playing what sounded like an improvised variation on a melody (and may have originated as a transcription of one).
Key figures in developing the big jazz band were arrangers and bandleaders Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman and the man sometimes deemed the most prolific composer in American history, Duke Ellington.
The influence of Louis Armstrong continued to grow. Musicians and bandleaders like Cab Calloway — and, later, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, jumped on the scat bandwagon. Pop vocalists like Bing Crosby embraced Armstrong's style of improvising on the melody, and U.S. pop singers seldom since have rendered a tune "straight," in the pre-jazz style.
In the early 1920s, popular music was still a mixture of things—current dance numbers, novelty songs, show tunes. "Businessman's bounce music," as one horn player put it. But musicians with steady jobs, playing with the same companions, were able to go far beyond that. The Ellington band at the Cotton Club and the various Kansas City groups that became the Count Basie band date from this period.
Over time, social strictures regarding racial segregation began to relax in entertainment. White bandleaders, who tended to mold the music more to orthodox rhythms and harmony, began to recruit black musicians. In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman hired pianist Teddy Wilson, vibraharpist Lionel Hampton, and guitarist Charlie Christian to join small groups. During this period, the popularity of swing (genre) and big band music was at its height, making stars of such men as Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. Swing, the popular music of its time, covered a broad spectrum from "sweet" to "hot" bands, with the jazz content varying across the range.
A development of swing known as "jumping the blues" anticipated rhythm and blues and rock and roll in some respects. It involved the use of small combos instead of big bands and a concentration on up-tempo music using the familiar blues chord progressions. One brief variation, known as boogie-woogie, used a doubled rhythm—that is, the rhythm section played "eight to the bar," eight beats per measure instead of four. Big Joe Turner, a Kansas City singer who worked in the 1930s with Swing bands like Count Basie's, became a boogie-woogie star in the 1940s and then in the 1950s was one of the first innovators of rock and roll, notably with his song "Shake, Rattle and Roll". Another jazz founder of rock and roll was saxophonist Louis Jordan.
Development of bebop
The next major stylistic turn came with bebop in the 1940s, led by such distinctive stylists as the saxophonist Charlie Parker (known as "Yardbird" or "Bird") and Dizzy Gillespie. This marked a major shift of jazz as pop music for dancing to a high-art, less-accessible, cerebral "musician's music." Bop valued complex improvisations based on chord progressions rather than melody. Hard bop was a move away from cool jazz, an attempt to make bop more appealing to audiences by incorporating influences from soul music, gospel music, and the blues. Hard bop was at the peak of its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, and was associated with such notable figures as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Charles Mingus. Later, bebop and hard bop musicians, such as trumpeter Miles Davis, made more stylistic advances with modal jazz, where the harmonic structure of pieces was much more free than previously and frequently only implied by skeletal piano chords and bass parts. The instrumentalists then would improvise around a given mode of the scale. Soul jazz was a development of hard bop which centred on the Hammond organ.
Main article: Latin jazz
Latin jazz has two varieties: Afro-Cuban and Brazilian. Afro-Cuban jazz was played in the U.S. directly after the bebop period, while Brazilian jazz became more popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
Afro-Cuban started as a movement after the death of Charlie Parker. Notable bebop musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Taylor started Afro-Cuban bands at that time. Gillespie's work was mostly with big bands of this genre. While the music was influenced by Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians like Tito Puente, there were many Americans who were drawing upon Cuban rhythms for their work.
Brazilian jazz is, in North America at least, nearly synonymous with bossa nova, a Brazilian popular style which is derived from samba with influences from jazz as well as other 20th-century classical and popular music. Bossa is generally slow, played around 80 beats per minute or so. The music uses straight eighths, rather than swing eighths, and also uses difficult polyrhythms. The best-known bossa nova compositions are considered to be jazz standards in their own right.
The related term jazz-samba essentially describes an adaptation of bossa nova compositions to the jazz idiom by American performers such as Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, and usually played at 120 beats per minute or faster. Samba itself is actually not jazz, but being derived from older Afro-Brazilian music it shares some common characteristics.
Main article: Free jazz
Free jazz, or avant-garde jazz, is a subgenre that, while rooted in bebop, typically uses less compositional material and allows performers more latitude in what they choose to play. Free jazz's greatest departure from other styles is in the use of harmony and a regular, swinging tempo: Both are often implied, utilized loosely, or abandoned altogether. These approaches were rather controversial when first advanced, but have generally found acceptance--though sometimes grudgingly--and have been utilized in part by other jazz performers.
There were earlier precedents, but free jazz crystalized in the late 1950's, especially via Ornette Coleman, and probably found its greatest exposure in the late 1960s with John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers, Leroy Jenkins, Don Pullen and others.
While typically finding minimal popularity, free jazz has exerted an influence to the present. Peter Brotzmann, Ken Vandermark, William Parker are leading contemporary free jazz musicians.
Jazz and rock music: jazz fusion
Main article: Jazz fusion
With the growth of rock and roll in the 1960s, came the hybrid form jazz-rock fusion, again involving Davis, who in 1968 released the fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Jazz at this stage was no longer center stage in popular music, but was still breaking new ground and combining and recombining in different forms. Notable artists of the 1960s and 1970s jazz and fusion scene include: Carlos Santana, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and his Headhunters band, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Al Di Meola, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Joni Mitchell, Sun Ra, Peter Skellern , Soft Machine, Caravan, Narada Michael Walden (who would later enjoy huge success as a music producer), Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, the Pat Metheny Group and Weather Report. Some of these have continued to develop the genre into the 2000s.
The stylistic diversity of jazz has shown no sign of diminishing, absorbing influences from such disparate sources as world music and avant garde classical music, including African rhythm and traditional structure, serialism, and the extensive use of chromatic scale, by such musicians as Ornette Coleman or John Zorn.
Starting in the 1970s with artists like Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny Group, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner , and Eberhard Weber, the ECM record label established a new chamber-music aesthetics, preferably on acoustic instruments, heading to a world-music concept, also sometimes referred to as the European leg of jazz.
However, jazz's audience has shrunk dramatically and split, with a mainly older audience retaining an interest in traditional, "straight-ahead" jazz styles, a small core of practitioners and fans interested in highly experimental modern jazz, and a constantly changing group of musicians fusing jazz idioms with contemporary popular music genres, forming styles like acid jazz, which contains elements of 1970s disco; acid swing which combines 1940s style big-band sounds with faster, more aggressive rock-influenced drums and electric guitar; and nu jazz which combines elements of jazz and modern forms of electronic dance music.
Exponents of the "acid jazz" style which was initially UK-based included the Brand New Heavies, James Taylor Quartet, Young Disciples , and Corduroy , and on the other side of the Atlantic in the United States the Groove Collective, Soulive, and Solsonics . In a more pop or smooth jazz context, jazz enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s with bands like Pigbag and Curiosity Killed the Cat achieving chart hits in Britain. Sade Adu became the definitive voice of smooth jazz.
With the rise in popularity of various forms of electronic music during the late 1980s and 1990s, some jazz artists have attempted a fusion of jazz with more the experimental leanings of electronica (particularly IDM) with different degrees of success, which has been variously dubbed "future jazz", "jazz-house" or "nu jazz". At the more experimental and improvisional end of the spectrum include Scandanavian based artists such as pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær (who both began their careers on the ECM record label), and the trio Wibutee, all of whom have learned their chops as instrumentalists in their own right in more traditional jazz circles. The Cinematic Orchestra from the UK or Julien Loureau from France have also gained praise in this area. Towards the more pop or pure dance music end of the spectrum of nu-juzz are producers such St Germain and Jazzanova who incorporates some live jazz playing with more metronomic house beats.
In the 2000s we have seen "jazz" hit the pop charts with artists like Diana Krall and Norah Jones. These artists are light on the improvisation, a key characteristic of jazz. However, their instrumentation and rhythms are similar to other jazz music, and the label has stuck.
Jazz is often difficult to define, but improvisation is unquestionably a key element of the form. Improvisation has been since early times an essential element in African and African-American music and is closely related to the pervasiveness of call and response in West African and African-American cultural expression. The exact form of improvisation has changed over time. Early folk blues music often was based around a call and response pattern, and improvisation would factor into the lyrics, the melody, or both. Part of the Dixieland style involves musicians taking turns playing the melody while the others make up counter lines to go with it. By the Swing era, big bands played carefully arranged sheet music, but the music often would call for one member of the band to stand up and play a short, improvised solo. Finally, in Bebop, improvisation takes center stage, as almost the entire focus of the music is on clever, improvised solos, with little attention given to the melody, or "head", of each piece.
When jazz musicians improvise, they usually use a chord progression — the series of chords that define the harmonic structure of a piece of music. For example, the Charlie Parker composition "Now's the Time" is 12 bars long and follows what jazz musicians call a twelve-bar blues progression. After the melody, the rhythm section keeps playing the same 12 bars of music, while each soloist in turn improvises new melodies within the harmonic structure of the chords. It is possible to get a better idea of what is happening musically by humming the melody while listening to the solo. In this manner, it becomes clearer that the improvised melody is closely related to the chord progression of the piece. Fitting an improvised melody to the harmony is known as "playing the (chord) changes."
As previously noted, later styles of jazz, such as modal jazz, abandoned the strict notion of a chord progression, allowing the individual musicians to improvise more freely within the context of a given scale or mode. Fine examples of modal jazz can be enjoyed off of the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. When a pianist or guitarist improvises chords while a soloist is playing, it is called comping or vamping (also see ostinato).
Another technique in improvisation is finding key centers. When the jazz musician approaches a song that does not have any kind of chord progression (such as twelve bar blues or rhythm changes) and a mode isn't easily identifiable, then he or she can look at specific areas of the piece and identify chord changes that relate to a specific scale or mode. This process can be repeated in such a manner that the musician can improvise over the whole piece.
Furthermore, the jazz musician will often play "out" of a piece, i.e. intentionally playing notes and rhythms that do not work with a song, either to grab attention or to make it so when they come back "in" they will sound even better.