Jazz originated from New Orleans, America in the 20th century. Its unique sound was created from the fusion of African American music styles with Western techniques and theory. Some of the musical elements that help define jazz are:

  • Syncopation

  • Call and response

  • Swing

  • Poly-rhythms

  • Blue notes

  • Improvisation


Its combination of styles can be attributed to many sources including:

  • New England's religious church hymns

  • Western Sahel

  • West Africa

  • Hill-billy music

  • European military bands

After its inception throughout African-American communities in the early 20th century, the jazz style spread during the 1920s, influencing many other styles.

Jazz, with its strong association with the blues, evolved while black musicians migrated into the cities. It was a time when there was still enslaved Africans in south U.S.

Many of the instruments played in dance bands and marching music during the turn of the century became the core instruments of jazz. Using the 12-tone western scale, these included:

  • Brass

  • Reeds

  • Drums


The jazz genre can vary a lot and can encompass a wide variety of music. One of the key elements of jazz is improvisation. Improvisation was an element in African-American music ever since the early style of music developed. It is similar to the call and response element found in African-American and West African expression of culture.

This improvisation element changed with time:

Early folk and blues music was often based on a call / response pattern, with improvisation of an element of the lyrics and / or melody.

Dixieland jazz had musicians taking turn to play the melody, while other musicians would improvise a counter melody.

Swing lead to big bands playing arranged sheet music and individual soloists performing improvised solos. Musicians would not stick strictly to the original, but would try to incorporate a common theme or motif to tie the music together.

There are big differences when you compare jazz to the classical music form. In a classical form, the control is in the composer's hands with musicians playing music as it is written. The jazzform places more control in the musicians hands with the melody, harmonies and even time signature varying from the original.

Due to the varying nature of improvisation, jazz typically sticks to one tempo with no rubato. The leader will set the tempo and this tempo is kept for majority of the piece.

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