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What is Jazz?

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7. jazz and rock are not necessarily mutually exclusive as the fusion movement in the 70s and 80s combined the best elements of both

III. What is Jazz (and what it is not)

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Billie Holiday

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Miles Davis


A. is musical conversation

   

Jazz is musical conversation: a partly planned and partly spontaneous musical dialogue among the musicians who are performing it. 


B. is a music of the present moment

   

While performing (or practicing), jazz musicians utilize the inspiration of the moment, their knowledge of music theory, life experience, social, political, and economic surroundings, technical savvy on their instruments, and, especially, all the music (particularly jazz and blues) they have ever heard that has influenced them (even the most avant-garde jazz artists reflect, in some way, the music of their musical forefathers). Jazz is a music of the present moment, anchored lovingly and respectfully in the past. 


C. is a newcomer

   

Jazz is a newcomer to music -- unlike symphonic music, folk music, opera, Eastern music, etc., jazz is only a century old. 


D. was born out of the Black experience in America

   

Jazz was born out of the Black experience in America, basically fusing African and European musical traditions. Evolving from slave work songs, spirituals (religious Black American folk songs), blues, brass band music, and ragtime (a rhythmically sophisticated piano style), jazz first appeared in the culturally diverse city of New Orleans in the early 1900s.  


E. is embraced worldwide

   

African Americans devised the major elements of jazz in its formative years and were the primary pioneers of stylistic changes in later decades. Today, jazz is performed, innovated, and listened to by people all over the world from virtually every ethnicity, religion, and culture. 


F. is its own unique art form

   

Jazz has influenced and been influenced by other musics: rock, rap, country, funk, Latin, classical, blues, gospel, African, Eastern, pop, folk, hip-hop, etc., etc7. Jazz, while extremely diverse and all encompassing, is, however, its own unique art form. It is more about the way the music is played rather than what is played (more on this later). 


G. is relatively complex

   

As far as musics go, jazz is relatively complex; there are many musical, technical, intellectual, and emotional elements happening simultaneously (more on this later). Jazz makes far more demands on the listener than do most popular styles which are fundamentally simpler than jazz, requiring less from the listener. The more one knows about jazz (i.e., how to listen, its history, evolution of its styles, key players, forms, relationship to American history and culture, etc.), the more one can appreciate and enjoy it, even possibly gaining insight into his/her humanity via aesthetic experience -- jazz’s ultimate goal. 


H. is about feeling

   

Although complicated, the core of jazz is about feeling, not intellectual definition. 

the thelonious monk institute of jazz
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