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Useful sites:

Red Hot Jazz Archive

Jazz 101

A Passion For Jazz

Jazz Roots

Big Band Database


The birth of jazz represents the first major turning point in the popular music of the 20th century, and as a style it has spawned almost as many sub-categories as that other milestone, rock & roll.
It's origins lie in the blues, the minstrel show, and the music of cosmopolitan white America, particularly European dances and marches, all of which came together in late 19th century New Orleans.
It was from white military bands that early black jazz bands, usually consisting of five to eight players, took both their instrumentation and their strict 2/2 or 2/4 tempo. What made the sound so new and exciting was the tension that existed between that strict tempo ( also present in ragtime ) and the flexibility of the blues-based melodic lines of the soloist, often incorporating syncopation ( placing the accent on a normally unaccented beat ) and the famous "blue note" ( a flattened 3rd or 7th note of the scale ).
While jazz is central to the story of popular music, and it's pioneers - King Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong etc. - are now legendary figures, it's significance in relation to the popular song lies more in informing the songwriting of more mainstream styles - i.e. infusing other styles with a jazz feel - and in the interpretation of songs written within other genres e.g. musical theatre. For this reason, jazz songwriters, writing within and for jazz, are fairly rare.
Early names might include Jelly Roll Morton, who claims to have invented jazz but wasn't really a songwriter; Clarence Williams, who wrote or co-wrote many blues-influenced jazz numbers for Bessie Smith; James P. Johnson, one of the true greats of stride piano, who wrote "The Charleston", a song which seems to capture the spirit of the Jazz Age, and his protege Fats Waller.
One name, however, stands above all others as a true master - Duke Ellington - whose sublime creations remain at the heart of Big Band jazz. His collaborations with Billy Strayhorn, another giant in this field, produced some of the finest music of the 20th century. The Big Band era saw jazz at the heart of popular culture and the rise of the great jazz cabaret singers, amongst whom Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett stand out.
After the Second World War new styles superceded Big Band swing, taking it away from the mainstream. The first was the harder sound of bebop, pioneered by Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie and Bud Powell. Then came the cool and free jazz of the 1950's and 1960's, developed by Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and others. This was followed by early 1970's jazz-rock fusion, centred around players such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and the band Weather Report, and more recently "crossover", a pop-influenced jazz closer to the style of Grover Washington, Pat Metheny and David Sanborn.
There are of course many more sub-categories of jazz - latin, modal, acid etc., but the ones mentioned probably represent the centre of the movement, which continues to change and develop, driven by the forces of it's essential nature - exploration and innovation.

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Prominent composers
and songwriters

Jelly Roll Morton
Clarence Williams
James P. Johnson
Thomas 'Fats' Waller
Duke Ellington
Billy Strayhorn
Jimmy Van Heusen
Erroll Garner
Thelonious Monk
Nina Simone
Herbie Hancock
Johnny Mandel
Dave Brubeck


audio : Jazz Home Page

books : about Jazz


audio : Jazz Home Page

books : about Jazz