When Louis Armstrong was asked what Jazz was, he replied, “If you’ve got to ask, you’ll never know.”
According to the author of Jazz 101, “Jazz was postmodern before we knew what that was, shamelessly borrowing [from] anything not fastened down, ignoring origins and cultural status; mocking hierarchies . . . and relishing contradiction and absurdity.” The author also described Jazz as “not simply musical” but also “physical, visual, social and emotional.”
A few terms significant to Jazz:
Improvisation is fundamental to Jazz and contributes to distinguishing it from classical music.
Dirty tone or deliberately playing notes out of tune is considered expressive within Jazz. Some musicians try to imitate the inflections of the human voice while playing. Dirty tone is a natural occurrence. (The contrast is anodyne or pure tone, which is what classical instruments strive for.)
Polyrhythm- layering contrasting rhyme patterns to create rich and complex textures
Cross Rhythms- rhythmic dislocations conflicting with the basic meter
Syncopation- a weak beat is made strong by accentuation
Portamento- sliding one note into another
Swung Rhythm- alternating notes of long and short time values and accenting slightly in advance of the main beats
Cooke, Mervyn. 1998. Jazz. New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc.
Szwed, John F. 2000. Jazz 101, A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz. New York: Hyperion.