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Thread: What is Jazz

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    What is Jazz

    What is Jazz ?

    What do you consider the elements of music that enable it to go under the label of Jazz? lets just stick to instrumental at this stage not vocalists.
    For me the first thing is that it must be improvised (I realise there is a bit more to it) and not from a score so this would make it nigh on impossible for a large ensemble to be called a Jazz Band .
    In my youth I played in several “Trad Bands” which were made up of seven musicians and the common line up was Piano, Base, Drums, Guitar/Banjo and a front line of Trumpet, Trombone and Clarinet I do not think you could get much larger and stay together.


    Larger Bands.
    Dance Bands would go up to 12 plus and had to use scores as do the famous bands that we all know and call Jazz Bands.
    What makes a Swing Band and how is it different from a Jazz Band ?
    These are a few rambling thought that I have in the hope to stimulate a discussion.
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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    I'll agree improvisation is a major part of it, but a lot of groups start with a fairly straightforward rendition of the tune/theme before various improvised solos follow, sometimes ending with a restatement of the original tune/theme. With the swing bands the arrangement is somewhat more "organised" the solos are still there but there will also be some passages where the arranger has done something approaching an improvisation for say the trumpet section or reeds but which is written down and/or rehearsed, solos will often be done in an order set by the arranger. Methinks the dividing lines are not too strongly drawn.

    I've often noticed that what appear to be improvs show up again in later performances/recordings, so how spontaneous are they?

    Have we got a couple of years spare to debate this thoroughly?
    Cheers MIKE.

    How many roads must a man walk down ... ... before he admits he's lost?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dorsetmike View Post
    I'll agree improvisation is a major part of it, but a lot of groups start with a fairly straightforward rendition of the tune/theme before various improvised solos follow, sometimes ending with a restatement of the original tune/theme.
    Agree mike that is the norm for Trad Bands and we always did that.


    With the swing bands the arrangement is somewhat more "organised" the solos are still there but there will also be some passages where the arranger has done something approaching an improvisation for say the trumpet section or reeds but which is written down and/or rehearsed, solos will often be done in an order set by the arranger. Methinks the dividing lines are not too strongly drawn.
    Yes soloist in big bands can improvise and often do

    I've often noticed that what appear to be improvs show up again in later performances/recordings, so how spontaneous are they?

    Have we got a couple of years spare to debate this thoroughly?
    yep go for it
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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    What makes a Swing Band and how is it different from a Jazz Band ?
    Surely Swing is another form of Jazz. There are so many forms of jazz, Traditional (trad) can be New Orleans, Dixieland, Chicago and a few others, Modern Jazz, breaks down to Bebop, West coast, etc; where do you fit "mainstream", is it more or less contemporary with swing? Do we include Blues? Boogie, and other piano styles of the 20s/30s?
    Cheers MIKE.

    How many roads must a man walk down ... ... before he admits he's lost?

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Mat's Avatar
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    Well, for me it's the unique combination of melody, rhythm, harmony and instrument line-up. And I really don't think jazz always has to be improvised. Sure, it's often the most thrilling part, but it doesn't always have to be the most important one. Take the aforementioned big bands for example. What makes them so distinctive? It's the arrangement - the characteristic use of the brass section, swinging 8th notes (well, not just 8ths), ect. The solo parts aren't always essential. Especially when a singer is present, the tune might often look as follows: instrumental intro -> the singing -> special chorus -> more singing -> coda.

    Quote Originally Posted by JHC View Post
    For me the first thing is that it must be improvised (I realise there is a bit more to it) and not from a score so this would make it nigh on impossible for a large ensemble to be called a Jazz Band .
    So, how would you call the first 60 seconds of this recording, for example? It's definitely not an improvisation and it's played by a fairly large ensemble.
    Last edited by Mat; Nov-25-2012 at 01:02.
    Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
    -- Victor Hugo


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mat View Post



    So, how would you call the first 60 seconds of this recording, for example? It's definitely not an improvisation and it's played by a fairly large ensemble.
    Well it's plain to see they are reading, The sound is that which is/has been called Big Band Jazz so this is what I am asking, is it Jazz?? in my books it is not true jazz but it's a tangled world of definitions that we are getting into.
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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    Jazz for me breaks down into trad, modern and big band AKA swing, not quite sure if mainstream fits into one of those broad classifications or deserves one of its own. You can probably add the more recent progressive stuff, but I don't like it so don't listen to it, thus can not have any opinion other than "not for me".

    Big bands grew out of trad in the late 20s and developed during the 30s and were in their hey day in the 40s and 50s, since when it has dropped off many peoples radar, more's the pity.
    Cheers MIKE.

    How many roads must a man walk down ... ... before he admits he's lost?

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Mat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JHC View Post
    Well it's plain to see they are reading, The sound is that which is/has been called Big Band Jazz so this is what I am asking, is it Jazz?? in my books it is not true jazz but it's a tangled world of definitions that we are getting into.
    Well, by the definition I gave in my previous post, it's most definitely jazz and I have a hunch that if you went on the streets and ask that question to a thousand people, most of them would say it's jazz, too. But anyway, if it's not "true" jazz to you then what is it?


    Quote Originally Posted by Dorsetmike View Post
    Jazz for me breaks down into trad, modern and big band AKA swing...
    Okay, just to be sure. So, if it's not big band it can't be swing?
    Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
    -- Victor Hugo


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    Duckmeister teddy's Avatar
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    Colin, you left out saxophone, a very important part of what we call jazz. Also the harmonica can be used to good effect ( think toots Theilmans for instance) not to mention being almost an integral part of blues. Where are the boundaries? Ask a thousand people, and get a thousand different answers.

    teddy
    Pining for the South of France

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    Okay, just to be sure. So, if it's not big band it can't be swing?
    Doesn't always follow, but I suspect most people would think big bands if you said Swing as a genre and yet would also agree if you said a Goodman small group swings.

    Swing used as a noun for me implies big bands, used as a verb it says to me that a piece has a good beat/rythm, foot tapping stuff.

    This could get awful pedantic! What have you started Colin?
    Cheers MIKE.

    How many roads must a man walk down ... ... before he admits he's lost?

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    Colin, you left out saxophone, a very important part of what we call jazz
    True the sax (and other instruments Colin did not mention) are important in jazz, yet rarely if ever found in a true trad band such as Colin was describing, the only deviation from that line up would be replacement of a string bass with brass, Tuba, Sousaphone etc not so easy to march with a double bass as many of the early bands were marching bands typified by the New Orleans funeral marching bands

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsMYS...eature=related
    Cheers MIKE.

    How many roads must a man walk down ... ... before he admits he's lost?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mat View Post
    Well, by the definition I gave in my previous post, it's most definitely jazz and I have a hunch that if you went on the streets and ask that question to a thousand people, most of them would say it's jazz, too. But anyway, if it's not "true" jazz to you then what is it?



    To me Mat it is exactly what it is known as i.e Big Band Jazz, now if you took this discussion into a Jazz Club you would hear many different points of view which is the whole point of this thread "What is Jazz" to me as soon as you put a score up it becomes something else which prompted the question on Swing. OK we divide Jazz into genres but that does not answer the question.

    @teddy in the 50s which is the period that I was involved in Jazz in the UK the common line up was the one I mentioned, perhaps some thing to do with Brass Band training I really don't know.
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    Duckmeister teddy's Avatar
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    Could well be Colin. I would also guess that the saxophone was a more expensive instrument?

    teddy
    Pining for the South of France

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    Commodore con Forza
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    IMO, I reckon that there is no one philosophy of jazz. An improvising musician in jazz is his own prophet.
    What is jazz? The sound of surprise is one well known observation.
    The elements? phrasing;improvisation; the arrangement; the blues; spiritual; gospel;
    harmony; melody;rhythm; and SWING. Styles of jazz; New Orleans; dixieland;Chicago; SWING; Bebop;Mainstream;
    cool; hard bop; soul;free jazz;avant garde. Blues is, I would say, is a major link throughout, be it orchestrated, arranged or improvised.
    This link lessens in western musical tradition, especialy now.
    It is many things-simple, complex,old,changing, constant. Big Band Jazz is just that- Jazz. Swing is constant in big bands and small groups
    while swing is also a constant in dance bands. Most jazz big bands for reasons of finance had a jazz book and a dance book.
    We could argue that the swing element has eroded in later years.
    Jazz Bands, (Ellington;Goodman;Basie; Gillespie;etc mostly featured solo improvisations to a swinging 4/4 orchestrated backdrop, while many 'mainly' swing bands (Glenn Miller; Dorsey; Will Bradley; Sammy Kaye; stayed more to the written 4/4 swing music.
    But Hey!! When Fats Waller (or it could have been Louis Armstrong) was asked the question, "What is Jazz?" The answer was, "If you have to ask you will never know!!"

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    This thread seems to have come to an early end which surprises me given that on MIMF there are more Jazz fans than there are classical so I will stick my neck out and give my thoughts:
    Very roughly Jazz is a certain way of playing certain music and you can’t get a looser, more useless definition than that.
    Jazz was in the very early days a group of musicians’ from various walks of life amateur mostly and on various instruments not all readers of music they would play popular tunes from many genres they played with a swinging beat that was easy to dance to and would expand on the tune and even chords “Improvisation” and very uncomplicated, all early bands took this formula and still do even in the modern Jazz world.
    So for me this type of music is Jazz the essentials are small groups and improvised with no written music in front of them.
    Then we have the Big Bands and this is where it gets difficult for me where the only improvisation is within a solo so I don’t class it as true jazz but for want of a better name accept it as Big Band Jazz.
    So dear friends rip me to pieces
    I don’t want a signature any more

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