What is Jazz

JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
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.
Over to you :cool:
 

Dorsetmike

New member
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?
 

JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
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
 

Dorsetmike

New member
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?
 

Mat

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Staff member
Sr. Regulator
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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.

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.
 
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JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
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.
 

Dorsetmike

New member
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.
 

Mat

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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?


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?
 

teddy

Duckmeister
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
 

Dorsetmike

New member
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?
 

Dorsetmike

New member
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=FsMYSeqBQEk&feature=related
 

JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
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.
 

teddy

Duckmeister
Could well be Colin. I would also guess that the saxophone was a more expensive instrument?

teddy
 

stu

New member
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!!"
 

JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
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
 

Dorsetmike

New member
This is my take of the process and may not be entirely accurate

I've always understood that the roots of jazz were to be found mainly in the "African American" community (is that the currently accepted "PC" term?) their walks of life would at the time be somewhat limited to the lower levels, most would use cheap easily portable instruments, probably second hand or passed down, with the exception of pianos in bars and brothels.

A number of "instruments" would be improvised or borrowed from the home, Washboard, spoons, broomstick bass (with anything to act as resonator like tea chest, large laundry bucket) and earthenware jugs; Harmonicas, kazoos, even comb and paper, guitar, banjo, fiddle, anything that could be pressed into making some sort of tuneful or rythmic sounds: brass instruments, trumpet, cornet, trombone were soon added to this mix and for some reason the clarinet took precedence over the saxes, any ideas or guesses why this was so?

The traditional line-up became trumpet or cornet, Trombone and clarinet backed by drums, and a bass either string or brass depending on the sort of venue to be played, string bass obviously not easy to play and carry while marching, banjo seemed more popular than guitar, but sometimes both were used. Piano obviously like the string bass was not an option for marching (funeral) bands.

Things diverged around the 1920s, what had mainly been Southern musicians started to move northwards and their styles changed from the Dixieland and New Orleans to Chicago probably with the influence of white musicians. Prohibition no doubt aided some aspects, "speakeasies" wanted music and infant jazz filled the need.

Larger groups led to orchestras/bands, like Paul Whiteman and more serious composers like Gershwin had an influence, (Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess). If you listen to recordings from the 1920s you can still hear the influence of small group New Orleans/Dixie/Chicago in the sound, partly due in my view in that the clarinet still features strongly, and the rythmic backing group are still much the same, e.g.banjo rather than guitar and brass bass in some cases: the sax only gradually in the 30's took on more prominence.

The presence of small groups within the big bands like the Goodman trios and septets probably did much to keep improvisation alive as would jam sessions at clubs "after hours".

It was probably from some of these jam sessions that Bebop and Modern jazz grew. the second world war had done much to open the ears to other nations music and things grew from there.

OK now rip me apart as well!
 

JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
No argument here Mike as far as the roots of Jazz, but what is your definition?
You can’t have a large group of musicians (say 10 plus) improvising and for me Jazz is all about improvisation so only small groups are true Jazzers
 

Dorsetmike

New member
Colin, I don't think you could really have any group of musicians all improvising at the same time, 1 or 2 maybe, as long as they play and jam together regularly and often, I would suggest the remainder of a small group will be accompanying based on the chord sequence of the piece, otherwise I can see the possibility of some shattering discords. Even in Jazz some basics of melody and harmony should be retained, (in jazz rhythm is a given!).

A good arranger for any jazz oriented group or band should be able to hear the whole ensemble in his head and write parts for the ones not soloing to play so as to give a fitting backing to the soloist, he should also be familiar with what the soloist can do. This might often sound as if there were two improvs being played togther whereas one is improv, the other scored, the one playing the score may sometimes deviate from the score to "answer" a bit of the improv.

As we can only listen to past masters on record, I have often noticed that soloists often repeat the same "improvisations" on a number of different records, are they still improvisations in the true sense of the word when repeated? I'll have a re-listen to some of my records see if I can come up with examples, I think I can remember a few instances on Mel Powell solos, (probably cos I've listened to more of his work than others!).
 

teddy

Duckmeister
I think this discussion will spill over into WHAT DO WE CALL IMPROVISATION. Does a musician (or group) who have written a piece of music have to make changes every time it is played to qualify as playing jazz, or if they have learnt it by ear and play it the same every time, is it no longer jazz?

teddy
 

JHC

Chief assistant to the assistant chief
I think this discussion will spill over into WHAT DO WE CALL IMPROVISATION. Does a musician (or group) who have written a piece of music have to make changes every time it is played to qualify as playing jazz, or if they have learnt it by ear and play it the same every time, is it no longer jazz?

teddy



At last some discussion, thanks.
That is the whole point it is not written music thus they are free to improvise that means on the spot immediately at will. Can’t do this if you are reading unless instructed to.
@Mike all jazz (perhaps not free jazz) follows chord sequences that are ingrained in the memory and in general these are followed but a soloist can lead the group into an entirely different direction and rhythm and change key many times during a number as in a Jam session. None of this is possible if you are playing from a score. And yes soloist can repeat past solos in small or large ens BUT they don’t have to it is up to them.
 
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