Jazz! What fun! Tap your feet. Clap. Relax. Chill out.

That’s jazz!

If you don’t believe me, watch this video of a song called ‘Now you has jazz’. Listen carefully to the words as well as the music.

‘Now you has jazz’ from the movie ‘High Society’

OK, perhaps that was a strange way to describe jazz. The words on the video are certainly quite strange aren’t they? Drums are called ‘some skin’. A piano is called a ‘box’. The words are made up. The mood is relaxed. Nothing is very serious.

And yet that really does describe what jazz is all about. The music sounds as if it’s made up as the musicians are playing it. The music sounds relaxed. And it’s certainly doesn’t sound very serious.

Actually, much of jazz really is made up as the musicians play. Good jazz players just begin with an idea. They just let this idea go and listen carefully to what the other people are playing. This is known as improvisation. It sounds easy, but it takes a lot of skill! (I wish I could do it a bit better!!)

Now you know what jazz is, let’s be a bit more serious. It’s time for a history lesson. Here goes. You may have read on the classical music page, that classical music started in Europe a very long time ago. Well jazz started in America. It began around 1900 to 1910. And it began when two very different types of music suddenly joined together. One of these was classical music. The other one was folk music. The folk music that made jazz was mostly the folk music of African-Americans (Black Americans). For many years, classical music and Black American folk music had been kept apart. This is because Black American’s used to be slaves. As slaves, they sang music amongst themselves that the rest of the world didn’t hear. This was their folk music. It was a type of music that the slaves had first brought from their African homelands.

By 1900, Black Americans were no longer slaves. Many had moved from the countryside to cities. And this is where the Black American folk music met classical music—in cities such as New Orleans and Chicago.

So that is how jazz began. At first, many people who had never heard Black American folk music before were shocked. The music sounded wild to them. It sounded wicked. And they thought it shouldn’t be allowed!

But you can’t stop music! Jazz just grew and grew. It has now spread all over the world.

Jazz has gone through many changes since it first began about 100 years ago. Many different types of jazz have appeared (and disappeared). Here are the names some of the main ones, along with some famous jazz artists who played music of that type. I’m not going to describe the different types of jazz. The best way to understand the different types of jazz is to listen to them! By the way, note the fun names that some of the jazz artists chose to call themselves!

Notice that some jazz artists played different types of jazz. There are also jazz artists who played a type of jazz that’s not always easy to name. One famous example is:

There are so many different types of jazz, and so many famous jazz artists (see The Great Jazz Artists page for some more famous names). Many of these jazz artists are alive today. Jazz is everywhere. Not only that, but popular music would be very different without jazz. The more you understand about jazz, the more you will understand about popular music. This is because popular music has been created from the ideas of jazz for the last 100 years.

See, I told you jazz was everywhere!

Picture credits:
  1. Jazz musicians at a jazz festival in 2009. This photograph is of the Christian Vander Quartet at the 2009 Fort en Jazz Festival at the Fort Bruissin, Francheville (Rhone), France. It was taken on the 12th June 2009 by Otourly. The image is free to use providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Now You Has Jazz – Louis Armstrong – Bing Crosby. De la Película “High Society”, Sale este hermosos tema, interpretado por Bing Crosby y Louis Armstrong, con la banda de Armstrong en 1956. This is from the 1956 film ‘High Society’. Bing Crosby is the main singer. Louis Armstrong is on the trumpet.