What is Jazz?

 The first question that comes to my mind, is what is jazz? Jazz is a music genre involving improvisation, syncopation, polyrhythms, blue notes, and inflection.

Jazz lets musicians play on their own making up notes as they go. This is what we call improvisation. They make up random chords, notes, and beats. Their playing is based upon their feelings, whether it be sad, happy, or angry.

Jazz is made up many rhythms and beats. Sometimes, a rhythm is made up of two or more rhythms being played simultaneously, which are called polyrhythms. Jazz also has some offbeat tunes and pieces, also some notes and keys that have that “Blues” sound. They have these blue notes that make the song bouncy, and give that “oh yea” feeling.

Is this what jazz is? No, there is MUCH MUCH more to that. You and me will be exploring that “more” stuff.

But, how do we know what song is Jazz and what is not? Well, the first thing is that the beat and rhythm of a song, make the song different than anything else, it gives a groove or an offbeat sound. Plus, Jazz music most likely will have brass instruments such as trumpet, saxophone, and the trombone etc. Jazz will also most likely have string instruments too such as the cello, bass, or the violin. In rock or pop music, usually there is a pattern in the drums groove, and is mainly 4×4 beat, also you might hear electrical instruments such as the keyboard, and the electric guitar, and Jazz music usually has a story or a feeling to it, unlike pop where they just sing about breaking up with their boyfriend, and a bunch of weird pitbull sounds

The first ever recorded Jazz song was by the Original Jazz Dixieland, “Livery Stable Blues”. Although, we hear a bunch of imitations of animal noises, and other funky sounds, the beat and rhythm is Jazz.

I have always wondered, when did Jazz start? When the African Americans were forced to leave their homes and work from dusk to dawn in New Orleans. They need to find out a way to work through the day. This is what we call slavery. The slaves would have to work day and night out in the field, or in the factory to get work done, and if they keep grumbling, protesting, and getting angry about it they knew they wouldn’t survive.

So the African Americans created “work songs”. They would be songs based on their work. They would keep chanting it as the continued to work. This gave them hope, or a feeling that they might make through the 18 hours of work per day, and this planted a seed for the world that a whole new type of music is coming.

One example is the song “Hammer Ring” was a prison work song, that would encourage Africans that we will make it. You can listen to the song here:

African Americans had to build railway tracks for the trains to go by. They way they would do it is first level the land, then dig small holes and place really heavy wooden beams into the hole. They then have to take metal wire and place on top of the beams. They them would have to place nails onto the metal wire so the wire doesn’t move. To hammer in the nails, the African Americans would take sledgehammers and hammer the nail in while another African American would hold the nail to keep it steady.

This song “Hammer Ring” is based on this work, many many many more jazz songs are similar to “Hammer Ring”. This, is where the creation of Jazz begins.


A Slave Dance called “voodoo” ceremonies

African Americans were the first people to invent Jazz. They invented it because of slavery and work. But what did the African Americans do to start Jazz?

From African music, Jazz got its feel and rhythm. In the song “Hammer Ring” we can hear a basic beat that goes like this

Clap rest Clap rest Clap rest Clap rest Clap rest Clap rest…

This beat brought rhythm to Jazz. African music also brought Jazz “blues”. You can here their voices changing in different ways. As each line the person says, he says it in a different tone, this is called inflection. African music also brought improvisation, or the ability to make music freely, to make up the music. The African Americans made up songs to give them hope, and courage to make it through the day. Another song that is very popular and known as a “Prison Work Song” is Early in the Mornin’

It is very simple and pure, it has a soft and simple beat with a bunch of people singing at different times. No instruments, just the sound of axes hitting wood. This line sang “Well, rocks ‘n gravel make-a, Make a solid road, sugar.” means that they put rocks in the holes to make road solid.

Thus, African Music was very important to Jazz.

But, European Jazz was also a big help to the music. European Jazz made many more instruments, including the Brass instruments such as saxophone, trumpet, and the most famous, the piano.

One thought on “What is Jazz?

  1. I forgot to mention that Jazz is also a feeling. You will understand me if you are a musician or have played jazz for a long time. :)

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