The music commonly referred to as “jazz” has a range and diversity, richness and beauty that are belied by such a bland definition.
Jazz has all the elements that other music has: It has the melody; that’s the tune of the song, the part you’re most likely to remember. It has harmony, the notes that make the melody sound fuller. It has rhythm, which is the heartbeat of the song. But what sets jazz apart is this cool thing called improvisation. That means making it up on the spot. No music in front of you. No long discussion with your jazz bandmates. You just play.
Jazz is also rooted in life; it takes all that life has to offer and makes a rich amalgam with the history of the music, of the people who perform it and with the sounds that inspire or comfort those people. It might be ephemeral, but it is not ethereal, floating somewhere above and untouched by sometimes ugly realities of life, life both in the large movements of history and the small daily activities of ordinary people sweeping their homes, washing their clothes, reaping their harvests and dealing with broken hearts and broken bones, broken pride, and broken skin. Jazz, like all music, has certain essential elements which it shares with other music – harmony, rhythm, melody.
There is one word which appears in both of these descriptions or attempts at the definition of jazz, that appeals to me as saying something meaningful about the music, and that is the word “sound.” Jazz to me is about sound; it’s about the expression in sound of an authentic response to life, all of life, with its ups and downs, its elation and heart-break, its moments of relaxation and sweaty hard labour, its hate, and its love.
What is unique to jazz is the way these elements are combined to produce the sound of jazz. The one thing that most jazz musicians and writers agree on is that jazz “swings,” by which is not meant the “swing” style of the 1930s and 1940s, but something that jazz has but cannot be adequately described.
“It’s freer. It’s more soulful, “it’s easy to express your emotions. In classical, .?.?. You get the sheet music, and you read it top to bottom. You’re more focused on technically making it perfect. In jazz, your main focus is being creative and using your imagination.”
It’s not that jazz songs don’t have recognizable melodies. They do, but that’s just a small part of it. In jazz, a melody begins a song, but then each musician will take turns improvising, playing all kinds of crazy notes: high, low, long, short, gravelly and clear.
The performers who are not soloing are playing quietly in the background or comping, short for accompanying. Then at the end of the song, the melody returns. Improvising is what makes a jazz song different every time you hear it, unlike any pop song you hear on the radio.
Another thing that sets jazz apart is its approach to rhythm. It probably doesn’t make you want to tap your foot. There are no rhythmic surprises, or what is called syncopation, in most presentations of jazz, jazz musicians, on the other hand, “swing” notes, which means they change the length of notes, holding some longer and making others shorter.
The jazz ethos has conquered the music world so thoroughly that it has become part of the landscape. The influence of ragtime, blues and especially jazz is so universal, so widespread and so complete that the fog of time makes it possible to ask this question. Since it is difficult to parse through the myriad of changes in musical styles and expressions from the beginning of the twentieth century to this day, it is difficult to imagine how all popular musics would sound today if not for the influence of jazz; difficult, therefore, for young listeners to know why jazz is so unique.
The beauty of jazz, the magnificence of jazz, is that it reproduces and amplifies those sounds, time after time, moment after moment, in ways that speak directly to the heart and ears of the listener as no other music does. If you like to experience it firsthand, you look for soundgrove music here.