Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Journey through Time of the Beats and Rhythms of Jazz Music

The musical art form of jazz originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African-American communities in the southern part of the United States of America from the influences of European and African musical culture and traditions. The word jazz began as a West Coast slang term and was used first to denote music coming from Chicago in 1915. As the music of jazz spread around the world, it has definitely drawn local, regional, and national attention from different musical cultures. It has provided a new wave of style and substance to the active listeners of music providing jazz music a mark in the history books.

Many have tried to define jazz conceptually but most of them arrived on an answer that is considered unsatisfactory. Joachim Berendt, a jazz critic, defined jazz as a form of art music, which originated United States through confrontation of blacks with European music. Berendt made a fine distinction between jazz and European music in that jazz has a certain connection to time defined as an awing in contrast to European music. Many other critics have also tried to define jazz and each of them has their own points of view. While jazz may be very difficult to define conceptually, one thing is for sure. Jazz has the key element of improvisation, which makes it special so to speak. This feature is fundamental in the nature of jazz music. Another thing that is quite interesting about jazz is that the singers interpret tunes in a very individual manner and not repeating the composition the same way twice. He or she may alter the melodies, harmonies, and time signature based on personal preference. In the early 1940’s, a variety of jazz emerged called bebop. It has paved the way for the transition of jazz music from a danceable popular music towards a more challenging form of art with a lesser popularity potential and commercial value. The nature of bebop was to be listened to rather than to be danced to. Many questioned the emergence of bebop, and it was welcomed with hostile responses among fans and other jazz musicians since it moved away from the direction of jazz being a fun and upbeat music meant to be danced. By the end of the 1940’s, the enormous amount of tension built up brought about by bebop ended. A new sound emerged called the cool jazz. It shifted to a calmer and smoother music favouring long linear melodic lines.

By the early 1950’s, hard bop, the extension of bebop, developed in response to the vogue of cool jazz. It was characterized by the usage of saxophones and piano playing with the influences of gospel music and rhythm and blues. By the end of 1950’s, modal jazz came into being. The musical scale was used as the basis of musical structure and improvisation. During the periods between 1960’s to 1970’s, multiple varieties of jazz music emerged. Let us start off with Latin Jazz. It is a combination of African and Latin American rhythms played on instruments such as conga, timbale, claves and guiro. Post bop, a form of small-combo jazz, also had a stint during this time. Soul jazz also emerged as a development of hard bop which incorporated strong influences from blues, gospels and rhythm and blues. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, a hybrid form of Jazz-rock fusion was developed using the combination of electrical instruments, rock rhythms, and influential rock musicians. In the 1980’s, the dark age of jazz sort of happened because the jazz community dramatically shrank and split. In the early 1980’s, a lighter, more commercial form of jazz called Pop fusion or Smooth jazz became a hit especially on the radios. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, subgenres developed such as Acid jazz, Nu jazz and Jazz rap. In the 2000’s, Straight-ahead jazz was the form of jazz that emerged.

The evolution of jazz music is indeed very colourful as evidenced by the emergence of the different forms and varieties of jazz music. Although there are many other types of music, all of them are distinct from each other and so is jazz music.

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