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Specifics of Jazz Music Analysis Essay

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Updated: Dec 29th, 2021


Jazz music is a form of art that was developed in the 20th Century by the African Americans, mainly from the Southern parts of the United States. It incorporates musical styles and traditions with origins in West Africa and Europe. However, most studies note that Jazz developed from the American popular music such as ragtime and blues (Alyn 4). Jazz music has no single definition since it incorporates various elements such as swing and improvisation, among others. However, some scholars define jazz as a form of improvised music that originated from the work and ritual songs of black slaves and early blues (Cooke et al 1). The art of Jazz is therefore said to have originated from the African work and ritual songs performed by the slaves who had been brought into the United States mainly from West Africa. As the Africans learnt to play European instruments such as the Violin and adopted new styles such as syncopation, their music became popular internationally (Allen et al 23). This essay gives the most distinct characteristics and elements of Jazz that distinguish it from other forms of art, in addition to the differences between Jazz and the other musical arts. Additionally, the impact of the freedom of improvisation on the development of Jazz is also given.

Characteristics of Jazz that distinguishes it from other forms of self-expression

Jazz music is characterized by various forms of improvisation, syncopation of rhythms, the retention or use of original timbres and polyphonic group playing. Sometimes jazz music can incorporate intentional variations of pitch, swinging, and sliding notes (Stanley par.3). Jazz music has been developing since the early 1920’s when it was characterized by blue trundle, ragtime and syncopation, melody sax, piano roll sounds and sliding notes, among others. In the 1930s, music composers and performers begun to organize themselves in bands while introducing muted trumpets, vocal ballads, and walking bass sounds. As of the 1940s, complex rhythmic sections and Afro-Latin styles were incorporated into jazz music. Currently, jazz music pulls and blends all the styles of jazz from the past (Stanley par.33).

Differences between jazz and other forms of self-expression (Popular Music)

The characteristic elements of any form of music include its melody, rhythm, harmony and timbre. In jazz, the melody is improvised and therefore it will vary from performance to performance of the same song unlike other forms of art where the melody remains the same (Koenig 1924). Additionally, the melodies in jazz are different from those in other music forms because they have wide melodic jumps and fast runs. Jazz has also been characterized by a complex harmony; other forms of music employ chords consisting of 3-4 notes while the chords used in jazz comprise of 5-6 notes. Moreover, jazz incorporates blue notes in addition to the ordinary notes employed in western harmonies. Jazz is known to have developed from ragtime rhythms; these are characterized by syncopation, swing, counterpoint and complexity. Syncopation entails placement of accents, leading to rhythmic surprises.

This is unlike other forms of music (Koenig 1926). Swing in jazz enables creation of the forward momentum which provokes the feeling of dance. A third component of jazz rhythm is counterpoint which involves playing different melodic lines using several instruments which result into different rhythms. Timbre is the sound produced by an instrument when played. Since jazz is a mixture of the African and European music cultures, its instrumentation include string bass, drums, trumpet, banjo and trombone among others. When played together, these instruments produce a rhythmic pulse, harmonic foundation and the melody that distinguishes jazz from other forms of music (Koenig 1930).

Improvisation and the historic development of jazz music

Since its beginning, improvisation has been a characteristic element of good jazz. Improvisation requires that a composer has a strong sense of intuition, intelligence, great imagination, and it should be a habit (Yurochko 287). Through these attributes, the well known improvisers such as Louis Armstrong were capable of paraphrasing melodies and making extensions between chords which enabled the composer to play lines between these extensions. Additionally, the composers could create implied changes by playing notes outside the chords (Yurochko 287). The originality and spontaneity created by improvisers provided the foundation through which jazz could be distinguished from other forms of music.


The essay has provided an account of the development and origin of jazz music. In addition, the essay has also explored the distinctive characteristics that differentiate jazz from other forms of music. These differences between jazz and popular music are also outlined in the main discussion. Finally, the essay provides the contribution of improvisation to the development of the art of jazz music. As indicated earlier, jazz music originated from the African folk and ritual songs blended with European music traditions. These were usually sung by African slaves of South America. Later, the introduction of other elements such as blue notes changed the characteristics of jazz and the subsequent development has led to modern jazz music which can be distinguished from other forms of music through its distinctive melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre.

Works Cited

Allen, William Francis, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McLim Garrison, eds.

Slave Songs of the United States. New York: A Simpson & Co., 1867. Print.

Alyn, Shipton. A New History of Jazz, (2nd Ed.). New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.

Cooke, Mervyn and Horn, David G. The Cambridge companion to jazz. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Koenig, Karl ed. Jazz in print (1856-1929): an anthology of selected early readings in Jazz history. USA: Pendragon Press, 2002. Print.

Stanley, John. History of classical music: a brief history of Jazz. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2010. Web.

Yurochko, Bob. A short history of jazz. USA: Burnham Inc., Publishers, 1993. Print.

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