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What jazz is and what jazz is not Expository Essay


Jazz existence in the world of music has its own ambiguity in definitions. Jazz is a section of creative art that is mostly an illustration of African – American sense of art. It is a field which has become jargonized recognizing itself additional as separate from past forms rather than relevant to today’s world of music.

It is much interesting finding out that even many of those who claim to be the die hearts of this type of music do not have a clear definition of what jazz is. There is uniqueness in this type of music in its inclusiveness in performance which I think is a combination of Africa and Europe cultures.

The vagueness of the definition of Jazz is even made complex by the notion held by many fans that it is rhythmical music which is to be felt rather than being defined. According to John Philip Sousa “Jazz will endure just as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains.”

Jazz is a music genre whose origin dates back to 1900 in New Orleans, America. The manipulations that led to those early New Orleans sounds date back to ethnic African drum beats and European music make ups.

Christopher Meeder (8-10) Persuasions of Jazz appear to have come from all over, one being the African musical performances that continued a part of the slave culture and another being from the dominant white musical culture of Western Europe. The Western Europe tradition had simple harmonies, simple rhythms, and the form often used was AABA.

This happened when about four million slaves converted to American citizens and mixed up their African Background with the new music they were learning giving rise to Jazz music. There is much history about jazz which is not known due to lack of recording by then. While evaluating the account of Jazz one cannot fail to consider the fact that Jazz shaped many musical forms such as Spirituals, Cakewalks, Ragtime and The Blues. Christopher Meeder (15-16)

The elimination of slavery led to new openings for the education of liberated Africans. Those who were lucky to get employed, ventured into provision of entertainment and music industries. One of the major players of Jazz was ‘The Cornetist Buddy Bolden’ who is often referred to as the first jazz musician.

Bolden performed in New Orleans between 1900 and 1910. Another key contributor in the influential of Jazz is believed to be Jelly Roll Morton who began his career in Storyville. From 1904, he explored with vaudeville shows. Morton claims to have made-up Jazz but with little evidence it is hard to conclude who invented Jazz, However, He was the first writer of Jazz music, signifying he was the first to essentially put his songs in writing. Christopher Meeder (22-23)

Jazz is characterized by tones that are distinctive and unique and rhythmic patterns that are syncopated and dotted. Melody in Jazz uses the stepwise motion. More attempts to define jazz have been made and as a result of these, jazz has existed in different forms.

As a result, due to the spreading of jazz music in different regions of the world, variety of elements were fused together resulting to existence of different genres of jazz such as the Latin jazz and rock jazz. Basically, jazz is a genre of music that has features as any other music genre. Basic elements of jazz include interpretation, improvisation, rhythm and tempo. Henry martin (9-10)

Interpretation is simply how the musician plays a melody. This is achieved by quoting melodies derived from different sources. Also, by placing triplets in the main/ basic beat, a melody could easily be played in jazz form. This aspect of playing in jazz is known as swinging of the melody.

Improvisation is another hard element of jazz . Most musicians/players spend most of their time mastering and working on this aspect in their playing. It marks the essence of what makes jazz a cut above other genres of music, as instantaneous composition, edition and performance encompass its definition.

Meeder Christopher (11) it is through this element that jazz players are judged. It is also through this element that the players claim immortality. It is the fuel behind jazz music. Henry Martin (8) Improvisation enables a player to express himself at that instant.

One other element of jazz is the tempo. Tempo in musical context is a word that means speed. In jazz, the tempo is constant from the beginning to the point at which the piece ends. It is the tempo of jazz that makes it soothing and appealing to the ear and this is a major characteristic of jazz. If you happen to ask anyone as to why he/she loves jazz, the most likely answer you are to get is that the piece is soothing due to the nature of its tempo.

Jazz music is different from those other music genre. First and foremost, jazz encompasses a lot of flutes and trumpets melody for that matter. Jazz is not guided by a vocalist and composer neither is jazz held to a standard of performance. Jazz comes with a lot of instrumentation making it much more difficult to play jazz music. Therefore, jazz music cannot just be played by any person but with those that have the real passion for music. Henry martin (14-16)

It varies significantly from classical music in which there is no originality from the instrumentalist, rather a mere execution of the composer’s ideas. Scott Yanow (32). They are held to a performance that is standardized and that which has already been established by people who have already performed in past events.

It is for this reason that jazz performers will always differ from any other performers. They are always encouraged to discover their ’sound’. They adhere to those basic elements of intonation, improvisation, tempo, rhythm etc. Jazz players will try as much as possible not to sound like anyone else. Therefore, it is true to say that jazz is more of the player’s art whereas classical music is more of the composer’s art. A careful look at the entire jazz concert would reveal that jazz concerts definitely lack conductors.

This is because the tempo in jazz music is steady and constant from the start of performance to the end hence no need for conductors. Jazz music also differs from other music genre since it draws from the human emotions and feelings as inspiration of the creative force, and as a result of this discourse is chronicled tales of the people. Jazz players and those who follow the genre can be viewed as a community of art comprising of its leaders, spokesperson the members and fans. Christopher Meeder (11-13)

Jazz has become one of the most popular genres since it’s unique and comes with its own form of dance. It’s an energetic dance full of fun and encompasses moves that are unique, quick turns, great footwork and big leaps. Also, there are dancing clothes that also make jazz different and unique. Jazz dance requires costumes that are tight and reveal the dancer’s body line. Baggy clothes are not encouraged. Most jazz dancers would go for dance pants.

Clothes worn for the jazz dance include leotards, t-shirts and tank tops (form fitting). What makes jazz dance different from dances such as hip-hop where dancers stick to certain dance routine is that in jazz, dancers are encouraged to make each step unique and fun by adding their own personality. Steps in jazz include piques, ballet turns, chaines, and even pirouettes.

There are also some leaps that are involved in jazz dancing and these include tour jetes, grandee jetes and even turning jumps. The jazz dancers also do what is called the isolation which involves moving one body part while the other parts of the body are motionless. Christopher Meeder (18-19)

Jazz is definitely not many things. For instance, jazz is not classical music. As mentioned above, a huge difference exists between jazz and the classical music. Even though they seem to be alike, jazz music involves the players creativity and ability to form his/her own composition when in terms of music melodies and tones or performers ability to come up with moves that are unique and artistic in nature when in terms of the dance.

Jazz is not opera as some people may think. Actually there is a very huge difference between jazz and the opera. Even though both genres date back to the old days, opera hardly uses dances or instruments. The melody in opera varies with various cadencies and tonal variations whereas in jazz the melody is steady.

Jazz is also not an intellectual complexity. Most people who criticized jazz only claimed to any thoughtfulness about the music were that they knew it was unique or else they had visited a Negro slum to hear their desired instrumentalist defame western musical custom. Most jazz critics are not merely white middle-class Americans, but middle-brows also.

Other types of music and jazz aesthetic, to be fully understood, must be seen in as almost its absolute human context as possible. It is Negro music that has been consistently ignored or misunderstood; and it is a question that cannot be adequately answered without first understanding the necessity of asking it. Scott Yanow (25-26).

Jazz music has got radical development and has much influence. Modern jazz artists are probing for ways to make the music style practically watertight. The flaws which are being shunned are often referred to as the soul of jazz. Jazz can be well thought-out to be one of the most prominent types of music in America and lately spreading all over the world.

Some of the well known artists in the world who have contributed to the sensation of jazz have had their history throughout the world. Jazz music has currently served as a base for many music styles across the continents.

In its early development stages, jazz was mainly considered as a set style that had a lot of differences from the rest of the styles that were there. Today, jazz is still recognized for its uniqueness and at many times, a disjunctive synchronization style, it is not one of the typical forms of music any longer. At its developing early stage, jazz style was based in one precise locality, and because of the recognition, it has been able to move many parts of the world.

Jazz only had few performances in the early stages and its audience was also not large. This has greatly changed and with the current growth rate, it is likely that in the next five years, jazz music will experience greater audience than ever before. Also, today many other countries have their own styles of jazz that have carried over through the ages and continue to grow as jazz carries on through many more times to come.

Jazz music has gone through many radical changes so far and it is still hard to predict its future. The fact that it is not restricted to any certain style of music and it is dynamic to changes in creativity available in the music industry makes it much more unpredictable. In the past, Jazz has changed from ragtime, swing, coal, hard bop, and to fusion jazz.

Other music genres are also radical to changes and will in one way or another influence jazz. In my view Jazz is likely to change in the next five years consistently to audience wants and also for it being modern.

For the formulation of an understanding about Jazz, I think it is critical to set up standards of judgment and aesthetic excellence that depends on native knowledge and local culture references that produce jazz. Jazz is more than just music, it involves expression of emotions. I also think that with the radical responsiveness to change jazz has received so far, it is not limited and more changes should be expected accommodating audience from all walks of life. Scott Yanow (9-10).

Work Cited

Martin Henry. Jazz: First 100 Years. Chicago: Cengage Learning, 2011.

Meeder Christopher. Jazz: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Yanow Scott. Jazz: Regional Exploration. Chicago: Greenwood Publisher Group, 2005.

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IvyPanda. (2018, October 13). What jazz is and what jazz is not. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-jazz-is-and-what-jazz-is-not/

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"What jazz is and what jazz is not." IvyPanda, 13 Oct. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/what-jazz-is-and-what-jazz-is-not/.

1. IvyPanda. "What jazz is and what jazz is not." October 13, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-jazz-is-and-what-jazz-is-not/.


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IvyPanda. 2018. "What jazz is and what jazz is not." October 13, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-jazz-is-and-what-jazz-is-not/.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'What jazz is and what jazz is not'. 13 October.

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