Jazz is a genre of music that originated in African American communities in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It emerged in the form of independent traditional music and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African American and European American musical parentage with a performance orientation.〔(Hennessey, Thomas, ''From Jazz to Swing: Black Jazz Musicians and Their Music, 1917-1935 )''. Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1973, pp. 470-473.〕 Jazz spans a period of over a hundred years, encompassing a range of music from ragtime to jazz-rock fusion of the 1970s and 1980s, and has proved to be difficult to define. Jazz makes heavy use of improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note,〔Alyn Shipton, ''A New History of Jazz'', 2nd edn., Continuum, 2007, pp. 4–5.〕 as well as aspects of European harmony, American popular music,〔Bill Kirchner, ''The Oxford Companion to Jazz'', Oxford University Press, 2005, Chapter Two.〕 the brass band tradition, and African musical elements such as blue notes and African-American styles such as ragtime.〔 The birth of jazz in the multicultural society of America has led intellectuals from around the world to hail jazz as "one of America's original art forms".〔Starr, Larry, and Christopher Waterman. ("Popular Jazz and Swing: America's Original Art Form." ) IIP Digital. Oxford University Press, 26 July 2008.〕
As jazz spread around the world, it drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, giving rise to many distinctive styles. New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style and Gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music towards a more challenging "musician's music" which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation. Cool jazz developed in the end of the 1940s, introducing calmer, smoother sounds and long, linear melodic lines.
The 1950s saw the emergence of free jazz, which explored playing without regular meter, beat and formal structures, and in the mid-1950s, hard bop emerged, which introduced influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues, especially in the saxophone and piano playing. Modal jazz developed in the late 1950s, using the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of musical structure and improvisation. Jazz-rock fusion appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, combining jazz improvisation with rock rhythms, electric instruments and the highly amplified stage sound of rock. In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called smooth jazz became successful, garnering significant radio airplay. Other styles and genres abound in the 2000s, such as Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban jazz.
Prominent jazz musician Louis Armstrong, whose career spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s, observed: "At one time they were calling it levee camp music, then in my day it was ragtime. When I got up North I commenced to hear about jazz, Chicago style, Dixieland, swing. All refinements of what we played in New Orleans... There ain't nothing new."〔Wald, Elijah, ''How The Beatles Destroyed Rock'n'Roll'', 2009, p.27〕 Or as jazz musician J. J. Johnson put it in a 1988 interview: "Jazz is restless. It won't stay put and it never will."〔J. J. Johnson continued, "() is forever seeking and reaching out and exploring": DownBeat: ''The Great Jazz Interviews – A 75th Anniversary Anthology'': p. 250.〕
Jazz has proved to be very difficult to define, since it encompasses such a wide range of music spanning a period of over 100 years, from ragtime to the present day. Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions, such as European music history or African music. But critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that its terms of reference and its definition should be broader,〔Joachim E. Berendt. ''The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond''. Translated by H. and B. Bredigkeit with Dan Morgenstern. 1981. Lawrence Hill Books, p. 371.〕 defining jazz as a "form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of the Negro with European music"〔Berendt, Joachim Ernst (1964) (''The New Jazz Book: a History and Guide'', p. 278. Peter Owen. ) At Google Books. Retrieved 4 August 2013.〕 and arguing that it differs from European music in that jazz has a "special relationship to time defined as 'swing'", involves "a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role" and contains a "sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician".〔
A broader definition that encompasses all of the radically different eras of jazz has been proposed by Travis Jackson: "it is music that includes qualities such as swing, improvising, group interaction, developing an 'individual voice', and being open to different musical possibilities".〔 Krin Gibbard has provided an overview of the discussion on definitions, arguing that "jazz is a construct" that, while artificial, still is useful to designate "a number of musics with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition". In contrast to the efforts of commentators and enthusiasts of certain types of jazz, who have argued for narrower definitions that exclude other types, the musicians themselves are often reluctant to define the music they play. As Duke Ellington, one of jazz's most famous figures, said: "It's all music".
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