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How can we actually define jazz?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by ras1983, Jan 12, 2006.

  1. ras1983


    Dec 28, 2004
    Sydney, Australia
    OK, this thread is inspired by the last couple of pages of the jazz vs rock elitism thread.

    bassically, how can we define jazz? its such a broad genre (the broadest maybe?), and i think it needs a definition that most TB'ers can agree on. note, i said MOST.

    so what exactly is jazz? i used to think of it as a style of music that was probably epitomised by the modal jazz that miles davis brought to the fore. you know, the type of music where you are only given chord charts and everything else is completely up to our own interpretation and emotions. bebop, swing, modal - music where the musicians spontaneously filled in the musical void.

    but i think that may be too narrow a view, and it seems that jazz is more commonly becoming the 'miscellanious' genre. i.e. if a style of music doesn't fit in an already established category, it seems to be lumped in with jazz. one example is fusion, whether it be funk fusion, rock fusion or any other fusion.

    but what do i know, i'm only a rookie musician.

    what do you guys think?
  2. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Jazz is not the music. It's the attitude and approach of the people who play it that creates the music.

    That said, the most common characteristics of jazz are so obvious they don't justify starting a thread about it.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I would say - look at Mark Levine's :

    Jazz Theory Book

    This is highly regarded and almost universally accepted as one of the best explanations of the harmony and performance practice that has become associated with Jazz.

    If you want a looser definition - then it is just improvised music - but then, some Classcial Music is improvised - e.g. Cadenzas in Concertos, Bach's Organ music etc. and so are elements of Rock,Blues, Folk - anything really!! ;)
  4. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    It is all music. There is no need to classify it.
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well there is if you want to play "Jazz"!! ;)
  6. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    "If you gotta ask, you'll never know"

    --Louis Armstrong
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think "Jazz Theory" starts after Louis Arrmstrong!! ;)
  8. Against Will

    Against Will Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2003
    Big Sound Central
    Jazz?! Jazz is like the Kodak film-No! Jazz is like the Jello pudding cup! No! No! Jazz is like the New Coke; it'll be around forever!
  9. That makes a nice quote doesn't it.

    So, what if I guy like me, who doesn't really aspire to be a Jazz musician in any way, therefore won't ever truly 'get it', still wants to define the music in some general way?

    Not everybody who may ask such a question is trying to play that style necessarily. So I'm not embarassed that I'll never 'get it'. I'd still like to be able to define the genre somewhat.

    So can we sort of answer the question? ... for those of us who maybe even aren't trying to play Jazz. :confused:
  10. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    "Jazz Theory" is different than "__________ Theory"?

    Is there at least a little in common with the musical vocabulary of Messian and Coltrane? Was it Armstrong's rhythm that set him apart from Schoenberg? (certainly no one will look to Aaron for lessons in swing)

    Is there a vocabulary of theory (chords, scales etc) that is unique to Jazz? Or is the rhythmic application that makes those scales sound unique?

    Phillip Glass uses the same harmony and Rock and Roll, but I don't see too many people dancing.
  11. ras1983


    Dec 28, 2004
    Sydney, Australia
    blackbird, no offence man but not everyone is as knowledgable as you are and some of us need to ask questions to learn. i'm studying privately, and i have a fair idea about some form of jazz (bebop, swing and modal jazz) - but there are those on TB - like some posters on the last two pages of the jazz vs rock thread - that don't really know what jazz is. i'm just trying to hep them and to improve my understanding of jazz.
  12. it's pretty tough...as close as I could get was 'it has to swing' but that's not even true anymore with the advent of free, smooth, fusion, etc.

    Where do you get that Bill Evans tape? Is it the pianist or the saxophonist?
  13. True. The same could be said for "real" Punk music too. When you add the two, you get....(wait for it)...PUNK JAZZ!:D
  14. lbanks


    Jul 17, 2003
    Ennui, IN USA
    'nuff said!
  15. I heard someone say once that jazz is music where all the musicians are trying to find their note.

    or, to plagarize a metaphor: it's like nailing jello to a board.
  16. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    There are a lot of things to "get" or "not to get". It took me years to "get" Mahler. I had to come to grips with some real parts of life to understand what he was trying to say.

    But, in the interest of being able to define things, and sort it all out, I suppose that one could say that jazz is mostly a music that is designed to be (more or less) created in the moment. Its scope is not as grand as orchestral art music, but greater than commerical music. Jazz is artisic music in that the listener must 'bring something to the table' and participate in active listening. (althought in the last 15-20 years there has been a lot of jazz that is designed to be aural wallpaper). Many people find jazz intreging because it is as new as daily conversation, but can have the content of a carefully thought out philosophy. In its lowest form it can be entertaining to hear someone create melodies out of sheer technique... in its finest moments it can show us new and exciting points of view in music and art. Jazz always rewards a careful listener.

    Now... if I could just "get" Vivaldi.
  17. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Blues is the basis of Jazz evidenced by the number of tunes based on the 12 bar blues and often times without a lot of substitutions. If you going to truly try to wrap your head around Jazz and what it is and what it's not you will need to do some reading about it's history. The "Jazz Theory Book" is a good book but it deals with the "mechanics" of something that comes from that other region of a persons existance, their day to day, their culture. If you think it's all about some scale or some chord, you would be totally missing the point. The spirit of Jazz then is embodied by the spirit of Hip Hop today, another uniquely american musical art form, like it or don't like it, it's big because of it's rawness as Jazz was in its hey day.
  18. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Jazz is what the cats are playing; while the commercial stuff falls by the wayside, it incorporates and moves on. Jazz is the past, the present, and the future of our musical character.
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I would disagree and I think this view is doing a big dis-service to Jazz musicians who in many cases were as good as their counterparts in legit or serious music, but often due to the colour bar in America couldn't get jobs in that field, so played Jazz.

    Musicians like Ron Carter started out as classical players and were completely knowledgable about theory and what was going on ...to dismiss them as some kind of "noble savage" - is very insulting IMO! :meh:

    Jazz in the 1960s wasn't "raw" - although no doubt exciting - it was sophisticated and was introducing a lot of innovative theoretical approaches after Miles showed how this kind of thing could work in Modal Jazz ...

    I would say to anyone who genuinely want to know what sets Jazz apart - then read Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory Book"

    See and hear how Coltrane introduced new ways of re-harmonising tunes and ways of composing and then say he was "raw" ...?
  20. It can't be necessarily the only music that 'swings' (not that I believe you were saying that).

    Heck, I know a lot of good country music that really swings - not just the Texas Swing stuff either.

    Even a really good Scottish 6/8 bagpipe march can swing like there's no tomorrow.

    It's not quite the same kind of swing, but these other styles really can swing quite fantastically in their own way when the players are in the pocket.