Jazz Music: The Undefinable Treasure of Musical History
“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know” – Louis Armstrong
When did you first hear the word jazz? What was the first thing that came into your mind when you heard it? An utterly complicated and very extensive musical form. Yes, you need to be knowledgeable about the theory behind this elegant music genre. First, let us learn about the history of jazz music. Knowing the background of anything that you wanted to learn about will give you a ton of ideas of its “howabouts” and “whatbouts”. Listening to prominent jazz artists will allow you to conceptualize what jazz is. Listen to music by Louis Daniel Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. Eventually, you will discover what makes them different from the other. Exposing yourself to jazz music is part of your journey learning about it.
A Brief History
Jazz is a form of African-American music that was born in New Orleans, also the birthplace of blues. This was developed during the late 19th to the early part of the 20th century. Jazz is infused with African and European styles of music. The combination of the African rhythm and the European harmonic structure creates a new concept for music. As a result, syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, and solo improvisations entered the music scene.
Past vs. Present
Jazz was known to be the most emotion-filled music because musicians took their inspiration from heart. Average musicians took their queue from the jazz gods of their time and applied what they heard into their own recordings. Everyone had different practices because jazz was inspiration-based, not a theory.
Nowadays, jazz is based on scales and theory, and knowing more about these technicalities enables you to create better improvisations. The Internet allows everyone to learn anything and everything as of today – it just boils down to practices being used by the newer jazz artists.
Come to think of it, I am lucky because I have learned both “types” of learning about jazz methods. One of them being an experience-based type of learning through listening and exposure. Jazz music is created by using the brain, the hands, and the heart. No more, no less.
However, some of the new jazz kids prioritize odd meters, speed, and sad to say, bragging. Improvisation in the past were all about few notes and making the audience feel each of those notes. It was mostly about making the listener feel the melody. Nowadays, improvisation is synonymous to “overplayed scales” and “over embellishing”.
Jazz is still being played nowadays, especially in bars dedicated to it. Popular songs also have jazzy renditions, which is actually good because that way, jazz lives on.
The important things about jazz
One of the hallmarks of jazz is improvisation. So, you will be responding to a lot of thoughts and ideas inside your head. These include things that you already know, as well as musical phrases that jump suddenly into mind even before the band plays the first chord The fun thing about improvisation is that you do not know what’s coming next. All the notes that come from your hands will serve as the communication between you and the audience. Jazz is an experience, a musical statement.
How long does it take to learn jazz?
In my experience as a musician, there were times that I sought after the experience of other musical genres. I have already been with cover bands, metal bands, guitar orchestra, string ensemble, solo guitar (classical) – but never jazz! So, I enrolled in a jazz class to know more about it. At first, it was kinda easy because I already knew a lot about scales and arpeggios which is one of the basics required in a jazz program. But I eventually learned that it’s not just knowing about the scales and the chord progressions, it is also about the “feeling” too.
Once you know the basics of music theory, then you are most likely to be ready for jazz. On the third day of my lesson, there were a lot of musical terminologies that I don’t know. Like comping, chord tones, sequence, scalar improvisation, neighboring tones and many more. I started to feel a bit anxious. But worry not, if you have an excellent teacher on your side, things will be as easy as learning a four-chord song. On the last day of our class, we did improvisations of famous songs of jazz heroes like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
I studied jazz for the whole semester. I learned a lot! It is actually cool to learn jazz because it is a piece of music from the past, and for sure will be carried on to the following generations. It is complex yet very inspiring!
Louis Armstrong’s La vie en rose
John Edward Hasse once said that “jazz expresses American core values like freedom, risk-taking, cultural diversity, innovation, creative collaboration, and democracy”. You can have the best experience by watching a live jazz performance so you can feel the spirit and energy of this complex but beautiful musical genre.
It takes some time to learn jazz, and it takes years to master it.
It’s never too early nor too late to start. Furthermore, it’s one of the best treasures you’ll have that will last you a lifetime.
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