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Key People:George GershwinBenny GoodmanDuke EllingtonMiles DavisLouis Armstrong...(Show more)Related Topics:Latin jazzDixielandswingjazz-rockfree jazz...(Show more)

jazz, musical form, frequently improvisational, arisen by afri Americans and also influenced by both european harmonic structure and African rhythms. It was developed partially indigenous ragtime and blues and is often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying levels of improvisation, often deliberate deviations the pitch, and also the use of initial timbres.

Any attempt to arrive at a precise, all-encompassing an interpretation of jazz is probably futile. Jazz has been, indigenous its very beginnings at the revolve of the 20th century, a continually evolving, expanding, an altering music, passing through several distinctive phases of development; a definition that might use to one phase—for instance, to new Orleans style or swing—becomes inappropriate when applied to an additional segment of its history, say, to free jazz. Early attempts to define jazz as a music whose chief characteristic was improvisation, because that example, turned out to be also restrictive and largely untrue, because composition, arrangement, and also ensemble have also been essential materials of jazz for most of the history. Similarly, syncopation and also swing, often considered essential and also unique to jazz, are in fact lacking in lot authentic jazz, whether of the 1920s or of later on decades. Again, the long-held id that swing could not happen without syncopation to be roundly disproved once trumpeters luigi Armstrong and Bunny Berigan (among others) typically generated substantial swing while play repeated, unsyncopated quarter notes.


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Jazz, in fact, is not—and never has actually been—an totally composed, predetermined music, no one is it an completely extemporized one. Because that almost every one of its background it has actually employed both an imaginative approaches in varying degrees and endless permutations. And yet, in spite of these varied terminological confusions, jazz appears to be soon recognized and also distinguished as something different from all other forms of musical expression. Come repeat Armstrong’s famed reply when asked what swing meant: “If you need to ask, you’ll never know.” To include to the confusion, there often have been seemingly unbridgeable perceptual differences in between the producers of jazz (performers, composers, and arrangers) and its audiences. For example, v the come of cost-free jazz and also other latter-day avant-garde manifestations, many senior musicians maintained that music that didn’t totter was no jazz.

Most early classical composers (such together Aaron Copland, man Alden Carpenter—and also Igor Stravinsky, who became smitten with jazz) were drawn to its important sounds and also timbres, the inexplicable effects and also inflections the jazz play (brass mutes, glissandos, scoops, bends, and also stringless ensembles), and also its syncopations, completely ignoring, or at the very least underappreciating, the extemporized facets of jazz. Indeed, the sounds that jazz musicians make on your instruments—the means they attack, inflect, release, embellish, and colour notes—characterize jazz play to such an level that if a classic piece were played by jazz musician in their idiomatic phrasings, it would certainly in all likelihood be dubbed jazz.


Nonetheless, one important element of jazz plainly does differentiate it native other classic musical areas, particularly from classic music: the jazz show is generally or wholly a creative, improvising composer—his own composer, together it were—whereas in classic music the performer frequently expresses and interprets who else’s composition.

West Africa in the American South: collection the musical elements of jazz

The elements that make jazz distinctive derive mostly from West african musical resources as required to the north American continent by slaves, that partially maintained them against all odds in the plantation society of the American South. These facets are not exactly identifiable because they were not documented—at least not until the middle to so late 19th century, and then only sparsely. Furthermore, Black slaves came from varied West afri tribal societies with distinctive musical traditions. Thus, a good variety of black color musical sensibilities were assembled on American soil. These subsequently rather quickly encountered European musical elements—for example, an easy dance and also entertainment musics and also shape-note hymn tunes, such as were widespread in at an early stage 19th-century north America.

The music that eventually ended up being jazz progressed out that a wide-ranging, slowly assimilated mixture the Black and white folk musics and also popular styles, through roots in both West Africa and also Europe. That is just a slight oversimplification come assert that the rhythmic and structural facets of jazz, and some facets of that is customary instrumentation (e.g., banjo or guitar and also percussion), derive primarily from West african traditions, vice versa, the european influences deserve to be heard not just in the harmonic language the jazz yet in its use of such conventional instruments as trumpet, trombone, saxophone, cable bass, and also piano.

The syncopations of jazz were not completely new—they had been the main attraction of one of its forerunners, ragtime, and also could be heard even previously in minstrel music and also in the work-related of creolian composer luigi Moreau Gottschalk (Bamboula, subtitled Danse des Nègres, 1844–45, and also Ojos Criollos, 1859, among others). Nevertheless, jazz syncopation struck nonblack listeners as fascinating and novel, due to the fact that that particular form of syncopation was not existing in European classical music. The syncopations in ragtime and jazz were, in fact, the result of reducing and simplifying (over a duration of at least a century) the complex, multilayered, polyrhythmic, and also polymetric designs indigenous to every kinds of West African ritual dance and also ensemble music. In various other words, the former accentuations of multiple vertically completing metres were drastically simplified to syncopated accents.

The provenance of melody (tune, theme, motive, riff) in jazz is more obscure. In every likelihood, jazz melody developed out that a streamlined residue and mixture that African and European vocal materials intuitively arisen by servants in the United states in the 1700s and 1800s—for example, unaccompanied ar hollers and also work songs connected with the changed social problems of Blacks. The commonly prevalent emphasis on pentatonic formations came generally from West Africa, conversely, the diatonic (and later much more chromatic) melodic lines of jazz flourished from so late 19th- and early 20th-century european antecedents.

Harmony was most likely the last aspect of european music come be soaked up by Blacks. But once acquired, harmony was applied as secondary musical resource to spiritual texts; one result was the gradual breakthrough of spirituals, borrowing indigenous the white spiritual revival meetings that African americans in numerous parts the the south were urged to attend. One critical outcome of this musical acculturations was the advancement by Blacks the the so-called blues scale, with its “blue notes”—the flatted third and saturday degrees. This scale is neither specifically African nor particularly European however acquired its strange modality from pitch inflections common to any number of West african languages and also musical forms. In impact these very expressive—and in african terms very meaningful—pitch deviations to be superimposed top top the diatonic scale common to almost all europe classical and vernacular music.

That jazz arisen uniquely in the unified States, not in the Caribbean or in south America (or any type of other kingdom to which hundreds of African Blacks were also transported) is historically fascinating. Countless Blacks in those other regions were really often emancipated by the early 1800s and also thus were free individuals who proactively participated in the social development that their own countries. In the instance of Brazil, Blacks were so geographically and also socially isolated native the white facility that they merely were able to maintain their own African musical traditions in a virtually pure form. That is therefore ironic the jazz would more than likely never have progressed had it no been because that the servant trade together it was practiced specifically in the joined States.

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Jazz flourished from the afri American slaves who to be prevented from preserving their indigenous musical traditions and also felt the must substitute some homegrown form of music expression. Such composers as the Brazilian mulatto José Maurício Nunes Garcia were totally in touch v the musical breakthroughs of your time that were developing in Europe and also wrote music in those styles and traditions. American slaves, by contrast, were restricted not only in your work problems and spiritual observances but in recreation activities, consisting of music making. Although servants who play such tools as the violin, horn, and oboe were exploited for their musical talent in such cities as Charleston, south Carolina, these were impressive situations. By and large the servants were relegated to picking up whatever tiny scraps that music were permitted them.