What Is Jazz?

What Is Jazz?
Photo Credit: WeHeartIt.com

Mark Levine, the author of The Jazz Theory Book said, "A great jazz solo consists of:

1% magic

99% stuff that is

Explainable
Analyzable
Categorizable
Doable"

I think once you learn a lot of music theory, you'll get to the point where you no longer need to think about theory, if you know what I mean. Charlie Parker once said, "Learn the changes and then forget them." In other words, get beyond the theory.



  • HOW JAZZ MUSIC WORKS 
Jazz is like a musical language. When the musicians play, it's as if they are talking to each other in jazz language. Most jazz music is based on a tune or a theme. The tune might be made up specifically or it might be based on a popular tune. A jazz group, or line-up has two parts: the rhythm section and the front line.

  • THE FRONT LINE 
Front-line instruments are the ones that play solos during a jazz piece. They are given this name because the players usually stand in front of the rhythm section. Front-line instruments include the clarinet, trombone and the right-hand side of a piano.

  • THE RHYTHM SECTION 
The rhythm section is a part that keeps a steady pulse. It also plays harmonies for the front-line instrument to improvise over. Rhythm section instruments include the bass guitar, double bass, drums, and the left-hand side of the piano.

  • RHYTHM AND SYNCOPATION
Most rhythms have a regular pulse or beat. Normally the stress, or accent, comes on the first beat, in a measure. In Jazz, the stress sometimes comes on the second beat, or in between the main beats. This is called syncopation. A tension is created between the steady pulse and the syncopated rhythm.

  • JAM SESSIONS
When musicians get together without an audience and experiment with tunes, it is known as a jam session. It is during sessions like these that most Jazz evolves.

  • COMPOSING JAZZ 
Although jazz involves lots of improvisation, there are some fixed elements in a piece. Instead of writing down every note, jazz composers provide a rough outline, usually consisting of a tune and the chords that go with it. Chords are two or more notes played or sung together. They are usually written as chord symbols, which tell the musician which chords accompany a tune. The musicians improvise around this hotline. Most jazz composers base their work on music they come up with during jam sessions.

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  • All You Need Is Seven
I love playing 7th and 6th chords. The changes in this tune are in the style of the standard tune Don't Blame Me, popularized by Charlie Parker. Give it a try!

CMaj 7 = C/GBCE

Fmin6 = E/BbDEG

Emin7b5 = E/BbDEG

A7 = A/AC#EG

Dmin7 = D/CDFA

G7 = G/DFGB

C6 = C/EGAC

Dmin7 = D/DFAC

D#dim7 = D#/D#F#AC

Emin7 = E/DEGB

A7 = A/AC#EG

Dmin7 = D/CDFA

G7 = G/GBDF

CMaj7 = C/BCEG

You may be interested in Tritone Xtravaganza

All the best,






"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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