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“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)”. Jazz in America: The Curious Student’s Guide. What Is Jazz?. “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” ~ An Early Jazzman. Jazz swings! Jazz improvises!. Jazz Is…. One of America’s greatest contributions to the arts.

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it don t mean a thing if it ain t got that swing

“It Don’t Mean a Thing(If It Ain’t Got that Swing)”

Jazz in America:

The Curious Student’s Guide

what is jazz

What Is Jazz?

“If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” ~ An Early Jazzman

jazz is
Jazz Is…
  • One of America’s greatest contributions to the arts.
  • A handy window into American history.
jazz is6
Jazz Is…
  • …Grounded in swinging 4/4 time with the blues as a touchstone.
  • …A musical reflection of defiance or at least of antagonistic cooperation.
  • …A music formed by the marriage of black and white musical traditions in the United States.

Jazz is popular music!

Jazz is changing music!

jazz is8
Jazz Is…
  • “An art form that is constantly inspiring and renewing.” ~ Patricia Barber
  • Instead of being played strictly from written notes, much of jazz is improvised, or made up as the musicians go along.
  • In syncopated music, rhythms are created in which the emphasis shifts from the strong beat to the weak beat, or so that the different rhythms play with each other.
blue note
Blue Note
  • A bent or slurred note. Playing blue notes will create unique harmonies and often will convey a deeply emotional feel.
complex rhythm
Complex Rhythm
  • Rhythm is made not only by a drum, but by the accents played by different members of a jazz ensemble.
the drums of congo square
The Drums of Congo Square
  • “The rhythms that the drummers beat out in the dusty sunlight made the people standing around want to move their heads in time, tap their feet, and dance, too. That is one of the things about jazz: it always makes people want to move. Jazz music is music to move to, to dance to—not just to listen to.” ~ Langston Hughes
Jazz is a music that first took shape in the cosmopolitan and musically sophisticated milieu of New Orleans in the early part of the twentieth century.
Jazz grew out of the many strands of vernacular American music that had found a home in New Orleans—among them ragtime and blues.
African Americans incorporated Western and African instruments and dances into new musical styles.
While the roots of jazz are indelibly vocal, it evolved into primarily an instrumental genre, with its long series of innovations coming from instrumentalists.
Jazz is a music in which theme and variations play a large role, and in which each player has the potential role of composer.
America was determined to have fun after World War I and wanted to cheer itself up during the Great Depression.
Jazz caught the mood of the times, and radio broadcasts and phonograph records brought it into almost every home.
  • A style of jazz in the 1930s characterized by a steady, lively, and fluid rhythm.
big band
Big Band
  • A style of jazz of the 1930s and 1940s played by large orchestras, which relied on written music.
  • A style of jazz pioneered in the 1940s and 1950s marked by rhythmic accents and a jagged beat.
cool jazz
Cool Jazz
  • A lyrical type of jazz that became popular in the late 1940s and 1950s; also called West Coast jazz.
free jazz
Free Jazz
  • A style of jazz of the early 1960s marked by a sense of mysticism and a return to African roots.
  • A musical style of the late 1960s and early 1970s that blends elements of jazz with rock music.
soul jazz
Soul Jazz
  • A gospel-influenced style of jazz; also called funk.
louis satchmo armstrong
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong
  • Armstrong’s influence was, and remains, so seminal that any study of Jazz must inevitably return to the work of this master trumpet player and vocalist.
  • He mesmerized New York with his trumpet playing, singing, and scatting, the vocal technique he invented that used nonsense syllables to imitate instruments.
edward kennedy duke ellington
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington
  • Ellington expanded the scope of jazz numbers, paving the way for his trademark “symphonic jazz” as well as proving himself a sensitive and imaginative pianist.
legends of jazz music40

Legends of Jazz Music


the language of jazz
The Language of Jazz
  • Ballad
    • A slow song or musical composition.
  • Blues
    • A type of music in which rhythmic phrases are repeated; also characterized by songs about hard times and bad luck.
  • Call-and-Response
    • An African song type in which a lead singer calls out and the group answers with a repeated phrase.
    • When musicians invent things as they go along.
  • Ragtime
    • A type of piano music marked by a “jumping,” syncopated rhythm.
  • Riggs
    • Single rhythmic phrases repeated over and over, used in blues and jazz.
    • When the accent of a rhythm shifts from the strong beat to the weak beat; used in ragtime.
resources for curious students
Resources for Curious Students
  • Books
    • The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia
    • Jazz: A History of America’s Music, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
    • Visions of Jazz, Gary Giddins
  • The Library of Congress
    • William Gottlieb’s Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz (All the images in this slide show are from this collection.)
    • All About Jazz
    • All Music Guide
    • Downbeat
    • JazzEd
    • Jazz Online
    • Jazz Times
  • Carlin, Richard. Jazz. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1991.
  • Hayes, Malcolm. 20th-Century Music: 20s & 30s—Between the Wars. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2002.
  • Lee, Jeanne. Jam! The Story of Jazz Music. New York, NY: Rosen, 1999.
  • Schoenberg, Loren. The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Jazz. New York, NY: Perigee, 2002.