What is Jazz?

As a self proclaimed expert and "aficionado", I should know the answer to that question; but I don't, because the answer is too complex.

As one example; Inna posted that he didn't like jazz, and in his next post he raved about a piece of music that I considered to be jazz. In Inna's case I understood the contradiction, he doesn't like "hard bop".

On the other hand, Rok2id's definition of jazz is so narrow that many of my jazz records and CD's, would be considered to be something other than "jazz".

What is "jazz" to you and can you define it?
I am not sure it can be defined in a definitive sense.
A musicologist would talk about the historical roots. Southern black music... spirituals, blues, gospel etc... And that would be very informative and very true. The great French Jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli once said, 'I never forget, it's a black art form'. He played it well, and made his contributions via his performances, but he never tried to define it or re-define it. This is the heart of the problem. Not so much, WHAT is Jazz, but, WHO should define Jazz. This problem exists in many genres of music.

The best answer for me is, to paraphrase the Supreme Court Justice's views about obscenity, I can't define Jazz, but I know it when I hear it. So we all live in different musical universes, and in my universe, the definition of Jazz is stored on that hard drive between my ears. Put there bit by bit during the years of my musical experiences.

One contributing factor in all this confusion concerning genre, is the idea, prevalent in this country, that a person can reach any goal, with hard work. This is a good positive idea in a general sense, but not absolutely true. When it comes to the arts, talent is the deciding factor. Talent trumps everything else. Desire and hard work are helpful, but talent is vital element. Some refuse to let a lack of talent stop them from reaching their goals.

The result is, we have guys from London calling themselves bluesmen. People from europe playing 'euro' Jazz. They make a lot of money and some of it sounds ok, but it ain't the real deal. Stephane never called his music 'euro Jazz'. hmmmmmm. I think the low point in my musical experience was listening to a German Country and Western band in Franfurt. I still cringe!!

Orpheus10: great question
What is not jazz? Classical, rock, country, techno, flamenco, Japanese traditional music etc. are not jazz. What remains could be called jazz. Perhaps any kind of music heavily based on improvisation can be called jazz. Is Indian music jazz too? Well, I wouldn't call it that but someone could call it Indian jazz. No objection from me. Persian music can be very impovisational too but not at all always so.
Yes, I don't like "classical jazz", with some exceptions.
Well most jazz in it's live context is improvised so I will say "Jazz is when a musician takes the internal sound his soul is creating and emits it externaly whether by instrument or voice"
Ok, I performed mostly "Jazz" for about 15 years. I still have an incredibly hard time defining the genre. I guess I think of it as an umbrella that covers a bunch of other sub-genres.
The inverse of Classical music. Classical music, for the most part, celebrates the ensemble, symphony, quartet, playing together and in harmony. Jazz celebrates the individual playing around a theme each individual having the opportunity to express themselves while maintaining a unified whole, again in general. There are exceptions to both.
"If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."- Louis Armstrong

"You blows who you is" - Louis Armstrong

"Hot can be cool & cool can be hot & each can be both. But hot or cool man, Jazz is Jazz." - Louis Armstrong

One of the many reasons Louis was the greatest jazz musician that ever lived.
Love those Louis Armstrong quotes but labelling someone the greatest jazz musician is like declaring a particular woman(your choice) the most beautiful 'ever'.Duke,Monk,Bird,Miles etc. So many great ones, I love them all.
"Classical Jazz"? ..similar to "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams 68'?
Frogman, I really enjoyed your supplied Louis's quotes, and fully agree!
Jazz is learning all the music rules and structure, very, very well.. and then being able to take it to a level of interpretation as "I feel this right now!"
That is MY definition of true art.
-I should know the answer to that question; but I don't, because the answer is too complex.-

This statement shows that you DO know the answer!;)

Orph (may I call you orph!?;), I've always felt Jazz to be such a vast genre. If you factor in group sizes, styles, acoustic, electric, etc., and THEN factor in nationalities, and THEN factor the traditional musics of these nationalities that often get incorporated into the mix. The combinations/possibilities are practically endless. Jazz, originally an American artform, has truly evolved into a 'World' music (A world music, NOT 'World' music, which to me, is something else altogether). Just this morning, I got hipped to this band; 'Banda Pequi' from Brazil. Amazing music from a Brazilian Big Band (Chk 'em out on Youtube, I've had ZERO luck finding a CD, probably have to download, sux!). I feel Jazz is a music that 'accomodates' the listener due to it's range of accessibility. From very easy to very complex. For me, Jazz is ever-evolving, the ultimate Soul music!!

Unfortunately, the reality is Jazz is percieved as an 'old' music that's best days happened decades ago. Not only here, I've even found this mindset on jazzsites! I've always felt this is an 'age' thing. Buncha ol' geezers (schweinhunds(!), clinging to what they know!;) What can I say, at 58, I've grown old, but not up!

I wouldn't be surprised (I kinda expect) to see this thread devolve into another snoozefest praising the grandfathers of Jazz.
I don't like jazz either, but love fusion, bop, acid, avangard, jazz-rock and jazz-punk.
To me jazz is mainstream such as Ben Webster, Chet Atkins, etc...
I believe it was Duke who said : There are only two types of music - good and bad.......
It's just a word used to describe several types of music.
I can't tell anyone what jazz is. It's too difficult to define and there are too many variations. I will say that others in this thread have made great points about the genre. My compliments.
"It smells funny!"
I don't have much to add other than this was a great question with some excellent and thoughtful responses. Gives me hope in the future of the forums and its contributors. A nice change from "what is the best..." or Thing X vs Thing y
What is rock n roll?

I think that there's a tendency to define any musical genre in historical terms. You describe how it emerged and how it morphed from whatever genre(s) came before it. Then the new genre evolves and you ask..."Is this still jazz/rock/fill in the blank"?

At that point, your definition gets both very hazy and very long.

Ken Burns did a great job defining jazz, but it took him +/- 20 hours to do it.
Everyone has their own definition of Jazz. There is probably some overlap in all definitions of Jazz but no two people's definitions are the same.

Jazz is a genre of music in which personalization and evolution are considered requirements of playing it, so we'll probably never be able to put an absolute definition on it.
Certainly not the definitive answer, but to me: Jazz is the confluence of Afro-European music that celebrates individual interpretation within the context of the moment.
"Unfortunately, the reality is Jazz is percieved as an 'old' music that's best days happened decades ago. Not only here, I've even found this mindset on jazzsites!"

You mean just like classical music? Show me the 'new' mozart, bach... the 'new' Mingus, cannonball, armstrong et al

It could be that Jazz, the REAL stuff, has just about run it's course. Just like classical. There are some modern composers out there, but the repertoire is still almost totally pre 2oth century, with damn few exceptions. The same can be said of the Blues, R&B, rock & roll, country and gospel. Their most creative era is behind them. If this were not true, today's opera would not be just the tried and true in modern wardrobes. There would not be 302 different recordings of Beethoven's syms. We would all be listening to the 21st century beethoven, the new howlin'wolf, the latest elvis, where is the modern motown? ... you get the drift. The golden age in pop and jazz and classical and gospel and r&b and country IS OVER!! The only thing we have left are reissues that hopefully have improved sound quality. The new music is not saying anything. Metal and rap were never music to start with. BTW, rock & roll and Rock, are not the same thing, so, the stones and several other social security aged rockers are still active because there are no replacements. Same holds true for Jazz. Sadly.
Jazz is a word.
What people think it means varies so much that it's not hard to see why Duke Ellington and Miles Davis wouldn't touch it. One guy would say there's two kinds of music. The other thought the word jazz had become useless, (not worth using at all). There's a big difference between the process of developing musical awareness and the exercise of attempting to define a word like jazz.
It's all folk music because donkeys don't make music. I think Ray Charles said something along those lines.

While the term jazz does a have specific historical reference it has evolved into a marketing term of nebulous meaning. Record sellers have learned that music is more readily consumed when divided into neat little genres.

Out of all the jazz encyclopedia's I've read, I have never seen such "honest" and accurate descriptions of the word "jazz".

When I combine all of your post's, I have a better definition of jazz, than the musicians who make the music have given me. Someone a long time ago made it "hip" not to attempt to define "jazz", and succeeding musicians have followed in his footsteps.

Whether we realize it or not, this music is a very important part of our lives; and we are also an important part of one another's lives. When I say "we", I mean those of us who attempt honest and positive communications in all forums; especially this one.

Since we are "talking" about "music", why not let the music speak for us through the use of "Youtube". Express your concept of good jazz by selecting the best "youtube" that illustrate's what jazz is to you.
I don't normally think of Wikipedia as the definitive source for info but they do have a pretty good description that echoes many of the thoughts already expressed. It also has a darn good timeline showing the evolution of Jazz over the last century.
You'll get some interesting opinions in a forum regarding what Jazz is but I would look elsewhere to more traditional sources for more definitive answers.

Or as alluded to above, given the diversity of form and looseness of "Jazz" music in general, I suppose if the record company calls it Jazz, then technically it is Jazz.

Or, consider that there is no rule that says all music must classify to a single genre, nor does it often in practice. Music can have elements that might be considered Jazz mixed with other styles as well.

I find the trend towards more mixing of diverse musical elements in music these days, many of which are increasingly various forms of indigenous "roots" music to be a positive trend that makes for a lot of interesting listens. I've practically given up on even caring about musical genre, although of course there will always be music that cleanly fits into a single one without much problem.
In terms of the "purer" forms of Jazz, these days I much prefer older Jazz from teh 1950s and earlier to the newer forms.

A lot of interesting things happened with Jazz starting in the early 60's with Coltrane, Davis, and others, but unfortunately I think a lasting effect of this was that Jazz largely lost its identity as a genre, although its influences as a whole has been essentially off the charts since its beginnings many years ago.

I think you are right about the golden age of teh various genres you sight being over.

Their influences in more modern music is perhaps stronger than ever though.

I find it easier to enjoy more modern music if I forget about traditional genre stereotypes. Listen to newer music on its own terms. You'll pick up influences frequently from all the more traditional genres, even in rap, hip/hop, and a lot of more modern R&B music. Not consistently, always, but there is plenty there.

GOtta break some old molds in order to be able to get true enjoyment out of a lot of more modern music. Things change and progress, not remain stagnant within vague parameters per genre defined years ago. Keep an open mind always...

Here's an example of an older clasesic rock tune with some classical elements given a fresh spin with a lot to like:

BEPs Union

Thanks for your comments. I did watch the Video you sent and also one by the same group entitled 'meet me halfway. My impressions are:

Very nice video images, pleasant enough music, the vocals expressed nice seniments. A little too political correct for my taste. As I have said before, try listening to the music without looking at the video. Does it changed your opinion of the music? It does for me.
I think my main problem with music like this is that I do not preceive it as 'serious' music from 'serious' people. Why the weird hair and wardrobe? Can you picture John Coltrane or Marvin Gaye in a mohawk hair cut? Why the special sound effects? Motown managed to make the best pop music ever, wearing coats, ties and gowns. Same applys to the Jazz greats. They were SERIOUS people playing SERIOUS music. They dressed accordingly. MJQ even took it to a higher level. Even dirt poor blues players most often managed to dress with coat and tie. It's called, respecting yourself and the music you play. If the video you sent is the wave of the future, I won't argue that point. I got off the train back at the motown, blue note, and chess stop. I use these labels as metaphors for an era. I am still on the classical train. Its has never been better.

Overall it reminded me of european pop from the 70s / 80s. Boney M comes to mind. BTW, I typed this response while 'reviewing' a cd called 'The Best of Brazilian Jazz' I could have been in an elevator or Doctor's waiting room. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. :)

Djohnson54, "We don't need no stinkin Wikipedia", they're going all the way back to slaves dancing in Congo square in New Orleans; our jazz doesn't go back that far.

One day "Bird" picked up his horn and said, "Let there Be Bop" and While merrily blowing his horn; "Diz" heard all that hip music, so he joined in. It wasn't long before all that commotion reached "Miles" in St. Louis. He rushed to New York and he said, "I wanna blow to"; so they let him, and thus was created "Modern Jazz".

Now you won't read this in no stinkin "Wikipedia", so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Jazz is living, breathing life; sometimes it's happy, and sometimes it's sad; it's about every emotion that you have ever felt, and then some; this is not history.

Djohnson, in no way do I mean this as an offense to you or Wikipedia.
The jazz gospel according to Orpheus.....

Count Basie's orchestra played Jazz.
Guy Lombardo's orchestra did NOT play Jazz
Benny Goodman's orchestra played Jazz
Glen Miller's orchestra also did NOT play Jazz.
(Miller may have played the notes, but not the music)

ps my internet is gone for a week so excuse me for not answering comments...
Now that we have discussed, debated, disected, ad naseum
lets discover:

Today's playlist

El Jazz Cubano:
various artists including heavyweights like Irakere, Chucho Valdes and Rubalcaba. Very enjoyable straight-ahead jazz. Great piano work.

Jive at Five
Clark Terry & Red Mitchell
Mitchell is a very underrated bass player

Plays Ellington
McCoy Tyner
Includes latin percussionist. 'Caravan' is a standout

The Best of Brailian Jazz
Various Artist (most of whom should desire anonymity)
YAWN. sets world jazz back a few centuries. Only good as a soundtrack for a TV travel show.

as always IMO. :)

Labeling someone "The best jazz musician ever" is good. This simply expresses how that person feels about that musician, and this is the "only" gauge that's necessary.

Chazro, Orpheus without the 10 is fine.. "Jazz is ever evolving, the ultimate soul music!!"; that is so expressive that I have to stop and think about it for awhile. I like "Banda Pequi", and normally I'm not fond of big bands; but this is an exceptionally good band.

No, this thread will not devolve into another snoozefest praising the grandfathers of jazz.

Enjoy the music.
Glen Miller did play Jazz.
"We don't need no stinkin Wikipedia", they're going all the way back to slaves dancing in Congo square in New Orleans; our jazz doesn't go back that far.

The only reason "our" jazz doesn't go back that far is because there was nothing to record it on back then. If there had been, someone would still be listening to it and calling it jazz.
few samples of good jazz........
yes, its from Poland - is this jazz too?




and Japanese jazz:

Charles1dad, of course you are correct. But, I would bet you my Manley mono's (and I'll throw in my Columbia Six-Eye "Kind Of Blue") that if you were to poll 100 jazz musicians and ask them who they would pick (if they had to) as THE greatest jazz musician, and the one who best embodied the essence of jazz as they understand it, that the overwhelming majority would pick Louis Armstrong. Regards.
Hi Frogman,
It`s hard to say, in my experince with most jazz musicians I happen to know most of them cite Charlie Parker. A moot point really as they`re both and others are so worthy. Like I said I love and truly respect them all.

While we might not be able to define jazz to everyone's satisfaction, we know it when we heat it. Today, there is a jazz resurgence going on in many foreign countries, and I find it most interesting when they blend elements of their music with American Jazz.

Currently, India has a jazz craze going on, and a group named "Bengal and Beyond" has attracted my attention. "Sharmilla Guha" is the vocalist in the group, and her "scat singing" on Horace Silver's "Calcutta Cutie" is fantastic.

Thanks to "Youtube", I give you "Calcutta Cutie"; by "Bengal And Beyond"

Lord my burden is great!

People in India or Japan or any place for that matter, playing American Jazz, does not make it Japanese or Indian Jazz. No more than the New York Philharmonic playing Mozart, makes it American Classical music. The two clips were good, but it was AMERICAN music being played by folks from India and Japan. I think what you are looking for, MAY be found in Cuba.
"yes, its from Poland - is this jazz too?"

read Pat Metheny's response to Kenny G and see for yourself.

From the movie Jerry Maguire:

"Chad: This... is Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Stockholm. 1963... two masters of freedom, playing in a time before their art was corrupted by a zillion cocktail lounge performers who destroyed the legacy of the only American artform -- JAZZ."

One of the saddest realities, for me, is how much more popular Jazz is overseas than here in the states. Even sadder is that it's been that way practically since it's inception. The fact that many American Jazz musicians have chosen to live in Europe over the years is telling. I've read about acts that barely fill clubs in the states selling out much larger venues in Europe and the Orient. Lots of records have been made by American artists and released overseas but not in the states due to a percieved lack of interest.

You know something? A parallel could be drawn re: the appreciation of Jazz and the appreciation of Audio in the states vs. overseas. Is it coincidence that the same places that do well in Audio also seem to appreciate Jazz? Understand, I'm not saying love of audio = love of Jazz. It's just frustrating to think about how music appreciation (what one hears and HOW they hear it) in the states seems to have become so mundane.

Currently listening to: Jim McNeely - Group Therapy - A record that SHOULD be considered a Jazz Classic!;)
Minorl, thanks, that was an amazing diatribe.
Now this is not American jazz, it is Indian. Starts at 3:25
Yeah. And it is not only about jazz, it is about art in general. Tony Scott, an excellent musician, was, I think, one of the first jazzmen who spent most of his time abroad. Miles Davis played Agharta/Pangaea concert in Japan, John McLaughlin moved back to Europe in the late 70s though performs from time to time in the States, French director invited Miles to compose film soundrack.
A number of years ago I heard a Danish jazz/rock fusion group play, and it was great, almost as good as Mahavishnu Orchestra at their best. Jazz is very popular in Poland, Scandinavia and even France. Japanese are crazy both about jazz and Spain's flamenco.
What is going on here, in the place of origin of blues and jazz?

Chazro, a few years back, during the break; I was talking to Ahmad Jamal and his musicians; they told me that after the show in Chicago they were headed to Japan. Furthermore, they told me that without Japan they couldn't survive.

Although Pat Metheny plays guitar, he is such a fantastic musician; that I don't think of him as a guitarist, the same way I don't think of Mingus as a bassist.

Pat Metheny is "very well" represented in my collection, while I don't have one, single solitary Kenny G anything.