New to Jazz?

Jazz Quiz

Q: What is a riff?
a. a way of playing like a jazz pro
b. when a jazz musician doesn’t come in to the music on time.
c. a catchy repeated melodic phrase

More: A riff is a relatively simple, catchy repeated phrase. May be played behind a soloist or as part of a head. Often in a bluesy style. Also, a pre-packaged phrase used by an improviser when he or she can't think of anything else, especially a phrase that is especially catchy.

Q: What is scat singing?
a. singing with lots of emotion, and feeling
b. singing an improvised melody line using random syllables and incorporating jazz rhythms.
c. Jazz term for bad singing.

More: scat singing is a widespread style of singing in jazz . It's an improvised singing of syllables without significant words and without any coherent sense. It is a vocal imitation of instrumental phrases. The origin of scat singing is not really known. As a legend claims, Louis Armstrong dropped the lyric sheet on the floor during a recording session of "Heebie Jeebies," and so he had to improvise the words.

Find out even more: Digital synthesis of singing (scat singing)

Q: What is bebop?
a. The sound a bass player makes when playing jazz
b. Another name for jazz
c. A jazz style that uses a lot of improvising

More: Bebop is the style of jazz developed by young players in the early 1940s, particularly Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Christian and Bud Powell. Small groups were favored, and simple standard tunes or just their chord progressions were used as springboards for rapid, many-noted improvisations using long, irregular, syncopated phrasing.

Improvisation was based on chordal harmony rather than the tune. The 'higher intervals' of the chords (9th, 11th and 13th) were emphasized in improvisation and in piano chord voicings, and alterations were used more freely than before, especially the augmented 11th. The ground beat was moved from the bass drum to the ride cymbal and the string bass, and the rhythmic feel is more flowing and subtle than before. Instrumental virtuosity was stressed, while tone quality became more restrained, less obviously 'expressive'. The style cast a very long shadow and many of today's players 60 years later could be fairly described as bebop.

What is Jazz?

Smithsonianjazz.org defines it this way:

Jazz is a kind of music in which improvisation is typically an important part. In most jazz performances, players play solos which they make up on the spot, which requires considerable skill.

There is tremendous variety in jazz, but most jazz is very rhythmic, has a forward momentum called "swing," and uses "bent" or "blue" notes. You can often hear "call--and--response" patterns in jazz, in which one instrument, voice, or part of the band answers another. (You can hear Ella Fitzgerald and Roy Eldridge do "call and response" in "Ella's Singing Class.")

Jazz can express many different emotions, from pain to sheer joy. In jazz, you may hear the sounds of freedom-for the music has been a powerful voice for people suffering unfair treatment because of the color of the skin, or because they lived in a country run by a cruel dictator.

The Nature of Jazz

Jazz musicians place a high value on finding their own sound and style, and that means, for example, that trumpeter Miles Davis sounds very different than trumpeter Louis Armstrong (whose sound you can hear in "Louis's Match Game" and "Louis's Music Class.") Jazz musicians like to put play their songs in their own distinct styles, and so you might listen to a dozen different jazz recordings of the same song, but each will sound different. The musicians' playing styles make each version different, and so do the improvised solos. Jazz is about making something familiar--a familiar song-- into something fresh. And about making something shared--a tune that everyone knows--into something personal.

Those are just some of the reasons that jazz is a great art form, and why some people consider it "America's classical music."

The Growth of Jazz

Jazz developed in the United States in the very early part of the 20th century. New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, played a key role in this development. The city's population was more diverse than anywhere else in the South, and people of African, French, Caribbean, Italian, German, Mexican, and American Indian, as well as English, descent interacted with one another. African-American musical traditions mixed with others and gradually jazz emerged from a blend of ragtime, marches, ragtime, blues, and other kinds of music. At first jazz was mostly for dancing. (In later years, people would sit and listen to it.)

After the first recordings of jazz were made in 1917, the music spread widely and developed rapidly. The evolution of jazz was led by a series of brilliant musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington (listen to Ellington in "Duke's Match Game" and "Duke's Music Class"), Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Jazz developed a series of different styles including traditional jazz, swing (listen, for example, to Benny Carter, who got his start in swing music, in "Benny's Match Game" and "Benny's Music Class") bebop, cool jazz, and jazz-rock, among others.

At the same time, jazz spread from the United States to many parts of the world, and today jazz musicians--and jazz festivals-- can be found in dozens of nations. Jazz is one of the United States's greatest exports to the world.

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