The Influence of Jazz

Jazz originated in the late 19th century in the African-American communities of New Orleans. Its roots are in blues and ragtime, that developed from African and slave folk songs, but also in different musical styles that flourished side by side in New Orleans. That is why by its origin jazz is best described as a mixture of European, African and American music.

Jazz became increasingly popular in the 1920s and quickly spread around the world, developing in various directions. There are many subgenres of jazz: Dixieland, swing, bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, free jazz, Latin jazz, soul jazz, and fusions such as jazz-rock, jazz-funk, smooth jazz, jazz-rap, punk-jazz and more. It is a polyrhythmic music characterized by swing and blue notes, that is very hard to define because it absorbed and transformed many different music styles over the span of 100 years of its existence. The essence of jazz is freedom, spontaneity, openness and improvisation. Jazz performers never play the same composition twice, because their interpretation depends on the individuality of the performer, mood, atmosphere and the interaction with audience and other band members.

Jazz had an incredible influence on modern music, classical as well as popular, and was in return greatly influenced by other music genres. Fusing with rock, pop, funk, R&B, soul, etc, jazz introduced new elements in these music styles as well. The proliferation of jazz in other music styles started in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix and Frank Zappa incorporated elements of jazz in their rock music. In 1969, Miles Davis published his first fusion album In a Silent Way, embracing the electric instrument approach to jazz. This is considered the turning point in jazz history, and Davis is credited as the first to bring jazz to other music styles, notably funk and rock. Davis himself was influenced by Jimmy Hendrix and James Brown.

Today, there is only a few genres of popular music that aren’t in some way influenced by jazz. If you pay attention you will discover jazz influence in many famous songs from a variety of genres. Just listen to the “Honey Pie” (The Beatles) or David Gilmour’s solo from “The Time” (Pink Floyd). Other examples include Led Zeppelin, Doors, Sade, Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé. Notably, hip-hop, one of the most beloved contemporary music genres, owes its roots to jazz. It originated in the 1970s, when the Afro-American youth from Bronx began to mix various music styles rooted in the Afro-American community, including jazz, blues, disco and funk. Free improvisation in lyrics in freestyle rap should also be considered a legacy of jazz and blues with their improvised instrumental solos.

Jazz is in the air, and it’s here to stay!