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Origins and characteristics of jazz: a review of the best musicians and singers of this musical style

Jazz is a musical genre born at the end of the 19th century in the United States, which quickly spread globally throughout the following century. The musical identity of jazz is complex and cannot be easily defined. For this reason, throughout this article we will review the history of this style, remembering its most relevant musicians and their artistic value.

From the Film Symphony Orchestra blog we want to pay tribute to this cultured and heterogeneous genre, remembering its most relevant musicians, those who have written the history of one of the musical styles par excellence. So, let's celebrate the International Jazz Day: with its best musicians and singers.

world jazz day

When is World Jazz Day celebrated?

As the great Nina Simone said, “Jazz is not just music, it is a way of life, a way of being, a way of thinking”. For its part, UNESCO also believes in the power of jazz as a driving force for peace, dialogue and mutual understanding, and it is for this reason that in November 2011, during the UNESCO General Conference, the international community proclaimed the April 30 as International Jazz Day.

What does Jazz symbolize and inspire?

Furthermore, from Nina Simone's quote, Charles Mingus said that “jazz is the language of emotions”. This style has the ability to humanize and transcend to transform a society just as it did in the United States, where it became a philosophy of life.

Improvisation has its origins in survival, in suffering and fighting, in the struggle that gives hope, in a time when blues or jazz was played while singing in the cotton slave fields, when rhythms were generated to have hope. According to what the liars say, it has to do with the improvisation that is born from the soul. Not in vain, it is a product of African American culture when it opened up to other influences such as European and other styles and, since the 1920s, it has been performed by musicians from various parts of the world with a different background.

Where and when was Jazz born?

Geographically, jazz emerged in the state of Louisiana, specifically in the area of influence of New Orleans, cradle of the musical style and main jazz center during the first era of the genre. Large consignments of slaves arrived there from Africa, mainly from the western area, south of the Sahara, the Ivory Coast area, 'Gold Coast' or 'Slave Coast'.

The word jazz, in a music-related sense, was not used in its early formative stages. In fact, it appears written for the first time on March 6, 1913, in the newspaper San Francisco Bulletin, when, when reviewing the type of music played by an army orchestra, he noted that its members trained to the rhythm of ragtime and jazz. A little later, in January 1917 in New York, the word jazz appeared as a definition of the music contained on a record, recorded by the Original Dixieland Band. From there, the term became popular.

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Main characteristics of Jazz

Since jazz is made up of a mixture of musical and cultural genres, its characteristics are diverse. Although it is not possible to classify a main element, it is possible to identify common characteristics. The first of them are the blue notes, 3rd, 7th or 5th of the diatonic scale placed one semitone below. This feature provides a melancholic tone to the style. The second would be Syncopation, a rhythmic figure that shifts the accentuation, having an accented note on the downbeat and not on the downbeat of the music.

Another of them, and very relevant, is the improvisation, which defines it. It also has the Polyrhythm, something that happens when you have more than one different rhythmic structure at the same time in music; he swing, basic jazz rhythm, in which the pulse of the music is divided unequally, with solo improvisation and rapid harmonic changes; and, finally, the so-called Question and answer, in which a voice, instrument or part of the band dialogues with each other, alternating.

What are the best known Jazz?

Among the best-known jazz scores, we could include the seven masterpieces that we are going to discuss below. First of all, the 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Davis. This trumpeter is considered the best jazz artist of all time and this album does the same. Secondly we find 'Saxophone Colossus' by Sonny Rollins, published in 1956. Our list would continue with 'Hot Fives and Sevens' by Louis Armstrong, an album that includes 89 songs.

'Time Out' by The Dave Brubeck Quartet would be next on the list, an album published in 1959, which experimented with unusual rhythms in jazz, such as the waltz and the double-time waltz. We would continue with 'A Love Supreme' by John Coltrane, published in 1964 and one of the greatest of all time and 'Brilliant Corners' by Thelonious Monk, who dominated jazz with the piano like few others did. And, to finish the review, we return to Miles Davis with his album 'Bitches Brew', become a historical milestone for being the compilation with which jazz fusion was born.

Where is Jazz most famous?

If we had to mention the most jazzy cities in the world, without a doubt we would have to include his birthplace and birthplace, New Orleans. But we also find Chicago, which welcomed prostitution, alcohol and music in 1917 after the closure of the Storyville neighborhood in New Orleans. In Europe we find Paris, where the genre arrived in the First World War; sydney, headquarters of the celebration of International Jazz Day and Cape Town, which received the style, according to the chronicles, even before the birth of the genre itself.

The most common instruments in Jazz

The most common instrumental groups in jazz are the trio, the quartet and the quintet, up to the large bands of more than fifty musicians, traditionally called Big Bands. As for the instruments, the most representative we find trumpet, trombone, saxophone, cornet, tuba and flugelhorn (metal wind). But also the clarinet (woodwind), the double bass, the drums, the piano and, of course, the voice.

Subsequently, others have also been introduced, different types of saxophone, alto, tenor, baritone or soprano, the organ, oboe, bassoon, electric bass, banjo, electric guitar, violin, mandolin or other percussion instruments, vibraphones, keyboards and synthesizers, which have gained importance in jazz fusion.

Jazz and its difficulty

As we have mentioned, jazz is a musical genre that is characterized by improvisation and the creative freedom it gives to musicians. Unlike other genres, this one is not based on a fixed musical structure, but rather It depends on the individual interpretation of each musician..

This improvisation makes it a complex genre, since musicians must have great technical skill and musical knowledge to be able to improvise effectively. Furthermore, it has a wide variety of styles and sub-genres, which means that musicians must be familiar with different rhythms, scales and harmonies. Musicians face harmonic, rhythmic and improvisational challenges.

fso jazz soundtrack

The best jazz musicians in history

'Jazz' is a short word that encompasses many styles. From the "blues" Mississippi black "ragtime" by Scott Joplin, orchestras “dixie” from New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and even swing orchestras from the years of the great depression in the United States. Among them, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller. Jazz continues with the complex bebop of Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker. And it goes through the great singers Billy Holyday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sara Vaughan. The “oldies” of Ella and Armstrong, Sinatra, the serene jazz of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davies and Bill Evans. The bosa-nova by Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz. From Miles Davis to modern artists. We tell you who the best jazz musicians have been.

Buddy Bolden: the first Jazz musician

Among the precursors, the one considered the first jazz musician in history was Buddy Bolden, an American trumpeter born in New Orleans in 1877. He is considered by some to be the father of jazz., and began playing the trumpet at a very young age. He quickly became famous in his city for his unique style and his ability to improvise. Bolden played with a band called 'The Bolden Band', very popular for playing in bars, dances and funerals.

His influence on the genre is incalculable. He mixed elements of blues, ragtime and African music, creating this new style of music that ended up becoming jazz. He was also a great innovator on the trumpet. He touched her with a strength and passion that had never been seen before and used a technique called 'growling', which consisted of playing the trumpet with a kind of growl, something that would become one of the distinctive characteristics of the genre.

Louis Armstrong: considered the father and king of Jazz

Louis Armstrong is one of the geniuses of music, those capable of bringing fundamental innovations to a system. Known as one of the fathers and the king of jazz, is one of the most important musical innovators of the 20th century. Nicknamed Sarchmo and Pops, he suffered racial discrimination and his only happiness was his passion for black music, then called ragtime.

Throughout his career, he was in Italy to play in three international tours: in 1935, 1949 and 1952. He also participated in San Remo in 1968 with the Italian song I will sing and he was especially known for his virtuosity on the cornet and trumpet. His best trumpet sound can be heard in the recordings with his Hot Five  and Hot Seven.

Ella Fitzgerald: the queen of Jazz

Ella Jane Fitzgerald is considered the queen of Jazz and the First Lady of song and was an American singer. Despite a basic status as a jazz player, his musical repertoire is much broader and includes swing, blues, bossa nova, samba, gospel, calypso, Christmas songs, pop and other genres.

Along with Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, she is considered the most important and influential singer in the history of jazz. In the 1950s he set a standard with his conception of the melodic song, in parallel to the work of Frank Sinatra, with its versions of the songs of the great composers of American popular songs. She won fourteen Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States.

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Duke Ellington and his importance in the world of jazz

Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington was one of the most legendary jazz piano artists, jazz band leaders and composers the 20th century has known. Being one of the most influential and transcendental musicians of his time, is undoubtedly a legend. Composer, pianist and leader of a jazz orchestra, he led a wonderful musical career that lasted more than six decades.

With raw talent and passion for music, he created some of the most impressive jazz compositions, inspiring millions and showing the world what a talented musician can create.

Charlie Parker and the saxophone

Born in Kansas on August 29, 1920, he began his path in music from a very young age, when at the age of 11 his mother gave him an alto saxophone. He already had jazz influences then, thanks to his father who was a pianist and other more renowned musicians such as the saxophonist. Lester Young.

Jazz was not going to be the same since the arrival of this saxophonist to New York. Not only because of his innovations in technique, but because he originated a musical revolution in terms of harmonies, arrangements and rhythms. Charlie Parker or 'Bird', a nickname he acquired during his career in the city, left a musical legacy that continues to this day, 102 years later. He is perhaps the best saxophonist in history.

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Charles Mingus: double bass and piano

In the universe of jazz we remember these great figures for contributing to creating new currents of this musical language. In this dimension is Charles Mingus, an African-American musician who was born 101 years ago, on April 22, 1992. He was a jazz icon of the second half of the 20th centuryHowever, his legacy was only recognized after his death.

Much of his music is based on bebop energy. He was also influenced by gospel, since religious music was listened to in his house as a child. He frequently used elements of traditional New Orleans jazz, cool jazz and classical music, to avoid being pigeonholed into categories, and he also dabbled in collective improvisation.

Billie Holiday: one of the most important female voices in Jazz

Billie Holiday was one of the first black women to sing with a white band in the 1930s, a time known for strong racial segregation in the United States. A born improviser who always wore gardenias in her hair, in 2011 Billie was decorated in the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Nina Simone: an icon of 20th century jazz

In addition to being known worldwide for her voice, and although she never had any of her songs in a TOP, Nina Simone dedicated her life to fighting for the civil rights of black Americans. Simone was nominated for the Grammys 15 times. Currently, Rihanna, Jay-Z or Kanye West revisit and reinterpret their songs or parts of them.

Jazz soundtracks

At Film Symphony Orchestra we admire these great jazz musicians and many others and, therefore, we remember this musical style. Back in 2017 we created a new show: FSO BIG BAND. A different formation with a repertoire that brings together, under the common thread of cinema, famous jazz composers, such as Benny Goodman or Henry Mancini, with classical masters, such as John Barry or John Williams in their unknown 'early & jazzy days'.

Thus, we offer a new way of understanding film music. The Pink Panther, James Bond, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mission Impossible... and many more! We love jazz and that is why we have decided to celebrate it with you.

4 thoughts on “Orígenes y características del jazz: un repaso de los mejores músicos y cantantes de este estilo musical”

  1. Excellent summary of the beginning of jazz, remembering the great performers and musical groups.

    Keep posting on this very interesting topic. I really like kaz since I was little.

    Congratulations!!

    Reply
  2. I am a jazz saxophonist and without a doubt creativity and improvisation are fundamental. I would say that they are characteristics that some people are born with and that need to be developed. A big hug to all my colleagues and jazz lovers.

    Reply

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