If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know. – Louis Armstrong (www.brainyquote.com)
I’ve completely revised the jazz meta-lists on Make Lists, Not War, removed an outdated list and added three new lists. Here are the links:
Best Jazz Albums of All Time – Ranked
Best Jazz Albums of All Time – Chronological
Best Jazz Musicians and their Best Work – Ranked
Best Jazz Musicians and their Best Work – Chronological
Best Contemporary Jazz Musicians
In this post introducing these new lists, I’ve decided to forego writing an essay about jazz from my limited perspective and instead to include some quotes and definitions from other, more authoritative sources, as well as a very short jazz history timeline.
Jazz is the most significant form of musical expression in American culture and outstanding contribution to the art of music. http://www.apassion4jazz.net
Jazz: American music developed especially from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre. – merriam-webster.com
The real power of Jazz is that a group of people can come together and create improvised art and negotiate their agendas… and that negotiation is the art – Wynton Marsalis in Ken Burns’ Jazz.
Although jazz is considered highly difficult to define, at least in part because it contains so many varied subgenres, improvisation is consistently regarded as being one of its key elements. The centrality of improvisation in jazz is attributed to influential earlier forms of music: the early blues, a form of folk music which arose in part from the work songs and field hollers of the African-American slaves on plantations. … [J]azz is often characterized as the product of group creativity, interaction, and collaboration, which places varying degrees of value on the contributions of the composer (if there is one) and performers.In jazz, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition the same way twice; depending on the performer’s mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will. Wikipedia.com
Jazz, to me, is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul – the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. – Langston Hughes (www.brainyquote.com)
Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time. – Ornette Coleman (www.brainyquote.com)
Jazz stands for freedom. It’s supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist – leave that to the classical musicians. – Dave Brubeck (www.brainyquote.com)
A Very Short History of Jazz
1890s-1910s: Jazz is born in New Orleans from a mix of pre-existing musical styles: ragtime, early blues, spirituals, marching bands, vaudeville, dance bands.
1900-1930: New Orleans Jazz, Trad Jazz, Dixieland Jazz (Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, etc.)
1920s-1930s: Classic female blues (Bessie Smith, etc.)
1930s-1940s: Swing and big band jazz (Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Billie Holiday)
Mid-1940s: Bebop arrives (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell)
Late 1940s-early1950s: Cool jazz and West Coast jazz are born (Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck)
1950s-1960s: Bebop evolves into hard bop (Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan,
Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane)
1950s: Third stream mixes cool jazz and classical music (Gil Evans, Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis)
1950s: Modal jazz appears (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans)
1959: Free jazz appears (Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane)
Late 1950s-early1960s: Soul jazz arrives (Jimmy Smith, etc.)
Late 1960s-1970s: Jazz-rock fusion and funk-jazz arrive (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report)
1980s-Present: Revival of older styles (neo-bop), continuation of newer styles. Crossover jazz.
Enjoy the lists, jazz lovers. And please remember: These are meta-lists, which are compilations of lists I collected, not lists I made. THESE ARE NOT MY PERSONAL OPINIONS. I HAVE NOT LISTENED TO ALL THIS MUSIC.