How To Know You've Found Great Jazz Music

     Everyone loves jazz, but how do you know you're listening to really GREAT jazz? If you've ever wondered "What is great jazz?" or "How do I know if what I'm listening to is 'great jazz'?" - you've found some answers here!

That can be a difficult answer to put into words but let's give it a try. Remember the words of Louis Armstrong: "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." While jazz can be broken into elements and studied, it's also true that the spirit that characterizes truly great music can't be dissected. The first rule of thumb of identifying great jazz music is if you like it, if the music touches your soul, then it's great jazz.

Think of it this way, it's like walking into a museum or art gallery and asking to see great paintings or sculptures. Or worse, ask an artist to explain his or her painting to you. If the artist despises you, he/she may offer you some words by way of explanation, but great art is not meant to be explained. It either hits you, or it doesn't. It bypasses the part of the brain that analyzes and seeks to categorize or logically explain things and goes straight from the eyes to the "Ah Ha!" of your heart and soul. Music speaks to you in the same way.

Now as for the technicality of what you're hearing, that's a bit different. Jazz can be broken into many styles, including traditional jazz, contemporary jazz, progressive jazz, modern jazz, dixieland jazz. Nevertheless, there are still six elements that really comprise all great jazz music, and we've named them Improvisation, Syncopation, Blue Notes, Freedom, Interaction, and Feeling.

IMPROVISATION: is the heart of jazz music. When a performer leaves what is written on the page and begins to "speak" (musically) from his head and heart you are now witnessing a conversation, perhaps even participating through a sonic dance. What is really happening is that the musicians are conversing with each other but within a given structure (or language). When the musicians know each other well enough (and it can be instantaneous or take years to develop), then they are able to understand, support and converse thru that language.

SYNCOPATION is the part of jazz that really deals with rhythm. In our universe of space and time, it all comes down to vibrations. Vibrations are either on or off. This constant cycle of crests and troughs, expressed through time, causes us to experience the universe. In music, when you fool with these vibrations in a rigid form (strict rhythm), it can be slower or faster - but when you really start to play with rhythm and put variety into this structure you get what's called "Syncopation." This is what you're relating to instinctively as you dance, and what really MOVES you in jazz music.

BLUE NOTES: So as the musicians communicate within their special language, they work with in scales and keys. Within the scales can be certain altered notes; they'll call those BLUE NOTES. It's about creating dissonance and harmony. It's tension and resolution. And it's "jazz". Remember, if you like it, it's great!

The following three elements are less a function of music but come more directly from a musician's spirit. How the following three affect the previous three are what really defines "taste" in jazz music.

FREEDOM: Within the ensemble framework, musicians may take solos. Or you may hear a vocalist interpreting a melody - a vocalist version of a solo or improv. This freedom within the language of music is what lead to defining the genre of jazz. It's the talent and skill of a musician to express the feelings so genuinely and purely that make really great jazz. The old saying "Live Free or Die" applies in jazz as much as anywhere!

INTERACTION: No man is an island. OK, that's not to mean their are not great jazz soloists such as pianists, harpist, guitarists or other instrumentalist, but the overwhelming majority of jazz music ranges from duos to ensembles of say 20 musicians (Think big band jazz).

For the finale, so to speak: FEELING. Feeling is a key element because when all is said and done, feeling is really the heart of it all. How the musician feels about what he's playing and how you feel about what you're listening to are both important elements, as well as the feelings that are being expressed from moment to moment. In the end, great jazz music is about expressing (for the musician) and hearing (for the audience) the great range of human emotion.

Finally, a definition of great jazz? Let's say it's the interaction between performer and listener. And if that interaction communicates feelings that you can't express as words, if you feel as though the music speaks to you, if you can feel the performers emotions he's trying to express thru his instrument, then the only words left are "That's GREAT jazz"!

Article Source :

Jimmy Maxwell is a New Orleans jazz musician with over 35 years of experience playing the music of all the jazz greats! As founder and Executive Director of the Louis Armstrong Society Jazz Band, he proudly promotes Louis Armstrong songs in New Orleans and across the south.

Posted on 2013-09-17, By: *

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Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author.

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