Jazz 101

January 20, 2010 Off By The Jazz Messenger

Jazz Online’s simple introduction into the world of jazz is designed to help you easily navigate your way through the genre’s main styles and rich history. We have highlighted the main periods of the music’s history and have provided a basic list of recommended recordings that compliments each style. Below listen to Jazz Online’s audio podcast version of Jazz 101 hosted by The Real Tuesday Weld.


The concept of traditional jazz first emerged in the 1930’s as jazz writers attempted to distinguish the New Orleans jazz which dated back to the turn of the century from the music of the swing era that followed on its heels. In the 1940s there was a major revival of New Orleans jazz, and the music of Joe “King” Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, as well as surviving pioneers like Bunk Johnson, was recorded and celebrated by more contemporary artists such as Lu Watters and Turk Murphy. The term “Dixieland” was used to describe the many groups of white musicians revisiting traditional jazz, as well as the recordings of some Chicago-based traditionalists of the 1920’s and 1930’s, such as Eddie Condon and Bud Freeman. Today, the phrase traditional jazz is also employed to describe such early and influential styles as ragtime, boogie woogie, and Harlem stride piano, all of which made important contributions to the evolution of jazz.

Suggested listening:
Louis Armstrong – Ken Burns Jazz (The Definitive)
Bix Biederbecke – Vol. 1: Singing The Blues
Jelly Roll Morton – Kansas City Stomp, Vol. 1
Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band – Favorites
Art Tatum – The Best of the Pablo Solo Masterpieces

Big Band/Swing
During the big band era, which spanned roughly a decade from 1935 to 1945, jazz was at the very forefront of popular culture in the United States. Ensembles of at least ten or more musicians, usually featuring a saxophone section, a brass section consisting of trumpets and trombones, and a rhythm section comprised of piano, guitar, bass and drums, were the most popular musical outfits in the country. The big bands played in a variety of styles. Dance bands that specialized in ballad arrangements with little emphasis on jazz or improvisation, such as those led by Guy Lombardo and Wayne King, were referred to as “sweet bands.” Bands which embraced more hard-driving rhythms and featured the improvisations of stellar soloists, such as those led by Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, were dubbed “swing” or “hot” bands. While a conclusive definition of swing music has proved elusive, it is generally agreed that swing is a rhythmic phenomenon in which a musician manipulates the pulse and beat of an up-tempo performance, creating musical patterns of tension and release that often invoke a sense of excitement in the listener. After World War II, new post-war economic realities and the rise of popular vocalists helped contribute to a significant decline in big band popularity. The genre continues to this day, however, and has grown to embrace bop, fusion, and many other post-swing developments in the history of jazz.

Suggested listening:
Fletcher Henderson – Ken Burns Jazz
Duke Ellington – At Newport 1956
Count Basie – Straight Ahead
Benny Goodman – The Essential Benny Goodman
Glenn Miller – The Essential Glenn Miller

Bebop, often referred to simply as bop, was the first modern, major post-swing style to emerge in jazz. Though considered revolutionary and startling at its inception, it is now regarded as one of the fundamental, classic genres of jazz. Bebop was developed in the early and mid-1940’s by such legendary musicians as Charlie Parker; Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach. These boppers made harmonic elaborations on the contributions of important swing era figures like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, and embarked on a new and more rapid style of Improvisation that compressed more ideas into less space, and made far greater use of altered chords than earlier jazz. Though some big bands explored bop, smaller groups such as quintets were usually preferred. Bebop performances were highly syncopated and explored polyrhythms to an unprecedented degree. Melodies were given erratic contours, resulting in somewhat agitated sounding performances that many found jarring. A huge debate erupted between those who felt the new music was a long-awaited breakthrough, and those who feared that bop injected elitism into jazz and alienated a vast majority of its listening audience. Both viewpoints have merit, but the profound and enduring impact of bebop on jazz history is undeniable.

Suggested listening:
The Quintet (Bird, Diz, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charles Mingus) – Jazz At Massey Hall
Charlie Parker – Charlie Parker
Bud Powell – The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1
Hampton Hawes – Hampton Hawes Trio, Vol. 1
Milt Jackson – In The Beginning

The phrase cool jazz is often used as an umbrella term to describe various subdued and understated styles of modern jazz that emerged in the 1950s. As a rule, these approaches forsook much of the frenetic approach widely associated with bebop. Cool saxophonists such as Stan Getz and Zoot Sims embraced the relaxed, melodic approach to improvisation employed by Lester Young. Cool trumpeters such as Shorty Rogers and Chet Baker were more concerned with spare lyricism than their bop Influenced colleagues. Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan were among the most influential cool jazz arrangers. The phrase “West Coast Jazz” was coined to describe a significant subgenre of the cool school, namely the modern jazz styles emanating from California from the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s, as exemplified by the work of Bud Shank, Jimmy Giuffre, Art Pepper and many others. Cool jazz is sometimes unfairly derided as devoid of emotion. It is in fact technically daunting music that is often quite beautiful, and as demanding of a musician’s concentration and commitment as any modern genre of jazz.

Suggested listening:
Chet Baker – Chet
Shorty Rogers – The Swinging Mr. Rogers
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Art Pepper – + Eleven
Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool

The term mainstream was coined by jazz authority Stanley Dance in the 1950’s in an effort to describe what was at that time the work of contemporary musicians who discovered the foundation for their inspiration and efforts in the music and approach of the swing era as it was developed in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was meant to differentiate their work from the newly emerging schools of modern jazz, such as bebop. Labels like “big band music” and “swing” had already managed to attract a nostalgic glow about them, lessening their usefulness in describing the relevance of more recent recordings. The boundaries encompassed by the term mainstream jazz have gradually broadened over the years – today some elements of bebop and post-bop, for example, are widely considered mainstream and presently it is employed more liberally, although such esoteric developments as the avant-garde and fusion styles would still be considered to lie outside its scope.

Suggested listening:
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery – Bags Meets Wes
Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Music
Oscar Peterson Trio – The Sound of the Trio
Oliver Nelson – The Blues and The Abstract Truth

Vocal Jazz
In its broadest sense, the term vocal jazz could be used to link such diverse singers as Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, the common thread being the jazz-inflected phrasing and sensibilities these performers manage to impose on what is essentially pop material. More specifically focused is the phrase “vocalese,” which is often applied to any extended example of wordless scat singing, but is actually meant to characterize the singing of a set of lyrics specifically crafted to a previously existing instrumental solo. This practice has its roots in the 1930’s, but was first brought to widespread popularity by King Pleasure’s 1953 hit recording of “Moody’s Mood For Love,” the melody of which was based on a solo by saxophonist James Moody, improvised from the popular standard “I’m In The Mood For Love.” The new lyrics were provided by Eddie Jefferson, another vocalese pioneer. The singing trio of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross further developed this new art form, and Jon Hendricks in particular has been an active and influential contributor to this unique subgenre of jazz.

Suggested listening:
Annie Ross, King Pleasure – King Pleasure Sings, Annie Ross Sings
Billie Holiday – Lady in Satin
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong – The Best of Ella and Louis
Frank Sinatra, Count Basie – It Might As Well Be Swing
Sarah Vaughan – Ultimate Sarah Vaughan

Third Stream
Third-Stream is a term coined by the European-trained composer and conductor Gunther Schuller in 1957 in an effort to characterize an approach to music that combines the rich textures and complex tonalities of classical music with the rhythmic drive and improvisational freedom of jazz, joining these two mainstreams to form a third stream. Improvisation is the key element that separates third-stream music from the symphonic jazz movement pioneered by Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in the 1920’s. As with all jazz terminology, the definition of third-stream music has broadened over the years. Pianist and composer Ran Blake, for example, widened its scope by fusing classical elements with various folk and ethnic music sources, such as traditional Armenian and Hindu music. Other significant contributors to third-stream music include Gunther Schuller himself, Anthony Davis, and Andre Hodeir.

Suggested listening:
Andre Hodier – Jazz in Paris, Vol. 97: Jazz and Jazz
The Modern Jazz Quartet – Django
Lee Konitz and Jimmy Guiffre – Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Guiffre
Stan Getz – Focus
Bill Evans Trio – With Symphony Orchestra

Hard Bop
Hard bop is a label meant to describe the intense, soulful, and hard-driving derivatives of bop music that flourished in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Interestingly, the term was more readily embraced by writers and record companies than by the musicians who created the music (who tended to think of their efforts simply as bop). Hard bop music is characterized by louder and more interactive drumming, lighter and more flexible piano accompaniment, and original compositions that are less likely to draw on the chord sequences of popular standards than the work of the early boppers. Most of the prominent hard bop players were black, and they infused the music with a funkier, soulful approach and gospel overtones. Among the most celebrated hard boppers are Horace Silver; Art Blakey, and Cannonball Adderley, although many diverse artists not specifically associated with hard bop, such as Miles Davis, Art Farmer, and Sonny Rollins, also made significant contributions to the genre.

Suggested listening:
Cannonball Adderley Quintet – In San Francisco
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Caravan
Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder
Horace Silver – Song For My Father
Bobby Timmons – This Here

Progressive jazz is a definition that has been employed in a variety of contexts over the years, sometimes resulting in confusion with such disparate genres as bebop and free jazz. In the late 1940s, the term became widely associated with the innovations in the jazz orchestral tradition promulgated by the large band of Stan Kenton, which often featured experimental charts by arranger Pete Rugulo that were notable for their complex textures and dissonant harmonies. The big band of Boyd Raeburn also explored similar territory. In many ways, these efforts foreshadowed the coming of third-stream music. By the late 1950’s, progressive jazz was often used as a synonym for modern jazz, an umbrella title for various bop and post-bop stylistic advances, which later included the modal style of improvisation based on scales instead of chords pioneered by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others.

Suggested listening:
Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz To Come
Eric Dolphy – Outward Bound
Don Ellis Quintet – New Ideas
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
Miles Davis – Sorcerer

Avante Garde
The terms avant-garde and free jazz are often used Interchangeably, an unfortunate circumstance that has led to a number of misconceptions. When free jazz first emerged in the 1960s, it was an avant-garde movement. Musicians like Ornette Coleman, who felt constrained by the standard conventions of bop, forged a new style of improvisation with a number of variable factors that were not based on any predetermined, underlying harmonic structure. Free jazz is best represented by the work of such musicians as Coleman, Albert Ayler, and John Coltrane. By contrast, the various avant-garde jazz communities of the 1970s and 1980s disdained the label “free jazz,” because much of their music emphasizes composition and is highly organized. Avant-garde jazz has many regional schools that meld elements of free jazz with third-stream innovations and ethnic music. Prominent avant-garde musicians include Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell and Sun Ra.

Suggested listening:
Albert Ayler – Love Cry
Ornette Coleman – Free Jazz
John Coltrane – Meditations
Sun Ra – Destination Unknown
Cecil Taylor – Unit Structures

World / Ethnic
Ever since the birth of jazz in North America in the late 19th Century, the influence of various international cultures has been vital to the music’s development. It is arguable that all jazz devolves from traditional African music, and such early pioneers as Jelly Roll Morton showed a willingness to broaden this base by incorporating Caribbean and Latin-American influences. In the 1940’s, Dizzy Gillespie’s seminal big band explored elements of Cuban folk music and helped give birth to Afro-Cuban jazz, or “cubop.” With the advent of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, artists such as John Coltrane and Don Cherry began developing a distinctly pan-cultural approach to jazz, exploring African and Middle-Eastern influences and performing with musicians from other countries, making jazz an ideal vehicle for displaying the interconnection of all the world’s folk music. The bossa nova rhythms of Brazil had a huge impact on the jazz world of the 1960’s, and today such diverse elements as salsa, tango and reggae music continue to expand and enrich the jazz tradition.

Suggested listening:
Dizzy Gillespie – Afro
Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba
Cal Tjader – La Onda Va Ben
Oregon – Music of Another Era Present
Jan Garbarek – Ragas and Sagas

Though elements of jazz combine easily with a wide variety of musical styles, the term fusion is generally used to refer to a combination of jazz with rock and soul influences, a hybrid style that became enormously popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period when avant-garde experimentation had alienated many jazz listeners. Also frequently referred to as “jazz-rock,” this movement was given a huge boost by several Miles Davis albums in the late 1960’s, notably “Bitches Brew” (1969). Many of Davis’s sidemen from this period, including Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, went on to form popular fusion outfits of their own. In most fusion or jazz-rock, the traditional unamplified acoustic sounds of the instruments are eschewed in favor of synthesizers, electric keyboards and guitars, and heavily rock-influenced drumming techniques. Though some purists may cringe, the music helped open the door for crossover jazz.

Suggested listening:
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire
Weather Report – 8:30
Return To Forever – Return To Forever
Pat Metheny Group – Offramp

Contemporary instrumental music, as well as jazz-rock fusion and contemporary funk, are in essence jazz-inflected styles of popular music that might feature a limited amount of improvisation, but are far from devoted to the accepted conventions of jazz as their primary purpose. Jazz purists and many critics sometimes forget, however, that what essentially amounts to popular instrumental music has been a constant component of jazz for decades. This trend has been manifested by trumpeter Chuck Mangione in the 1970’s and onetime saxophone session man Kenny G in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Other hugely popular crossover jazz artists include Grover Washington, Jr. and David Sanborn. Crossover jazz styles have also grown to include variations of acid jazz, ambient, trip-hop and forms of hip-hop.

Suggested listening:
Grover Washington Jr. – Winelight
Chuck Mangione – Feels So Good
David Sanborn – Hideaway
Bob James & Earl Klugh – One on One
Buckshot LeFonque – Buckshot LeFonque