Jazz music is a diverse musical genre having intricate harmonies, syncopated rhythms, and a strong focus on improvisation. Early in the 20th century, black musicians in New Orleans, Louisiana, created this genre. New Orleans nurtured a strong ragtime and blues culture. It has since been regarded as one of the musical capital of the United States.

Early jazz players like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong expanded upon the blues and ragtime patterns. They then created this entirely new American music genre. It quickly gained popularity throughout the country, and soon New York City became the jazz center of the world. Pop, rock, funk, modal music, traditional popular music, and even genuine avant-garde works are all affiliated with this musical style.

Ragtime, the blues, and second-line horn ensembles from parades were significant sources of inspiration for jazz musicians. Even the funeral music from New Orleans impacted early musicians. “Dixieland jazz” refers to southern jazz rooted in New Orleans. Chicago and Kansas City, where Count Basie stationed his orchestra for a considerable time, were other early epicenters. Still, New York City cemented this genre as a cornerstone of American culture.

Common Jazz Styles and Origins

For nightclub audiences, big bands with bandleaders such as Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington performed. Particularly Ellington became famous for his works, which took inspiration from classical music and included soloists from the Ellington Big Band. Bebop is a subgenre from the 1940s in New York. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Art Blakey were the stars that first introduced Bebop. Lightning-fast playing, abundant soloing atop chord changes, and frequent syncopation were all features of this musical genre.

Jazz artists such as the Modern Jazz Quartet and Ornette Coleman challenged the conventional genre’s harmonic conventions. Notably, Coleman founded the free jazz genre, essentially abandoning the song structure that is the foundation for most classics. Post-bebop (or post-bop) added harmonic sophistication and reduced the cadence. Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis honed their skills in Bebop, but their post-bop compositions became more well-known. Davis created the fantastic jazz genre, accentuating gentler tempos, more minimalist textures, and modal improvisation.

Both virtuoso saxophonists, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, were equally adept at cool jazz, Bebop, and post-tonal improvisations, such as Coltrane’s Ascension album. In the meantime, musicians such as Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul fused jazz, funk, and rock to establish a new musical genre known as fusion. Others, such as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, were influenced by folk music and incorporated it into their performances.


Traditional jazz rhythms usually have swinging eighth-note rhythms, emphasizing the first note in an eighth-note pair. The beat makes the second note lighter as it “swings” toward the following note. However, Latin jazz, based on Caribbean music, does not swing, although it does have syncopated rhythms from Afro-Cuban traditions. This genre seldom employs the three-note triads that characterize pop, country, and folk music.

The seventh chord tone appears in almost all jazz chords, and many incorporate tensions such as ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths. The spirit of improvisation, maybe more than anything else, binds practically all music of this genre. All band members, from lead instrument players to rhythm section players to lead singers, may be asked to improvise over a  piece.

If you enjoyed this article, check out these: