DownBeat's Jazz 101
  • A Guide to the Music
  • The Very Beginning
  • Dixieland & Ragtime
  • New Orleans
  • First Recordings
  • To New York & Chicago
  • Early Bands
  • Big Band Swing
  • Bop Emergence
  • West Coast Cool
  • Modal Jazz
  • Hard Bop
  • Soul Jazz
  • Free Jazz
  • Post Bop
  • Fusion
  • Latin Jazz
  • Young Lions
  • Experimental &
  • Downtown New York Sounds
  • World View
  • Modern Sounds
DownBeat’s Jazz 101

A Guide to the Music

Jazz must not be the property of an elite few who possess a vast knowledge of the music’s history, performers, nuances and intricacies. But since jazz is a very advanced art form and has such a rich history, it’s important to have a grounding in this tradition to fully understand and appreciate what’s happening on a CD or a bandstand. Similar to learning any new skill, the process of acquiring this knowledge can seem daunting at first.

But once you clear that first hurdle of jazz knowledge, the rewards that the music can provide are almost limitless.

The past 100 years have been labeled the “Jazz Century” (we’d definitely agree with that), and over the course of this time distinct musical periods have emerged. By creating this jazz primer, we want to help you understand where and how certain movements originated, what the music sounds like—such as the difference between Bebop and Fusion—and the key musicians involved with each movement. We also provide links to our page on each artist mentioned in this primer as well, which will lead to further exploration of the music.

One other thing to remember is that this guide is a work in progress. Jazz refuses to stagnate, but rather with each new generation comes new sounds and feelings in the music. And as we continue to progress into the tradition, this primer will continue to grow.

Once you get bitten by the jazz bug, there’s no turning back. Enjoy your explorations!

The Very Beginning

by John Ephland

The origins of jazz, an urban music, stemmed from the countryside of the South as well as the streets of America's cities. It resulted from two distinct musical traditions, those of West Africa and Europe. West Africa gave jazz its incessant rhythmic drive, the need to move and the emotional urgency that has served the music so well. The European ingredients had more to do with classical qualities pertaining to harmony and melody.

The blending of these two traditions resulted in a music that played around with meter and reinterpreted the use of notes in new combinations, creating blue notes that expressed feelings both sad and joyous. The field hollers of Southern sharecropping slaves combined with the more urban, stylized sounds of musicians from New Orleans, creating a new music. Gospel music from the church melded with what became known in the 20th century as the blues offered a vocal ingredient that translated well to instruments.

Marching bands, played primarily by whites but also blacks, introduced instruments that otherwise would have remained an expression of classical musical traditions. Drums and stringed instruments would combine with trumpets, trombones, tubas and, later, saxophones. The music of West Africa and the music created by slaves was translated in yet another way by the infusion of Caribbean and Latin strains. And what would later become known as popular song was incorporated with gospel, blues and field hollers, adding a rich texture to a music the world had never heard before. The musical world in America, filled as it was with its own marching music and faux classical interpretations from Europe, was ripe for the transformation that would become jazz. Eventually, ragtime entered the scene toward the end of the 19th century, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Dixieland and Ragtime

by John Ephland

Ragtime is unique in that it didn't include improvisation or a blues feel. And yet, it was an influence on early jazz forms, coming along as it did during the first 15 years of the 20th century. Primarily a music for piano that was completely written out, it could be performed by orchestras, and represented a blend of classical and marching band influences with a zest of syncopation thrown in. Listen to the music of Scott Joplin for a taste of ragtime.

Dixieland is a style that could be considered a variant of classic jazz and New Orleans jazz. It's real roots as a musical form stem from the Chicago music jazz scene of the 1920s. The musicians in essence were seeking a revival of the classic jazz and New Orleans jazz of yesteryear, and were quite successful in beginning a tradition of Dixieland revivals that continue to this day, thanks to subsequent generations. The first of such re-revivals took place during the 1940s. Pioneers of Dixieland included such artists such as guitarist Eddie Condon, saxophonist Bud Freeman and trumpeter Jimmy McPartland.

The style of Dixieland involved collective improvisation during the first chorus of playing, with players entering solos against riffing by other horns, followed by a closing ensemble with, usually, the drummer playing a four-bar tag who in turn is answered by the whole band. Unlike other forms of jazz, the song set for Dixieland musicians has remained rather limited, offering endless variations on themes of tunes first developed during the '10s years of the 20th century.

New Orleans

by John Ephland

Overlapping with the onset of ragtime music, New Orleans jazz burst onto to music scene during the first two decades of the 20th century. Considered the first style of jazz, it can be dated from as early as 1895 with the music of Buddy Bolden, Kid Ory and Jelly Roll Morton in the Storyville district of New Orleans until roughly 1917. New Orleans jazz grew out of marching brass bands. We have documentation of the first New Orleans jazz from the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917 on into the 1920s, when recording technology became more available.

The music developed around trumpet and cornet leaders, such as Joe Oliver and Louis Armstrong, performed as an ensemble-oriented style, with trumpeters stating the melody, and harmonies and countermelodies coming from the trombonist and/or clarinetist. The rhythm section developed into an ensemble of banjo, drums, tuba or bass, and piano. Overall, the thrust of New Orleans jazz was to emphasize the ensemble more than any one soloist. The music continued to flourish during the 1920s, eventually being eclipsed by the nascent swing music which soon replaced it. Dixieland jazz overlapped with it, maintaining the basic structure of New Orleans jazz.

First Recordings

by Will Smith

Although the Original Dixieland Jass Band's "Livery Stable Blues," a 1917 effort by a white quintet, is credited with being the first jazz recording, it's also clear that the black musicians of New Orleans had for years been playing far more authentic, original jazz that was undocumented, largely because there were no recording facilities in the Crescent City.

The reputedly brilliant New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden never recorded and the Memphis music of W.C. Handy was published and performed long before the public heard of jazz or the ODJB recording. Cornetist Freddie Keppard and the Original Creoles were to have recorded several months prior to the ODJB, but reportedly turned down the invitation for fear that recordings would make their music easier to copy.

Given credit as the first black musician to make a jazz recording was trombonist Kid Ory, who had to travel from New Orleans to California to pursue musical opportunities. That 1922 recording, not widely circulated, was followed in 1923 by studio efforts from cornetist King Oliver, soprano saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet, pianist Jelly Roll Morton and singer Bessie Smith. The early Oliver recordings included Louis Armstrong as the band's second cornet. Like nearly all of the famed New Orleans bands, Oliver went to Chicago for recording and found fame.

Armstrong, the acknowledged jazz fountainhead, recorded with Clarence Williams, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith and others before making his leader debut in late 1925.

Jazz more or less reached big-time popularity in 1924 with the early recordings of Paul Whiteman.

To New York And Chicago

by John Ephland

The history of jazz may have its origins in New Orleans around the turn of the century, but the music really took off in the early 1920s, when trumpeter Louis Armstrong left New Orleans to create a revolutionary new music in Chicago. Likewise, the migration of artists to New York shortly thereafter heralded a permanent shift from South to North. Chicago was to take the music of New Orleans and make it hot, turning up the temperature not only with Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven bands, but with others as well, including such artists as Eddie Condon and Jimmy McPartland, whose Austin High gang helped usher in a revival of the New Orleans school. Others included pianist Art Hodes, drummer Barrett Deems and clarinetist Benny Goodman.

Armstrong and Goodman eventually made their way to New York, helping create a critical mass that has served the city well, making it the jazz capital of the world. And while Chicago was a recording center, it was New York that truly became the center not only of recording but of performing as well, ushering in such legendary clubs as Minton's, the Cotton Club and the Village Vanguard, and such performance arenas as Carnegie Hall. Bebop was born in New York City, created and played by such luminaries as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

During the 1960s, alternate performance opportunities allowed for even more creative music to surface in both cities. In Chicago, the emergence of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a variety of loft-type venues nurtured a new kind of rough, in-your-face avant garde, headed up by musicians such as saxophonist Fred Anderson. In New York, the loft scene was defined by all manner of musician, especially during the 1970s and '80s, offering up players as diverse as saxophonist Sam Rivers, members of the World Saxophone Quartet and the Vanguard Orchestra.

Early Bands

by Will Smith

There was a time, of course, when musical dinosaurs (the big bands) traveled the earth-the Swing Era. The early bands of the Swing Era emerged on the scene in the early '20s, and credit for the beginnings of the big band era must go to leader-arranger Fletcher Henderson, who somewhat enlarged the format of what had been combo music into bigger ensembles as early as 1923.

By establishing sections of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and rhythm, Henderson and other arrangers were able to create music of greater color, range, texture and power. At almost the same time, Duke Ellington began expanding his smaller groups into larger ensembles and big band music had found its greatest composer and arranger. The early recordings of the Henderson and Ellington bands appeared in 1931.

Many of the early aggregations started as territory bands, which became famous if they happened to click with the public in recordings or on the radio. The big bands of Paul Whiteman, Jean Goldkette and Ben Pollack found brief fame early in the era but their music rarely achieved any lasting value.

As the '30s progressed, bands led by Don Redman, Luis Russell, Jimmie Lunceford, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, Benny Carter and Count Basie expanded the variety of sounds offered by the larger aggregations.

Other early units considered more in the dance-band genre were Glen Gray, The Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller and Bob Crosby.

Big Band Swing

by Ed Enright

Jazz took on a distinctly arranged form in the big bands of the early 1920s through the late 1940s. Instrumentalists, numbering somewhere in the teens for most big bands, played specific parts either memorized in rehearsal or read from printed charts. Careful orchestration, coupled with large brass and reed sections, brought out the rich harmonies of jazz and created a huge sonic sensation known as "the big band sound."

Big band became the popular music of its day, hitting its peak in the mid 1930s. It fueled the nation's Lindy Hop and swing dance crazes. Well-known bandleaders like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Jimmy Lunceford and Glenn Miller wrote and recorded a virtual parade of hit tunes that were played not only on radio but in dancehalls everywhere. Many big bands featured improvising soloists who excited audiences to near hysteria in well-publicized battles-of-the-bands.

Although big band declined after World War II, orchestras led by Basie, Ellington, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and numerous others toured and recorded for several decades afterwards. The music became highly modernized as groups led by Boyd Raeburn, Sun Ra, Oliver Nelson, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis and Muhal Richard Abrams explored new concepts in harmony, instrumentation and improvisational freedom.

Today, big band remains as a standard in jazz education. Repertory orchestras such as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble regularly play original arrangements of big band compositions.

Bebop Emergence

by Ed Enright

The jazz language changed drastically with the emergence of bebop in the early to mid 1940s. A gutsy group of musicians that included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk invented bebop in an outright attempt to create something new and challenging.

Recognizing bebop as a musician's music that demanded instrumental virtuosity and a sophisticated knowledge of harmony, jazz players caught on quickly. They wrote melodies that zigzagged and spun over chord changes of increasing complexity. Soloists incorporated dissonant scale tones in their improvisations, giving the music a more exotic, edgier sound. A fascination with syncopation resulted in unprecedented accents. And the tempos began to burn faster and faster.

Bebop played best in a small-group format; quartets and quintets proved ideal for both economic and artistic reasons. The music thrived in urban jazz clubs, where audiences came to listen to inventive soloists rather than dance to their favorite hits. In short, bebop musicians made jazz into an art form that appealed not only to the senses, but the intellect as well.

New jazz stars emerged from the bebop era, among them trumpeters Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Johnny Griffin, Pepper Adams, Sonny Stitt and John Coltrane, and trombonist J.J. Johnson.

In the 1950s and '60s, bebop went through several mutations: hard-bop, West Coast, cool-jazz and soul jazz among them. Bebop's small-group format of one to three horns, piano, bass and drums remains the standard jazz combo instrumentation to this day.

West Coast Cool

by Ed Enright

The heat and urgency of bebop began to relax with the development of Cool Jazz. Starting in the late 1940s and early '50s, musicians began to develop a less frantic, smoother approach toward improvising modeled after the light, dry playing of swing-era tenorist Lester Young. The result was a laid-back and even-keeled sound bearing a facade of emotionally detached "coolness."

Trumpeter Miles Davis, one of the first bebop players to "cool it," emerged as the greatest innovator of the genre. His Birth Of The Cool nonet recordings of 1949-'50 are the epitome of Cool Jazz lyricism and understatement. Other notable instrumentalists of the Cool school include trumpeter Chet Baker, pianists George Shearing, John Lewis, Dave Brubeck and Lennie Tristano, vibraphonist Milt Jackson and saxophonists Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims and Paul Desmond.

Arrangers, too, contributed significantly to the Cool Jazz movement, most notably Tadd Dameron, Claude Thornihill, Gil Evans and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Their compositions focused on instrumental colors and slower-moving, more suspended harmony, which created an illusion of spaciousness. Dissonance played some part in the music as well, but in a softened, muted way. Cool Jazz allowed room for slightly larger ensembles; nonets and tentets were more common than during the lean-and-mean bebop years. Some arrangers experimented with altered instrumentation, including conical brass like french horn and tuba.

Jazz players making their livings in the recording studios of Los Angeles picked up on the Cool Jazz movement in the 1950s. Largely influenced by the Miles Davis nonet, these L.A.-based players developed what's now known as West Coast Jazz.

Like Cool Jazz, West Coast Jazz was much more subdued than the frantic bebop that preceded it. Most West Coast Jazz was scored out in great detail, and it often sounded a bit European with its use of contrapuntal lines. However, the music left wide-open spaces for long, linear solo improvisations.

While West Coast Jazz was played mostly in recording studios, clubs like the Lighthouse on Hermosa Beach and the Haig in Los Angeles often presented top players of the genre, which included trumpeter Shorty Rogers, saxophonists Art Pepper and Bud Shank, drummer Shelly Manne and clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre.

Modal Jazz

by Ed Enright

Starting in the late 1950s, trumpeter Miles Davis and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane experimented with modes, an approach to melody and improvisation borrowed directly from classical music. These players used a small number of modes, or specific scales, instead of chords to form the backbone of tunes.

The result was a harmonically static, almost purely melodic form of jazz. Soloists sometimes ventured outside of the preset modes and back again to create a sense of tension and release. Tempos ranged from slow to fast, but overall, the music had a wandering, unrushed feel to it. For a more exotic effect, players sometimes used non-European scales (e.g., Indian, Arab, African) as a "modal" basis for their music. The vague tonal center of modal jazz would serve as a launching pad for free-jazz experimenters who followed, including tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

Some classic examples of Modal Jazz include Davis' "Milestones," "So What" and "Flamenco Sketches," and Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and "Impressions."

Hard Bop

by Ed Enright

Around the same time that Cool Jazz took hold on the West Coast, jazz musicians from Detroit, Philadelphia and New York began to embrace a heavier, hard-on-the-beat form of Bebop called Hard Bop. While it closely resembled traditional Bebop in its aggressiveness and technical demands, the Hard Bop of the 1950s and '60s relied less on standard song forms and placed more importance on blues elements and rhythmic drive. Soloing chops, or improvisatory skill, coupled with a strong grasp of harmony remained of primary importance to horn players; in the rhythm section, drums became more involved and piano and bass achieved a more fluid, funkier feel.

In 1955, drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the Jazz Messengers, the quintessential Hard Bop group. An ever-evolving septet that lasted well into the 1980s, the Jazz Messengers produced many of the genre's top players, like saxophonists Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Johnny Griffin and Branford Marsalis, and trumpeters Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis and Lee Morgan. One of the biggest jazz hits of all time, Morgan's 1963 tune "The Sidewinder," was performed in a definite, though somewhat simplified, Hard Bop style.

Soul Jazz

by Ed Enright

A close relative of Hard Bop, Soul Jazz describes the small, organ-based combos that popped up in the mid 1950s and lasted into the '70s. Rooted in the blues and gospel, the music grooved with African-American spirituality.

Most of jazz's great organists spent time on the Soul Jazz scene: Jimmy McGriff, Charles Earland, Groove Holmes, Les McCann, Donald Patterson, Jack McDuff and Johnny Hammond Smith all led groups in the '60s, often playing small rooms with at trio. Tenor saxophone was also prominent, adding a preacher-like voice to the mix; notables included Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith, Eddie Harris, Stanley Turrentine, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Houston Person. Saxophonists Hank Crawford and David "Fathead" Newman and other members of Ray Charles' ensembles of the late '50s and '60s are often regarded as members of the Soul Jazz congregation, as is bandleader Charles Mingus.

Like Hard Bop, Soul Jazz stood in contrast to West Coast: The music evoked passion and a strong sense of community, rather than detachment and emotional coolness. Soul Jazz's hook-like melodies, along with the frequent use of ostinato bass and repeated rhythm patterns, made the music quite accessible. Hits borne of Soul Jazz include pianist Ramsey Lewis' "The In Crowd" (1965) and Harris and McCann's "Compared To What" (1969).

People should be careful not to confuse Soul Jazz with what's now known as "soul music." While both share a gospel influence, Soul Jazz grew out of Bebop, and soul music traces directly back to popular r&b.

Free Jazz

by John Ephland

Perhaps the most controversial movement in the history of jazz came with the advent of free jazz, or "New Thing" as it was later to be called. While elements of free jazz existed within the structure of the music for many years, most notably in the "experiments" of such innovators as Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell and Lennie Tristano, it wasn't until the mid to late '50s that it emerged as a bona fide style, coming as it did from such pioneers as saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor.

What these two musicians and others such as John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and aggregates such as the Sun Ra Arkestra and a group called the Revolutionary Ensemble did amounted to a variety of changes in the structure and feel of the music. Among the innovations, when performed with imagination and great musicianship, was dispensing with chord progressions, allowing the music to go in any of a number of directions. Another primary change could be found with rhythm, where "swing" was either redefined or ignored altogether. In other words, pulse, meter and groove were not an essential element anymore. Another key ingredient was atonality, where musical pitch was no longer relegated to the conventional tonal system. Shrieks, barks, split tones were all part of this new sonic world.

Free jazz continues to emerge as a viable form of expression, and is actually less controversial.


by John Ephland

The post-bop period covered music performed by jazz musicians who continued in the bebop mold but who shied away from the experiments of free jazz, which developed during the same period of the 1960s. Also referred to as hard-bop, this form took the rhythms, ensemble structure and energy of bebop and combined the added horn, similar playlists and continued to use Latin elements. What made this post-bop music different was the added use of funk, groove or soul, tailored as it was for the changing times, as pop music was in its ascendancy.

Artists such as saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Horace Silver, drummer Art Blakey and trumpeter Lee Morgan actually started this music during the mid '50s, and helped usher in what is now the predominant form of jazz. With simpler melodies and a more soulful beat, the listener could hear traces of gospel and r&b mixed in. To some extent, this style met with some refinement during the '60s as compositional elements were added to create new textures. Saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist McCoy Tyner and even such stalwart beboppers as Dizzy Gillespie made music that was both hummable and interesting harmonically.

One of the most significant composers to emerge during this period was saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Shorter, who came up through the ranks with Blakey, recorded a string of strong albums under his own name during the 1960s. Along with keyboardist Herbie Hancock, Shorter helped Miles Davis' '60s quintet (a more experimental version of Davis' highly influential '50s post-bop group with John Coltrane) become one of the most significant groups in jazz history.


by John Ephland

A music that had its origins not only in the pop and rock of the 1960s, but in the currents that flowed from such areas of jazz as soul, funk and rhythm & blues, fusion as a musical genre emerged during the late '60s as jazz-rock. Artists and groups such as Larry Coryell's Eleventh House, Tony Williams' Lifetime and Miles Davis led the way, incorporating such elements as electronics, rock rhythms and extended tracks, nullifying much of what jazz "stood" for since its inception, namely, a swing beat, primarily blues-based music whose repertoire included both blues material as well as pop standards.

The term fusion was introduced shortly thereafter to include a variety of bands and individuals that came later, such as John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Chick Corea's Return To Forever. Throughout, the emphasis on improvisation and musicianship remained constant, linking it and its practitioners with the history of jazz, despite detractors claimed they had "sold out" to commercial interests. In fact, these early experiments, when heard today, sound hardly commercial, challenging the listener to engage in what was music of a highly interactive and developed nature.

During the mid '70s, fusion devolved into a variant of easy-listening and/or r&b music with little or no edge, compositionally or from a performance standpoint. As a musical form, jazz musicians reclaimed it as a means to express themselves with authenticity during the '80s. Such artists as drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, guitarists Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and James "Blood" Ulmer as well as veteran saxophonist/trumpeter Ornette Coleman creatively took this music in different directions.

Latin Jazz

by Will Smith

The musical incorporation of Latin rhythmic elements in jazz has been around almost from its beginnings with the cultural intermingling in New Orleans. Jelly Roll Morton spoke of a "Spanish tinge" in his recorded music of the mid to late '20s. Duke Ellington and other bandleaders employed Latin forms.

A major (though not widely acknowledged) presence in the growth of Latin jazz, trumpeter/arranger Mario Bauza brought a Cuban orientation from his native Havana into Chick Webb's band in the '30s, later in the decade moving on to the bands of Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway.

Working with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in Calloway's band of the late '30s, Bauza brought in an influence that clearly led to Gillespie's big bands of the mid '40s, as well as a continuing love affair with Latin musical forms for the remainder of Gillespie's long career. Bauza went on in 1940 to become the musical mastermind of Machito's Afro-Cubans, a band fronted by his brother-in-law, singer Frank Grillo, whose nickname was Machito.

There was a continuing flirtation with Latin rhythms through the '50s and '60s, with the addition of Brazilian samba elements in the bossa nova movement.

The musical melting pot of Latin jazz has spread further in the '80s and '90s to include not only bands and combos with first-rate improvisers of Latin American heritage but also a blending of domestic and Latin players creating some of the most exciting music on the scene.

This most recent Latin jazz renaissance has clearly been fueled by the influx of foreign players-some of them defectors from Fidel Castro's Cuban regime-flocking to wider opportunities in New York City and Florida. There's also a sense that the often intense yet danceable polyrhythmic qualities of the music have created a larger audience for jazz-something visceral to go with the cerebral.

Young Lions

by Will Smith

Jazz's Young Lions of the '80s were more of a marketing tool than an actual movement, yet it produced some of the best musicians on today's jazz scene and was an economic force that for a while benefitted the overall financial health of the music.Essentially, it was a group of primarily college-trained musicians with musical foundations set in classic bebop and hard bop styles, and when they burst on the scene they were expected to save the jazz tradition into the next century.

While the Young Lions clearly were linked to the ascendance of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis after his stint with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, they also were the impetus for the ongoing revival of interest in the music. As a corollary to the increasing popularity of these young mainstream players, the music's avant-garde wing gained a widening audience of listeners seeking newer viewpoints and sounds.

In many ways, the real story of the Young Lions can't be told yet. While they remain among the stars of the current scene, they are not yet considered to be among the all-time jazz greats since they have shed their Young Lions fur. Only their creative strivings toward individuality will determine that.

Experimental and Avant-Garde

by John Ephland

The emergence of experimentalism and the avant-garde in jazz overlaps somewhat with the onset of free jazz. Always an element within jazz's vanguard, the notions of change and innovation have always been "experimental." What this new form of experimentalism offered jazz in the '50s, '60s and '70s was a more radical departure from convention, fusing new elements of rhythms, tonality and structure. In fact, avant-garde music became synonymous with open-ended forms that were less easily characterized than even free jazz.

Preplanned structure mixed with more "out" soloing, reminiscent of free jazz. Compositional styles merged with improvisation in a way that made it difficult to determine where one led off and the other began. In fact, the structure of the music in general was designed to have solos be an outgrowth of arrangements, lending coherence to what might normally be construed as a form of abstraction or even chaos. Swing rhythms, even melodies could be incorporated, but no as a rule necessarily.

Early pioneers might include pianist Lennie Tristano, saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre and composer/arranger/conductor Gunther Schuller. Later practitioners included pianists Paul Bley and Andrew Hill, saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, drummers Sunny Murray and Andrew Cyrille and members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Downtown New York Sounds

by Will Smith

With New York City's big-name jazz clubs presenting mostly established players and groups, the smaller musical venues in the city's Lower Manhattan region have taken the lead in offering younger, lesser-known and more forward-looking musicians a way to find an audience.

Although other clubs-some of which have not survived-have played a role in this mostly quiet revolution, Smalls has made its reputation as a spot with a more mainstream jazz orientation, while the Knitting Factory caters to a cutting-edge crowd in both jazz and rock veins. The sounds emanating from Smalls often tend to merge standard tunes and original compositions with occasional tinges of hip-hop rhythms. A more edgy, experimental, often free-form quality is found in the mixture of music found at the Knitting Factory.

Opened in 1994, Smalls became the mecca for combos and big bands with a revolving cast of players, as well as a place for all-night jamming-the sort of jazz training ground largely missing from the scene since the '50s. It also has become a hangout for record producers seeking new artists, as well as a place for live recordings.

Established roughly a decade earlier, the Knitting Factory has made its name with more avant-garde players, has grown to include recording facilities and its own recording label, as well as a continuing and growing involvement in the New York summer music festival scene. Tonic on the Lower East Side has emerged as perhaps the most progressive and interesting venue in the area, as it features the likes of Dave Douglas and John Zorn in regularly curated musical series.

Other Big Apple clubs-not necessarily downtown in location but in essence-also contribute to this somewhat incomplete picture of a small but growing jazz movement.

World View

by John Ephland

Jazz has always had an interest in the world beyond its borders. Consider the early work of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and his cross-fertilizing with Afro-Cuban music of the 1940s, or, later, pianist Dave Brubeck's mix of jazz with Japanese and Euro-Asian and Middle Eastern musics, as well as composer/bandleader Duke Ellington's far-reaching suites of music from Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

Jazz continued to incorporate non-Western musical traditions when other artists started using the musical elements of India, such as flutist Paul Horn's recordings inside the Taj Mahal, or when the "world music" groups Oregon and John McLaughlin's Shakti, whose musics are primarily jazz-based, incorporated tablas, intricate rhythms and raga forms.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago was an early pioneer in merging African and jazz forms. Later developments included such artists as saxophonist/composer John Zorn's explorations of Jewish culture with his band Masada and beyond, inspiring a whole other group of jazz musicians such as keyboardist John Medeski (recording with the African musician Salif Keita), guitarist Mark Ribot and bassist Anthony Coleman. Trumpeter Dave Douglas was inspired to incorporate Balkan influences, while the Asian-American Jazz Orchestra emerged as a leading proponent of the convergence of jazz and Asian musical forms.

As the world continued to shrink, globally, the impact of other musical traditions was felt in jazz, providing ripe fodder for future explorations, proving that jazz is, indeed, a world music.

Modern Sounds

by John Ephland

Today's music world is as diverse as the climates and geography we experience. And yet, more and more of the world's cultures are intermingling, to the point that, as with "world music," today's jazz cannot help but be influenced by sounds from around the globe. European experimentalism, with classical overtones, continues to influence the music of young pioneers like saxophonist Ken Vandermark, whose avant-meets-free jazz is tempered by the works of such notable contemporaries as saxophonists Mats Gustafsson, Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann. Other, more traditional young musicians that continue to forge their own identities include pianists Jacky Terrasson, Benny Green and Brad Mehldau, saxophonists Joshua Redman and David Sanchez, and drummers like Jeff "Tain" Watts and Billy Stewart.

The age-old tradition of mentoring continues apace with artists like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis bringing along a whole crew of acolytes for his own small groups as well as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which he heads up. Musicians who have come under his wing, or who have benefited from their association with Marsalis, include pianists Marcus Roberts and Eric Reed, saxophonist Wes "Warmdaddy" Anderson, trumpeter Marcus Printup and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. Bassist Dave Holland has also been a fine recruiter and nurturer of young talent over the years, employing, among many others, saxophonist/M-Base artist Steve Coleman, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibist Steve Nelson and drummer Billy Kilson. Other great mentors of young talent have included pianist Chick Corea, drummer Elvin Jones and the late singer Betty Carter.

As jazz moves into the future, the potential for creativity is great, as talent is expressed and nurtured along disparate lines, and as collaborative efforts between jazz genres is encouraged. Saxophonist Chris Potter releases somewhat mainstream recordings under his own name while recording with another great mentor, the avant master drummer Paul Motian. Likewise, legends can meet under the same banner from different worlds of jazz, as with the recent recording with Elvin Jones, saxophonist Dewey Redman and pianist Cecil Taylor.


Roosevelt College




Jody Jazz


Air Force

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