What is Jazz?

Daily articles carefully curated by the All About Jazz staff. Read our popular and future articles.

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Jazz and the Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read "Jazz and the Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr." reviewed by Douglas Groothuis

Without jazz, there may have been no “I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr. Delivered at the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, this historic oratory is most known for improvisation--a skill without which there is no jazz--that was not found in his original written text. Moreover, the very spirit of the civil rights movement owes much to jazz, as Dr. King himself said, as we will find. Mahalia Jackson was ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

The Touch of Your Lips, Part III: The Essential Touch in Jazz Piano

Read "The Touch of Your Lips, Part III: The Essential Touch in Jazz Piano" reviewed by Kurt Ellenberger

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 It would be nice and tidy if the development of tone color as a primary in jazz piano matched its development in the other instruments, but that is not the case. From early on in jazz's history, composers and bandleaders like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and others were focused on the different tone colors that their wind players could produce. The 1930s were a time of great exploration ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

The Touch of Your Lips, Part II: Touch and Tone Color in Jazz Piano

Read "The Touch of Your Lips, Part II: Touch and Tone Color in Jazz Piano" reviewed by Kurt Ellenberger

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 As mentioned in Part I, tone color took on a prominent role in classical music in the 19C. The Romantic composers like Wagner, Strauss, Berlioz, Chopin and many others were, I think it is fair to say, somewhat obsessed with it. The composers before them were certainly aware of tone color, but it was not a primary concern; in the Baroque era, they were exploring counterpoint and harmony (Bach) and ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

The Touch of Your Lips: The Colors of Jazz Piano

Read "The Touch of Your Lips: The Colors of Jazz Piano" reviewed by Kurt Ellenberger

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 The idea that pianists are able to create different tone colors and different timbres is generally accepted. For some performers, the sound can be a musical identifier on par with a fingerprint, which is a strong argument for their ability to coax a wide array of tone colors from what is, essentially, a fairly monochromatic instrument. On a percussion instrument like the piano, the range of tone color is severely ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

From Medieval to Live Evil: We're All Minimalists Now

Read "From Medieval to Live Evil: We're All Minimalists Now" reviewed by Kurt Ellenberger

A Brief History of the Minimalist Aesthetic Minimalism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity."  Musically speaking, this translates to a few characteristics common to most pieces: Slow-moving or static harmony;Small number of repetitive and simple rhythmic figures;Use of modes rather than the major/minor scales, resulting in a weaker tonality that is less directional;Overall effect is reflective (often contemplative or dreamy) rather ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Cold Fusion: The Search for the Jazz/Rock Unicorn, Part 3

Read "Cold Fusion: The Search for the Jazz/Rock Unicorn, Part 3" reviewed by Kurt Ellenberger

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 Part 3: U.K.'s First Album U.K.PrologueIn the second part of this series, I laid out my criteria for what would constitute a fusion of jazz and rock that remained true to both styles, which, in my definition, means that the resultant music would have to appeal to both rock and jazz fans, which is not an easy task. Steely Dan's Aja is a rare example of wildly successful pop music ...

WHAT IS JAZZ?

Cold Fusion: The Search for the Jazz/Rock Unicorn, Part 2

Read "Cold Fusion: The Search for the Jazz/Rock Unicorn, Part 2" reviewed by Kurt Ellenberger

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 Part 2: Steely Dan's AjaI ended the first part of this series with the question that prompted these articles: “Why is there so little music that genuinely fuses two styles together and does so in a way that maintains the integrity of the stylistic contributors?" I could have phrased in differently by asking a closely related question: “Why is there so little fusion music that is accepted as authentic by ...


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