What is jazz?
Ask ten different experts and you will most likely get ten different answers. Jazz has been about everywhere and done about everything. It has been presented in symphonic form, as fugues and suites and concertos, it has been composed and played with great discipline, and it has been played free form in small or large groups who improvise simultaneously. In the latter case, some call it noise and some call it great music. Modern classical music sometimes gets the same response, so perhaps it is in the ear of the beholder. Some say jazz must improvise. But Ellington, George Gershwin, Stan Kenton, and many others have composed jazz that is played note for note by large orchestras. Some say jazz must swing. But much modern jazz has more to do with modern classical music than it does with a traditional swing band.
In the end jazz is a complex musical form that in its short history has evolved radically, gone off on tangents, and, as often as not, returned to its basic blues, swing, and bebop roots. Jazz is about individual expression as much as anything. Jazz musicians, whether playing someone else's work or improvising on the spot, put their own personal signature on their music, almost as if they were signing a work of art. Jazz grew out of the mixed cultural experience of the American deep South, and found its first expression in the music created by African Americans. It spread throughout the United States, evolved in form, and was exported to all parts of the world. The jazz heard today can show influences from Europe and Latin America, as well as from Japan and other Asian countries. Thus jazz takes many forms and presents itself in many ways. The one thing we know for sure is that the roots of this art form are purely African American.
More detailed information can be found in the "Extraordinary People in Jazz" M.Marvin, and issued by The Scholastic Inc. in the USA, where over 254 persons are listed.
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