The Basic Characteristics of Jazz Music

An accomplished lawyer in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Geoffrey Scovil focuses on habeas corpus law and protecting the constitutional rights of citizens. When he’s not busy with his professional responsibilities, Geoffrey Scovil enjoys listening to jazz music.

Although defining jazz is often more individual than universal, the genre is distinguished by a few basic traits. Improvisation is an important part of jazz music. As many jazz musicians perform, they are also spontaneously composing a fresh version of the piece. This results in parts of the music sounding more unorganized than practiced parts. One of the easiest ways for musicians to improvise is to embellish or alter melodies that are already familiar to them. The tune is often played as a progression of consistent chord changes, typically by a bass or piano, and the other musicians build upon it.

Many bands and jazz musicians do write and rehearse their music, so improvisation alone is not enough to characterize jazz. The feeling that the music creates, frequently called the jazz swing feeling, is another basic characteristic. The use of accented beats and syncopation in jazz makes people want to dance and is a big part of what sets the genre apart. This is often combined with a steady tempo to create the jazz swing feeling, but rather than having a precise rhythmic element, the combination of the two creates a more fluid change that takes listeners through repeated feelings of tenseness and relaxation.

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