How to Appreciate Jazz

Posted by in Jazz

As the reach and format of jazz evolve, so does the relationship between jazz and its audience. At first, before recordings captured sound, jazz audiences heard it in real-time, usually up close. Today jazz can be heard on countless platforms, including recordings, radio, and online. Its influence is also widely seen in contemporary songs in pop, rock, hip-hop, rap, and bluegrass music. Hasse’s book Discover Jazz, co-edited with Tad Lathrop, describes jazz as an art form “satisfying without an in-depth knowledge of its underlying structure” because of its accessibility.

Here are some guidelines for those interested in developing a keen ear for the various elements of the genre. At its core, jazz, like other musical genres, relies on a constant melody on which songs are based. What is different is the variation that takes place in each performance, an improvisation that many have heard before. 

A typical jazz performance begins by sticking faithfully to the original composition and establishing the main melody of a song that jazz musicians call the “head.” When a musician plays a melody, he improvises it or its underlying harmonies. Performances often end by returning to the main melody that it all began, making the performance a musical sandwich.

Follow the harmony of the song

Jazz seems very free, but every song has a consistent harmonic structure, accompanied by melody as her second layer. Harmonies are often structured in ‘blues forms.’ This is his 12-bar structure built around his three chords. The first chord is the root or “home” chord; the second is the “subdominant chord” (think his second chord from the end of the hymn ending in “amen”), and the third is “Dominant.” Chord” is a moment of tension in the song that seeks resolution by returning to the initial “home” chord at the song’s end.

The “home” chord is the basic pattern of notes that kick off the song, the “subdominant chord” acts as a muted background, and the “dominant chord” is more dynamic and unexpected.