Many of us, deep down love jazz, even if we can’t always say it. Though we all love jazz for different reasons, most of us have similar stories about how we first discovered and fell in love with this unique music.
So, what makes it such a strong and influential art form?
There are numerous potential answers to this question, and you could easily fill several books attempting to address it. Obviously, I’m not writing a multi-volume masterpiece here, but I do want to take some time to discuss the critical issue of jazz’s meaning and relevance today.
Jazz music is a one-of-a-kind, powerful, and exceptional human phenomenon.
It’s universal in the sense that, as far as we know, all human cultures throughout history have had some form of musical expression. Music is deeply embedded in our daily lives, and it can be found at every major social and personal event in our culture, including parties, birthdays, weddings, sporting events, political rallies, religious ceremonies, social functions, graduations, and funerals.
Jazz music is fundamentally social in nature.
We use musical sounds to express ourselves and communicate with others. We use music to investigate our ideas about group and individual identity. We use music to document and share our common cultural history and human experiences. We use music to make sense of the world and ourselves and to communicate things that are impossible (or at least difficult) to express verbally.
Jazz is a fundamentally democratic musical style.
By calling jazz democratic, I mean that when jazz musicians are playing well, their relationships reflect the relationships in an ideal democratic society. Similarly, the relationships between jazz’s musical elements (melody, harmony, form, dynamics, improvisation vs. composition, contrast vs. repetition, and so on) reflect democratic ideals.
Jazz is a fundamentally diverse musical style.
Jazz is diverse in every sense of the word; it is diverse on many levels. Jazz can be played by anyone, it is stylistically diverse, and it is enjoyed and played by people from all over the world.
Jazz is a fundamentally creative musical style.
Jazz encourages, celebrates, and rewards musical innovation, originality, personality, and meaningful expressiveness. Jazz has never stopped changing. Even when playing in more traditional styles, the music is most effective and true to jazz values when it is creative within the context of the style being explored.