What is Jazz?

Here at Lubricity, I’m hoping to corral the wisdom of the Jazz Internet to try and get a finger on the big question that always plagues the jazz community.  Please, leave a comment here by finishing the sentence that begins “Jazz is …”

Here are a couple to get you started:

James Lincoln Collier:

… a music created mainly by African-Americans in the early 20th century through an amalgamation of elements drawn from European-American and tribal African musics.

Mark Tucker:

… a musical tradition rooted in performing conventions that were introduced and developed early in the 20th century by African Americans; a set of attitudes and assumptions brought to music-making, chief among them the notion of performance as a fluid creative process involving improvisation; and a style characterized by syncopation, melodic and harmonic elements derived from the blues, cyclical formal structures and a supple rhythmic approach to phrasing known as swing.

Stanley Crouch:

… an art, not a subjective phenomenon.

Duke Ellington:

… music; swing is business.

Adam Schatz:

… back — in zombie form.

Nicholas Payton:

… a lie.


… a definition-resistant musical tradition.  (What a great cop-out, right?)

I look forward to reading your responses.  Witty or serious, comprehensive or reductive, long or short, I just want to see how you finish that sentence: “Jazz is …”

14 Responses to What is Jazz?

  1. do says:

    Jazz is:

    …music that evolved from early-20th-century popular styles and retains its distinction from what is currently considered “classical” music, despite its marginal popularity. Historical forms of jazz can be defined more precisely in terms of its place in the progression of the style, but contemporary jazz can generally be described by: a) syncopation/rhythm based on blues/rock b) more complex harmonies and melodic structures than “pop” music, and most importantly, c) improvisation, often of the technically proficient kind.

  2. Zach Powers says:

    an American music that draws from all types of music.

  3. skooter Fein says:

    jazz is spontaneous creativity

  4. Alan Kurtz says:

    … an acquired taste among an off-putting, miniscule, predominately white male clique who take themselves way too seriously.

  5. Larry says:

    …what you bring to it….which is bad news for Alan Kurtz methinks.

  6. Hank says:

    …..the most profoundly creative shape shifting dialect of the language we call music. While I can’t “speak” it, I understand it intuitively in most of its iterations.

  7. …community, a naturally developing opportunity to share & advance a music of profound spiritual insight into what it means to be human.

  8. Before I give my view, this the first of 3 videos which are worth watching, IMHO. It’s WKCR’s Ben Young being asked this very question.



    • Hank says:

      That was excellent. Thanks for that. Of course, in the context of the discussion forum, we naturally feel constrained to a paragraph or so, as likely no one would have the endurance to read a written version of the interviewee’s comments. But great stuff!

  9. True enough, Hank. I did a brief summary in Spanish of the interview in my blog and it wasn’t so long, but yes, not near enough to condensing it to a dictionary entry.

  10. Jon Wertheim says:

    …the past, the present and the future – in EQUAL parts.

  11. Rob Wallace says:

    . . . a very good topic to read when Alex R. is writing about it. Thanks for your always provocative and humane perspective, Alex!

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