What is jazz?

Jazz is the most important music of the 20th century. It’s that simple and so true. Although it was rarely the popular music of its time in its history , it laid the foundation for all of popular music. And this is still effective today. Without jazz, techno would be a different kind of music.

On the other hand, jazz is a very complex music in terms of its origin, its development and history, and its musical basis. If you want to describe it, you can’t do without opposites, they are probably peculiar to this music. Many of the most important authors and critics felt called to give a definition of jazz that often says more about the author and his world than about jazz. Especially the lexicographical definitions should not be trusted by jazz fans, as they are often made amateurish and by experts who are far removed from the world of jazz.

One of the possible “definitions” (if this term can even be applied to such an emotionally charged expression of life like jazz) was worked out years ago by the German jazz critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt, which takes into account a whole range of points of view and based on previous
American approaches Experts bases (here reproduced somewhat abbreviated):

Jazz is a way of making music in the USA from the encounter of blacks with European music. In contrast to Western European music, jazz is characterized by the following three basic elements:
1. by a special relationship to the time, which is characterized by the term “swing” (in lower case in German to make the difference to the jazz style “swing” of the 30s clear).
2. through a spontaneity and vitality of musical expression in which improvisation plays a role.
3. through a tone formation or phrasing in which the individuality of the individual musician can be recognized.

These three basic elements create a new kind of tension in music, through which intensity is built up and reduced again in a completely different way than in the music of the rest of the world, especially in Europe. The different styles and stages of development that jazz music has gone through since its creation at the turn of the 20th century are mainly characterized by the fact that the three basic elements of jazz-like are each assigned different meanings and the relationship between them has shifted.

Of course, this definition also remains incomplete. The question in the headline of this article also and above all means: What is jazz for those who experience it? In this respect everyone has to look for his own answer and find it especially in the music itself. That means above all: hear and experience the great jazz musicians in their concerts and at live performances in the clubs; those who are no longer available, on their records and in their films and videos. Only through the listening experience and the direct experience with the real jazz artist can such a definition as given above be filled with life, so that the jazz fan can finally say: Now I know what jazz is.