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All That Jazz

You may have heard of Kenny G, but what do you really know about jazz? Jazz is a genuinely American art form that has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon. It is certainly much more than mere background music.

Jazz comes in a wide variety of styles, and has several defining features. The most important of these is improvisation. Jazz musicians do not follow a set piece of music note by note, but make up melodies and chord changes as they play. Such improvisation is based on a musician's creative impulses, and is often inspired by interactions with the other players or the audience. It is this energetic feedback and element of anticipation that gives jazz its incredible dynamism. A piece is never played the same way twice.

The originators of jazz were African-Americans in the early 20th century who fused African rhythms with European ideas of harmony and melody. Jazz's use of rhythm is unique in that it is “syncopated”; that is, the rhythm is irregular. Jazz is also polyrhythmic, which means many rhythms revolve around one basic one.

Another musical genre created by African-Americans, the blues, has heavily influenced jazz as well as rock and roll. About one third of jazz is in blues form with twelve measures in a song and uses ---blue notes,” the flatted third, fifth, and seventh notes of the musical scale.

Jazz has inspired everything from slang such as “cool” and “jazzy”; to dance styles such as tap and swing; to art forms such as filmmaking and beat poetry. Its dynamic nature and strong individual performers have also given rise to different branches of jazz.

Early jazz was centered in New Orleans and had trumpeter Louis Armstrong as its first great soloist. The '30s and '40s saw jazz's sound grow more forceful and invigorating, inciting people to dance. The master of this “big band” or “swing” style was Duke Ellington, thought to be one of America's greatest composers in any genre.

“Bebop” appeared in the 1940s. It introduced more complex melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, as well as more expressive drumming. In the late '40s, Miles Davis ushered in “cool jazz”' s smoother, more harmonic sound. The last of the classic jazz styles, “hard bop,” was more soulful, and sometimes borrowed from R&B and gospel themes.

Later strains of jazz include “fusion,” “bossa nova,” and “funk.” “Smooth jazz,” with Kenny G at its forefront, has proved the most commercially viable form of jazz, although purists scoff at its slick production and lack of improvisation. Regardless of the jazz you have been exposed to, a wealth of it still awaits you. In this era of boy bands, jazz reminds us of what a sublime and rewarding experience listening to music can be.


1. improvisation n. 即兴演出或创作
2. impulse n. 冲动,兴致
3. fuse v. 结合
4. measure n. (此指)小节
5. invigorating a. 令人振奋的
6. strain n. 家系、曲
7. purist n. 纯粹主义者
8. sublime a. 卓越的










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