This excerpt from Chapter 2 addresses the questions “What is jazz?” and “Is jazz popular music?”
In summary, much jazz fails to qualify as popular music by any of the above definitions of the term “popular.” It warrants the label of “art music.” But to be prepared for arguments, we must remember that some jazz is popular music according to some conceptions of “popular music,” and some jazz is popular music according to all of the above conceptions.
- Jazz involves improvisation and swing feeling.
- Though most jazz groups use arrangements that are preset in some regard, a
substantial portion of each performance is usually spontaneous.
- Swing feeling is achieved by spirited performances of many different kinds
of music which employ steady tempo.
- Jazz swing feeling is like swing feeling in the general sense, but it also has an
abundance of syncopated rhythms, swing eighth-notes, and a continuous rise and
fall of tension.
- Some people use the term jazz very loosely, applying it to anything they ever heard
called jazz or anything that reminds them of anything they think it is.
- For some people jazz is a feeling more than anything else, jazz swing feeling.
- Some people believe that improvisation is the central requirement of jazz.
- Most of what is called “jazz” contains improvisation and swing feeling.
- Some jazz is “popular music” because people use it as party music, film music, and
- Jazz is not particularly popular by comparison with most other kinds of music, as
evidenced by its three-percent market share.
- For most people, jazz is a cultivated taste and not easily accessible. This makes it
art music rather than popular music.
* For a lengthy examination of these issues, see Mark Gridley, Robert Maxham and Robert Hoff,
“Three Approaches to Defining Jazz,” Musical Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 4 (1989): 513-531,
reprinted in Jazz: A Century of Change edited by Lewis Porter (Schirmer, 1997).
* For a more detailed documentation of these points, see Mark C. Gridley, “Is Jazz Popular Music?”
The Instrumentalist, Vol. 41, No. 8 (March 1987): 19-22, 25-26, 85.