Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in black communities in the Southern United States.
It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. Its black African pedigree is evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note. From its early development until the present day jazz has also incorporated music from American popular music.
As the music has developed and spread around the world it has drawn on many different national, regional and local musical cultures giving rise, since its early 20th century American beginnings, to many distinctive styles: New Orleans jazz dating from the early 1910s, big band swing, Kansas City jazz and Gypsy jazz from the 1930s and 1940s, bebop from the mid-1940s and on down through West Coast jazz, cool jazz, avant-garde jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, modal jazz, free jazz, Latin jazz in various forms, soul jazz, jazz fusion and jazz rock, smooth jazz, jazz-funk, punk jazz, acid jazz, ethno jazz, jazz rap, cyber jazz, Indo jazz, M-Base, nu jazz, urban jazz and other ways of playing the music.
In a 1988 interview, trombonist J.J. Johnson said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will”.
Because it spans music from Ragtime to the present day – over 100 years now – jazz can be very difficult to define. Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions — using the point of view of European music history or African music for example — but jazz critic Joachim Berendt argues that all such attempts are unsatisfactory. One way to get around the definitional problems is to define the term “jazz” more broadly. Berendt defines jazz as a “form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music”; he argues that jazz differs from European music in that jazz has a “special relationship to time, defined as ‘swing'”, “a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role”; and “sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician”.