The history of Jazz is deep, varied and its influence has seeped into many genres from hip hop to pop and even rock music. This genre of music can be sometimes misunderstood as ‘too complex and enjoyed by music snobs’ or ‘background music at a bar’, however, it has likely had an effect on some of your favorite artists! Let’s take a closer look at its early origins, characteristics and find out how jazz influenced modern pop music.
New Orleans is hailed as the birthplace of jazz music, originating in the second half of the 19th century. It was a melting pot of different cultures, all mixed together, sharing and playing their music. Born not long after the abolishment of slavery, jazz signified emancipation, freedom of expression, and experimentation. It is a unique blend of rhythms originating in West African music and the variety of instruments and harmonic chords used in European music. While we can trace its roots back to the late 1900s, jazz really got its ‘big break’ around 1920, in the era of ‘roaring twenties, which made it an overnight success. Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie all came into prominence. Since then, this diverse, complex, and exciting genre has morphed into other forms and influenced many genres of music we know and love today. At the same time, it hasn’t died out and still maintains a vibrant music scene of awe-inspiring jazz musicians. Let’s take a look at some of the key features of jazz and how they have influenced popular styles like pop, rock, and hip hop.
Jazz typically uses a lot of extended chords, moving away from the standard three-note triad. We notice the use of 7ths, diminished intervals, 9ths, 11ths, and sustained chords, among others, creating colorful harmonies. These chords add more complexity to jazz music and are powerful ways to create tension and add a broader range of emotion into your performance.
The harmony created by these extended chords is vastly used in R&B, neo-soul, blues, and folk. Jacob Collier is an excellent example of someone who uses jazz harmony extensively in their music. It also appears in the songs of popular artists like Lianne La Havas, Celeste, Hiatus Kaiyote, and countless others. Exploring intervals beyond the 3rd, 5th, and octave allow us to add a different flavor to our compositions, and jazz has heavily influenced the currently popular r&b and neo-soul artists as well as classic pop songs.
Jazz steers away from the traditional pop song structure of verse-chorus or ABAB. Instead, it often uses AABA song structure or even ABABC, and it generally offers much more room for looser structures for artists to explore. We can see this influence used heavily in The Beatles’ music, for example, in the song ‘Honey Pie’. When it comes to more current artists, SZA is very prominently influenced by jazz song structure. Her songs feature multiple sections that all sound slightly different. This way, she keeps it interesting for the listener, encouraging them to keep coming back, as the songs are less predictable and keep our attention for longer. Improvisation and call and response are heavily featured in jazz, emphasizing its freedom of expression and an exciting way to communicate through music. These meticulous improvisations, which seem so effortless also make the jazz song structure much less rigid, compared to pop or classical music.