So What Is Jazz?

So What Is Jazz?So What Is Jazz?
by Struan Douglas

In a few years as a jazz journalist I have heard many different definitions of what exactly jazz is, and throughout I have always found the colloquial definitions the most interesting as music is best heard and not described and colloquialisms get the closest to that.

‘There was once an old blues guitarist who played every day on the streets of New York these beautiful riffs and melodies.’ When somebody asked him what he was playing, he said in his drawl, ‘it’s juss music.’ And this was mis-interpreted as jazz music, thus referring to the spontaneity, freedom, and experimentation that jazz embodies.

‘To jazz means to have sex with someone’ another musician once said. And again the term was coined, suggesting the incredible intimacy and communication that passes between the musicians on stage.

Another musician from Cape Town in the 50’s once said that jazz began when early one morning, a women, let out a wild and loud wail. And it was from this point that the music evolved into jazz. Hence the expression, the impulsive sentiment and surprise in the music.

I think jazz is all of this and I believe it started when some women, somewhere was talking with some guy somewhere who was playing some instrument. She started singing, he carried on playing and together they began to share such a wonderful space of personal intimacy through this fresh music that they had created that they just carried on jamming, letting out all their expressions and emotions. They never took their clothes off, they didn’t need to, this communication was better than sex. So they called it jazz.

And from there this musically expressive form of sex – jazz evolved through different societal impressions and impersonations to create a vivid sound based on its very evolution.

Change, surprise, expression and spontaneity are the most important constants in jazz. And as a result, we have a variety of different styles, expressions and identities that have developed out of it. And most of all we have the incredible pleasure that jazz gives us through the communication it inspires.

What then is South African Jazz?

Click here for a full historical perspective of what South African jazz rose out of the environment, the circumstances, the musical influences and the ideology.

All such influences are central to exactly how jazz develops, however in a country like South Africa with a vast diversity of indigenous music?s, all those genres somehow get incorporated. A quick run-down of a few styles that have all effected jazz in this country.

South African three-chord township music of the 1930s-1960s. Through the influences of particularly American jazz this evolved into “African Jazz”.

South African pennywhistle music, it is light, fun and repetitive.

A South African term for popular music. The music is best recognised by its structured dance format.

A music first developed by the Zulu?s in Natal, this music is all about the repetitive rhythms and the use of voice as an instrument over it.

Traditional Zulu call-and-response a cappella choral music.

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