There are numerous jazz styles, each with their own distinct characteristics. Listen to samples of various styles to get a sense of how the genre has evolved.
The blues are the original jazz style that gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they originated in Black communities in the American Deep South. Blues riffs and themes are still used by contemporary musicians in genres such as rhythm and blues (R&B), country, and rock.
Discover next: The Greatest Blues Albums Of All Time
Ragtime music was one of the earliest jazz styles, and it gained popularity in the 1890s. Look at this great video for full details:
Dixieland (also known as “New Orleans jazz” or “marching jazz”) is characterized by vibrant brass, upbeat rhythms, and catchy tunes (e.g., “When the Saints Go Marching In”). In Dixieland music, a single instrument plays the melody of the song, while the rest of the band improvises to it. As a result, the music is lively and entertaining, with a distinct sound. The Dixieland band Original Dixieland Jass Band made the first Dixieland jazz recording ever in early 1917. Note that in their name, “jazz” is spelled “jass;” they changed it to “jazz” in late 1917.
Swing music became popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Swing music was frequently performed by big bands, which consisted of a variety of musicians in sections, such as rhythm (e.g., piano, percussion, guitar, bass), brass (e.g., trumpets and trombones), woodwind (e.g., clarinet and saxophones), and vocals. Swing music was distinguished by offbeat rhythms. Due to the band’s size, many of the songs had a big, energetic sound.
This music type is jazz, but it’s played in a Romani style. This type of jazz music features an acoustic guitar providing a distinctively fast, swinging rhythm, which is supported by improvised melodies played on guitar or violin. It’s usually performed by a small jazz group, and it has unique sounds, repertories, instruments, and subcultures.
Bebop music matured in the 1940s. Fast rhythms, a lot of improvisation, and extremely complex counter-melodies and harmonies characterize this genre. Due to the skill level required for both playing and listening to bebop, it is considered to be “musicians’ music.” Bebop musicians typically perform in small combos with bass, drums, sax, piano, and trumpet, as opposed to larger groups or big bands. Bebop was the first kind of modern jazz.
Cool jazz (also known as “West Coast jazz”), is an alternative to the more upbeat and less structured bebop. It features slower tempos, a mellower sound, and more structure. Cool jazz was founded on a fusion of jazz and classical music, thereby resulting in melodic pieces that flow smoothly and are easy to listen to.
Hard bop is a jazz style that is a continuation of bebop. Hard bop is an intense, driving, hot type of modern jazz, created by East Coast musicians in the late 1950s as a reaction to West Coast jazz’s more relaxing, cool approach. Hard bop evolved from 1950s bebop, and it combines gospel, soul, and R&B components.
Modal jazz is a type of jazz music in which the chord changes are replaced by modes or musical scales. Modal jazz is simply jazz that focuses on a single chord for an extended amount of time. For the most part, jazz music that came before it (e.g., bebop) featured fast chord changes that allowed the improviser to outline them and move through numerous keys. Modal jazz just provided the improviser with more ways to express themselves. To experience a sample of Modal jazz, listen to Kind of Kind, from our list “The 3 Greatest Jazz Albums Of All Time.”
Avant-garde jazz is a musical genre that goes beyond the traditional forms of jazz. Avant-garde jazz musicians are well known for their use of collective improvisation, radical harmonic concepts, and even atonality. The “avant-garde jazz” idiom—which began in the mid-1950s and has continued to the present day—is an important component of the jazz scene as a whole.
Most musicians are familiar with the basic premise that underpins free jazz; learn the rules, then break them. Free jazz was an attempt to break away from jazz traditions and create something wholly new. As jazz performers became more at ease with improvisation, a new sound arose that was daring, eccentric, and rebellious. In other words, free jazz is known as “the deliberate defiance of musical norms and predefined standards in favor of personal creativity.”
Post-bop is a jazz style that incorporates elements of bebop, hard bop, modal, and free jazz without necessarily being one of them. Post-bop is a modern-jazz style that maintains the features which distinguish jazz from pop and rock music: swinging beats and prolonged harmonies. The purpose of post-bop jazz is to break free from the constraints of bebop, while still retaining the free-jazz style.
Jazz fusion is a fusion of jazz and rock, and it was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. While the rhythms were decidedly rock, the music also featured improvisation, jazz chords, and syncopation. In contrast to traditional jazz instrumentation, jazz fusion frequently featured rock instruments (e.g., electric guitar, Hammond organ, and electric bass).
Discover the 5 Best Jazz Fusion Albums
Afro-Cuban jazz and Afro-Brazilian jazz were two of the most popular Latin jazz subgenres in the 1960s and 1970s. These styles included Latin rhythms played on timbales or claves, as well as bossa nova or samba basslines. These rhythms have a lot of syncopation and are influenced by Latin and African rhythms. Unlike other types of jazz—which use swinging eighth notes—Latin jazz uses straight eighth notes, and musicians play each note of an eighth note pair for the same length of time.
Ethio-jazz is a mixture of sounds and genres from throughout the world that is steeped in both history and musical invention. From the late 1950s-1970s, the Ethiopian capital Addis Abeba’s vibrant music scene resonated with the rhythm of what is now renowned as “Ethio-jazz.”
Indo-jazz is a musical genre influenced by jazz, classical music, and Indian music. Its structure and rhythms are inspired by Indian music, with a dash of jazz improvisation thrown in for good measure. While the name itself is new, the notion dates back to the mid-1950s at the very least.
Smooth jazz first became popular in the 1980s. Smooth jazz (also known as “adult contemporary”) is characterized by slower rhythms and melodic instrumental or vocal solos. Most smooth-jazz pieces are slow enough to be classified as “ballads.” Saxophones and vocals are two of the most popular solo instruments in the genre, which was so popular in the 1990s and early 2000s that many radio stations had an entirely smooth-jazz format.
Discover the 10+1 best smooth jazz albums.
Funk is distinguished by electronic sounds and a strong, grooving beat. In the 1970s and 1980s, this music became increasingly popular. Funk pieces are highly danceable, due to their rhythm and beat, thereby making them popular dance-club staples.
Acid jazz is a fusion of jazz fusion, funk, hip-hop, and urban dance music. Its improvisational, percussion-heavy, and predominantly live orientation is largely influenced by jazz, while its commitment to an ongoing rhythmic groove is influenced by funk, hip-hop, and urban-dance music. The form’s evolution is closely linked to the ongoing hybridization of a diverse range of related styles (e.g., alternative dance, ambient house, jazz-rap, soul-jazz, trip-hop, trip-jazz, etc.).
Discover next: The 10 Best Acid Jazz Albums
Nu-Jazz is an umbrella word for the combination of jazz elements and improvisation across modern genres, created with the modern-day music-production processes. Nu-jazz began in the 1990s and was heavily influenced by hip-hop’s turntable-based, sample-heavy beat-making techniques of the time. A calm, ambient, almost vintage basis is one of nu jazz’s most quintessential features.
Genres in Jazz
- Gypsy jazz
- Cool Jazz
- Hard bop
- Modal jazz
- Avant-garde jazz
- Free jazz
- Jazz Fusion
- Latin Jazz
- Ethio jazz
- Indo jazz
- Smooth Jazz
- Acid Jazz
- Nu jazz
Of course, there are more genres of jazz, but we hope you now already have a better understanding of the diversity and richness of this fabulous music!