In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jazz

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Discographies
  • Source Readings
  • Collections of Essays
  • Ethnographic Studies
  • Criticism
  • Biography
  • Jazz and Race
  • Vocal Jazz
  • Women in Jazz
  • Latin Jazz
  • Global Jazz

Music Jazz
Matthew W. Butterfield
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0039


Jazz emerged as a distinct musical art form in early-20th-century America. Though jazz is thought to have originated primarily in New Orleans, important jazz traditions have also been associated with other American cities—most notably Chicago, Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles. Generally regarded as one of the highest achievements of African American expressive culture, jazz has nevertheless drawn musicians from virtually every race, ethnicity, and nationality in the world. Indeed, though the core of the tradition is unquestionably American, important jazz scenes featuring non-American musicians have emerged internationally, especially during the second half of the 20th century in Europe, East Asia, and South Africa. The scholarly literature is quite vast and draws from a variety of fields, including historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory. Academic scholarship on jazz arrived relatively late in the music’s history. It was preceded by a strong tradition of journalistic criticism, with early jazz histories and biographies written by avid fans rather than trained music scholars. Defining jazz has been central to delineating the disciplinary purview of jazz scholarship, but this has never been easy. As a body of more or less “popular” music disseminated in recorded form, the music has undergone rapid development over the course of its history, and each transformation in style has prompted debate among jazz musicians, critics, and fans as to whether or not the new style was in fact jazz. Such debates have often revolved around the role of improvisation and its relative emphasis in any given style, the degree to which each new form of the music could be understood to “swing”—i.e., to exhibit a valued rhythmic quality thought to be essential to good jazz—and the extent to which each new style manifested certain core African or African American musical concepts and principles. The latter consideration has prompted many scholars to eschew parochial considerations of style altogether and situate jazz not as a distinctive form of music in its own right but as one expression among many within the very broad category of “black music.” This article treats literature on the core of the jazz tradition, leaving questions of disciplinary purview aside for scholars working through these issues.

General Overviews

Szwed 2000 and Hasse 2000 offer excellent, very readable overviews of jazz history, the principal figures involved in its development, and the principles of its organization in performance. Both are targeted at novice readers with little or no formal training in music, but offer much useful information as a point of departure for trained music scholars, including listings of the most important jazz recordings. Kernfeld 1995 largely dispenses with style history, serving rather as a listening guide that focuses on the concepts and procedures employed by jazz musicians across a wide range of styles. The text enables the trained musician unfamiliar with jazz to understand in detail the elements that go into effective jazz performance. Kirchner 2000 and Cooke and Horn 2002 serve as introductions not so much to jazz but to jazz studies more generally. Kirchner 2000 is a useful reference with brief essays on each style of jazz, many of the key musicians in its history, and the specific innovations of the most significant performers on each common jazz instrument. Cooke and Horn 2002 is more scholarly in orientation, introducing readers to the major concerns and topical areas of jazz studies literature.

  • Cooke, Mervyn, and David Horn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Jazz. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Collection of nineteen specially commissioned essays by leading jazz scholars introducing the reader to a variety of topical areas and issues of major concern in the current jazz studies literature.

  • Hasse, John Edward, ed. Jazz: The First Century. New York: Harper Collins, 2000.

    Overview of jazz history accessible to novices. Each style period covered by a different author. Includes excellent color photographs, sidebar presentations supplementing the main text, and listings of key recordings for further listening. Unlike other texts, includes important chapters on jazz worldwide and late-20th-century trends and developments.

  • Kernfeld, Barry. What to Listen for in Jazz. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

    Listening guide for trained musicians unfamiliar with jazz. Eschews historical overview in favor of detailed discussion of musical concepts and procedures common to jazz performance across a range of styles. Includes compact disc with twenty-one jazz recordings, many passages of which are transcribed and discussed in detail in the text.

  • Kirchner, Bill, ed. The Oxford Companion to Jazz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Collection of sixty brief essays by leading jazz scholars on major jazz styles, historical periods, and significant jazz musicians. Also includes a series of essays on each jazz instrument, detailing the major performers on each and their chief innovations.

  • Szwed, John F. Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz. New York: Hyperion, 2000.

    Targeted at novices, this text includes a brief introduction to concepts and procedures informing jazz performance practice. Provides an historical overview tracing the various styles of jazz and its major historical figures from the origins through the 1990s. Includes useful sidebar discussions of particular recordings with suggestions for further listening.

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