Jazz terms, from A to Z
A: AABA form
Chances are, you've listened to this song form (also known as 32-bar form) hundreds of times, whether you realized it or not. Rooted in Tin Pan Alley music, AABA describes a melodic deviation in the bridge, or the third line, of a verse (think "Heart and Soul" by Larry Clinton or "Sailboat in the Moonlight" by Billie Holiday).
Swing and big bands weren't wooing everyone in the 1940s. Saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie were among the first musicians to develop increasingly fast-tempo arrangements with syncopated melodies-music that was decidedly undanceable.
C: Cool jazz
Cool is the flip side to bebop. Sure, it sounds hip, but the name actually refers to a musical color palette-think slow tempos, gentle melodies and classical influences. The style was popularized by Miles Davis' seminal "Birth of the Cool" (released in 1957; recorded from 1949 to '50) and its players, like saxophonist Lee Konitz.
This joyful and often rambunctious music, also known as hot jazz, was born in New Orleans in the early 20th century. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band popularized influential polyphonic arrangements, in which a single, steady melody is flanked by improvisation.
Most wind players will tell you the key to achieving perfect pitch is to blow through, not into, an instrument. This French term (rooted in the word "bouche," or mouth) describes the varying manner in which a musician uses facial muscles, lips, teeth and tongue to produce the best sound.
F: Free jazz
Forget genre conventions; few styles of musical expression are more extreme than free or avant-garde jazz. Atonality, overblowing and lengthy, improvised arrangements-often without breaks-define key recordings like Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation" (1961) and John Coltrane's "Ascension" (1966).
You'll hear plenty of these when the Columbus Jazz Orchestra's Bobby Floyd is sitting behind his Hammond B-3 organ. Glissandos are rapid hand-sweeps across successive keys (they can be performed on other instruments, too), often carrying a player from one chord to another, in style.
If a band begins playing in half-time, the rhythm instrumentalists double their tempo (or begin playing the same arrangement in half as much time) while the lead melody remains at the same, fixed tempo. This is the opposite of double-time, when only the lead melody undergoes a tempo change.
If you've ever asked yourself what makes jazz, well, jazz-this is your quick and dirty answer. Improvisation is perhaps the only constant across all styles of jazz, from Dixieland to cool to avant-garde. Rarely in jazz are the recording and performance of any one tune intended to be identical.
J: Jazz Fusion
In 1965, Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar and turned the folk-music world upside-down. Similarly, Miles Davis changed the trajectory of jazz in the late '60s when he began incorporating electric instruments and rock 'n' roll time signatures into his once-acoustic music.
K: Kansas City Style
While jazz may have been born in New Orleans, it's often said the genre grew up in Kansas City. In the 1930s, the ensembles of Bennie Moten and Count Basie redefined big-band music, placing emphasis on walking bass and aggressive horn sections-both antecedents of bebop.
Also known as a riff, a lick is any recurring melodic phrase in an arrangement. Licks differ from overarching melodies in that they are typically brief and rhythmic.
M: Modal jazz
Modal jazz tunes rarely sound like they're in a rush to get where they're going. The base instruments are sometimes droning, with chords being repeated for more than 16 measures. This static framework has opened the door for some of jazz's greatest instrumental performances, such as those on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" (1959).
N: Nu Jazz
Nu jazz is an extension of jazz fusion, with musicians embracing elements of electronica, hip hop, soul and funk that emerged in the 1980s and '90s.
Few music terms are more commonly confused than octave and pitch. Two notes can register in different octaves (think high sounds to low sounds) but in the same pitch class (such as two C's).
P: Press Roll
A snare drum is most taut around the outside of its head. When a drummer presses his or her sticks successively into this area, it creates a tight, multiple-bounce drum roll-or a press roll. This technique is often used to usher a soloist in or out of an arrangement.
The Fender Rhodes was a wildly popular electric piano in the 1970s. Pianists like Herbie Hancock used the instrument to achieve a sound more dynamic than that of an acoustic piano but not as harsh as that of a Wurlitzer electric piano.
We're used to hearing music that's steady and on beat. This is why syncopation-or the emphasis of weak or off beats, prevalent in post-swing jazz-catches us off guard, making an arrangement's groove and melody less predictable.
Two songs may have the same pitch, volume and tempo but entirely different timbre, or tone color. Basic descriptors include bright or dark and warm or cool.
V: Vocal jazz
Not only did they surround themselves with talented musicians, but singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday knew how to use their voices as instruments, often employing horn-like phrasing techniques. Vocal jazz has long been identified with scatting, or the improvisation of nonsense syllables.
If a bassist or piano is "walking," he or she is playing steady, non-syncopated notes that, over time, create a strong rhythmic foundation. This technique developed in tandem with bebop and other post-swing sub genres, providing grounding for soloists and listeners.
On a music chart, "X" is almost always synonymous with time. So "8X" means "perform eight times."
Y: Young Lions
This like-minded collective of neo-boppers emerged in the 1980s, determined to influence a widespread return to traditional forms of jazz. The movement's de-facto leader, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, was turned off by the emergence of nonacoustic sub-genres, like nu and fusion. Ironically, the Lions were in some circles as controversial as the styles of music they opposed.
In the 1930s and '40s, many jazz musicians wore oversize jackets with wide-hipped, narrow-legged slacks-or zoot suits. "Zoot" was also the nickname of saxophonist John Sims, who played in the bands of Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich.