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Five Things You Need to Know About Jazz


Harry Pickens' work as a jazz pianist has taken him to countries throughout Europe, Japan, and the Americas and has given him the opportunity to collaborate with many top jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, James Moody, Milt Jackson (Modern Jazz Quartet), Don Braden (musical director for the Cosby show), and Bob Hurst (bassist for the Tonight Show).

In this excerpt from KET's Music Arts Toolkit, Pickens explains some jazz basics that everyone should know.

  1. Jazz has roots in African rhythms and sense of function in music, as well as the collective nature of music making and African concepts of individual expression and improvisation.
  2. Jazz has roots in European instrumentation and European forms, such as the marching forms, which gave rise to ragtime. Much of jazz is rooted in the song forms of American musical theatre of the 1920s and ‘30s.
  3. Jazz was born in the melting pot of cultures that was New Orleans of the early 20th century, becoming the crucial place of connection and cultural exchange between black and white communities.
  4. Most jazz performances involve individual musicians expressing themselves within the context of a group. Each musician expresses his own voice, creativity, uniqueness, and perspective towards the goal of a common expression, with many different voices coming together to produce the one song.
  5. Jazz was not invented by any single person, remaining one of the greatest examples of collective invention in all of human history. Every musician contributes his or her unique musical identity, vision of possibility, talents, personal emotional expression—each of these rivers of personal expression come together to form the great ocean of music we know as jazz.