Introduction: How to Start Listening to Jazz?

Jazz is a beautiful genre of music that combines complex with simple, melody with improvisation and big bands with solos. This genre has so many sub-genres, from smooth jazz through bebop to fusion, and everyone can find at least one sub-genre that he likes. However, many times audience, mostly young ones, find it quite hard to understand this genre at first. So in order to make life easier for anyone who wants to dive into jazz I made this short guide. This guide presents my knowledge in the genre, and of course there are many more thing that I don't know, but I think this guide is a good starting point.

Step 1: Know the History of the Genre

Jazz developed as a fusion between "black music" - music that came from Africa and "white music" that came from Europe and America. In the late 19th century the Afro-Americans started to combine elements from classical and folk music into their music and created the Ragtime and the Blues. In the 20's those genres evolved to jazz. Those year the main sub-genre of jazz was the swing and the "Great American Songbook" started. The swing changed over the years and new sub-genres created, such as bebop, latin jazz, modal jazz, fusion and so on.

The jazz era came to end in the 70's due the rise of rock music.

This was a very brief introduction to history of jazz. If you have found it interesting I recommend you to read more about it here:

Step 2: Elements in Jazz

There are few main elements in jazz that are common to every sub-genre.

The first one is melody. The melody is actually the tune itself. The melody is usually played by either blowing instrument, blowing section, pianist, and sometimes by a guitarist.

The second element is the harmony. The harmony is the chords of the tune. The harmony supports the melody and the improvisation. It is usually played by a pianist and/or a guitarist.

The third element is the bass line. The bass line creates the rhythmic and harmonic base of the tune. This is played often on a contrabass, and rarely on a bass guitar.

The forth element is rhythm. The rhythm is played by a percussion or drummer. The drummer and bass player together form a rhythm section that creates the "beat" of the song. (Their job is to make the audience tap their foot and dance).

The fifth and last element is the improvisation. This element distinguish jazz from other genres. In the improvisational part of the song the soloist improvise a solo in real time and play it, acompanied with an harmonic player and rhythm section.

Step 3: The Types of Bands

There are many types of bands in jazz and every sub-genre has it's own typical type of band.

Big Band: The Earliest type of band. This band contains a rhythm section (bass & drum), a guitarist that is in charge on the harmony and many blowers. The big bands are mostly associated with the swing era.

Duo(2), Trio(3), Quartet(4), Quintet(5): A small group of 2-5 players. Larger groups(4 or 5 players) often has rhythm section, a pianist and one or two blowers, while smaller groups mainly has one harmony player, a bassist and a blower.

Singer: In vocal jazz there is a singer that accompanied by a band. The accompany can be a small group (quartet for example) or a big band.

Solo: Solo is a "one man band". In this style only one player is playing. Almost any solo player is a guitarist or a pianist because those instrument can player melody and harmony at the same time.

Some recommendetion for each band type:

Big band:

Quartet: Miles Davis Quartet -

Singer with a trio:

Singer with big band:


Step 4: Sub-Genres

And now for the different sub-genres:

Swing: The first "jazz". When you think about jazz you probably think about the swing. In my opinion, the best vocal jazz is from the swing era. I would recommend listening to sinatra and sarah vaughan.

Bebop: Up tempo jazz. This genre features quick harmony changes and great solos, specially sax solo. Start by listening to Charlie Parker.

Latin Jazz: A fusion of jazz and Latin music, with many spanish guitar influence. This style is very unique and special for the average "western" listener and features a great groove. I would recommend listening to Al Di Meola.

Gypsy Jazz: Genre by Django Reinhardt that features unique guitar playing. Check this out:

Solo Guitar: You really should listen to Joe Pass playing solo on guitar. He makes one guitar sound like three.

Modal Jazz: This genre, created by Miles Davis, is the complete opposite to bebop. Instead of quick chord changes, a modal tune stays on one chord for long time, and features rich improvisation on this chord.

Step 5: Sum Up

To sum up there are many sub-genres in jazz that are different from each other.

I hope you enjoyed most or all the tunes examples and I invite you to keep searching for jazz tunes, because this is one of the most rich genres and anyone can enjoy it. If you find this guide helpful, or if you have some tips or songs to share, give some feedback in the comments.