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And all that jazz

From the Archives


Defiant, rich and ceaselessly inventive, Jazz is a truly American art form; a musical genre tied to the history and foundation of the United States. From the 15th century onwards the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought African cultural traditions and musical customs to North America, where, in the plantations of the south, expression and oppression formed the roots of a distinctively new sound. As Jazz began to develop from Blues and Ragtime in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it found a home in New Orleans.

Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, use of a single-line melody, call-and-response patterns, polyrhythms, improvisation, and a strong element of performance. Instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, double bass, and drums became the signature sounds of the genre, along with the jazz singer’s voice. Since the 1920s jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression, as seen in the proliferation of specialized clubs, festivals, and the formation of International Jazz Day. Famous musicians like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk set ‘standards’: songs that became instant classics while open to constant re-interpretation by different artists. As the 20th century progressed, offshoots of the genre developed, like cool jazz, free jazz, and smooth jazz.

TASCHEN’s books on jazz include William Claxton’s Jazzlife, a publication that explores the movement through photographs of players and audiences across the US. The book penetrates to the soul of jazz music. Other titles include the Bibliotheca Universalis books Jazz Covers and Funk & Soul Covers, as well as 75 Years of Capitol Records. Extending the story of jazz from North America to Europe, the book Berlin in the 1920s shows just how influential jazz has been on multiple art forms across multiple continents.