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Submitted by on May 4, 2022

Jazz is a music genre that evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, with origins in blues and ragtime. It has been acknowledged as a key type of musical expression in traditional and popular music since the 1920s Jazz Age, and is linked by the shared links of African-American and European-American musical lineage. Swing and blue notes, complex chords, call and response singers, polyrhythms, and improvisation are all hallmarks of jazz. Jazz has its origins in West African cultural and musical expression as well as African-American musical traditions.

Jazz drew on national, regional, and local musical cultures as it moved over the world, resulting in a variety of genres. Early brass band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime, and blues were combined with communal polyphonic improvisation to become New Orleans jazz in the early 1910s. The most popular forms of the 1930s were extensively organized dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style, and gypsy jazz (which emphasized musette waltzes). In the 1940s, bebop arose, transforming jazz from danceable popular music to a more demanding “musician’s music” that included quicker tempos and more chord-based improvisation. Near the end of the 1940s, cool jazz emerged, offering calmer, smoother tones and extended, linear melodic lines.

Hard bop emerged in the mid-1950s, including elements from rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues, particularly in saxophone and piano performance. Modal jazz, which used the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of both structure and improvisation, emerged in the late 1950s, as did free jazz, which experimented with performing without regular meter, rhythm, or formal frameworks. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, jazz-rock fusion emerged, mixing jazz improvisation with rock music’s rhythms, electric instruments, and heavily amplified stage sound. Smooth jazz, a commercial kind of jazz fusion that became popular in the early 1980s, had a lot of radio airtime. Other types and genres, such as Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz, exist in the 2000s.

The origins of the term jazz have been the subject of much inquiry, and its history is extensively documented. It’s said to be linked to jasm, a slang word for “pep, enthusiasm” that dates back to 1860. The term “jazz ball” first appeared in print in a 1912 story in the Los Angeles Times, when a minor league baseball pitcher described a pitch as a “jazz ball” because it “wobbles and you can’t do anything with it.”

The Chicago Daily Tribune reported on the word’s use in a musical context as early as 1915. It was first used in a musical context in New Orleans in a Times-Picayune story on “jas bands” on November 14, 1916. Eubie Blake, a singer, spoke on the term’s slang connotations in an interview with National Public Radio, saying: “When it was taken up by Broadway, it was dubbed ‘J-A-Z-Z.’ It wasn’t named that at the time. ‘J-A-S-S’ was the spelling. That was filthy, and you wouldn’t say that in front of a lady if you knew what it was.” It was chosen the Word of the Century by the American Dialect Society.

Jazz is tough to define since it spans a vast spectrum of music from ragtime to rock-infused fusion spanning more than a century. It has been attempted to describe jazz in terms of other musical traditions, such as European music history or African music. However, critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that its terms of reference and definition should be broader, defining jazz as a “form of art music that originated in the United States through the confrontation of the Negro with European music” and arguing that it differs from European music in that jazz has a “special relationship to time defined as’swing,’” and arguing that it differs from European music in that jazz has a “special relationship to time defined as’swing Jazz has a “sonority and way of phrasing that represent the personality of the playing jazz performer,” as well as “a spontaneity and energy of musical composition in which improvisation plays a part.” “Most of us would argue that generating meaning while letting loose is the core and promise of jazz,” says Robert Christgau.

Travis Jackson proposes a larger definition of jazz that embraces many eras: “it is music that combines elements like swing, improvisation, group interaction, having a ‘individual voice,’ and being open to diverse musical possibilities.” “Jazz is a construct,” according to Krin Gibbard, referring to “a number of musics with enough in common to be considered as part of a cohesive tradition.” Unlike observers who have advocated for the exclusion of certain genres of jazz, musicians are sometimes hesitant to describe the music they perform. “It’s all music,” observed Duke Ellington, one of jazz’s most recognized figures.

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