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Different Genres of Jazz

Jazz has evolved wonderfully over the last century, bringing us some of the most iconic artists of our time. Learn more about the different styles of jazz music!

Early Jazz

Also called Hot Jazz and Dixieland, Early Jazz originated in New Orleans in the early 20th century. Heavily influenced by ragtime, early jazz used trumpets, trombones, drums, saxophones, clarinets, banjos, upright bass, and the tuba. Some influential Early Jazz artists included Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Buddy Bolden.

Swing & Big Band

Boasting rhythmic innovations with an ensemble of up to 20 musicians, Swing and Big Band jazz dominated American music in the 1930s and 40s. The harmony was clear, with a simple melody and groovy drums. The swing era brought great musicians like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.


While influenced by Swing, bebop sounds like anything but swing. Bebop was loud, fast, and exciting to play. It originated in the early 1940s with musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Bebop has a fast tempo, complex compositions, and incredible instrumentalization, which could have resulted in a better response from the public. Yet, it has made a mark in Jazz and music history.

Cool Jazz

People had few choices to listen to in the 1940s and 50s, but Cool Jazz, taking some inspiration from classical music, provided an alternative to Bebop jazz's chaotic style. Cool Jazz was mellow with slow tempos and melodic harmonies. Some prominent Cool Jazz musicians included Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, and Stan Getz.

Hard Bop

While bebop consisted of fast tempos, hard bop had a slower tempo and more blues and gospel elements. This genre grew through the 50s and 60s with artists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, who created original and unusual compositions.

Modal Jazz

A genre with Miles Davis and John Coltrane as pioneers, Modal Jazz, included heavy mode modulations and seldom chord changes. Modal Jazz focuses on one tonal center to create a melodic piece instead of quick, complex changes and instrumentation.

Free Jazz

Taking roots in early 1960s New York, Free Jazz broke free from all known jazz rules set by previous artists and genres. Free Jazz knew no conventional structures, tempos, tones, and chord changes, with many songs incorporating ethnic music. Free Jazz featured musicians like Ornette Coleman and Tony Williams.

Latin Jazz

Latin Jazz can be broken into two categories: Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian. While Afro-Cuban was more dance-based, Afro-Brazilian was subtle. The arrangements were percussion-heavy, and the melodies used woodwind instruments. Influential names in Latin Jazz include Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, and Joao Gilberto.

Post Bop

An exciting combination of bebop, hard bop, free Jazz, and modal Jazz brought Post Bop. At its peak in the 1960s, Post Bop was still free in many aspects. It still featured odd rhythms, abstract structures, and longer solos.

Smooth Jazz

Smooth Jazz, a more radio and commercially-oriented form flourished in the 80s and 90s. It was sometimes described as a mix of Jazz, pop, and lo-fi R&B due to its easy listening qualities. Smooth Jazz involves good use of saxophones, synthesizers, electric bass, and drums and focuses on melodic rhythms and grooves. Significant artists from the Smooth Jazz genre include Grover Washington Jr. and Kenny G.

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