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Which Types of Jazz Exist & How to Choose The One for You?

Jazz music has been around for a long time, but it’s still as popular today as ever. The chances are that you have had the opportunity to come across this beautiful genre and decided to explore what it has to offer.

There are numerous different styles and types of jazz that you can enjoy.

In this article, we will be taking you on a brief journey through the history and typology of Jazz music and, hopefully – help you find your taste!

Let’s slide right into it!

Types of jazz.

Jazz Music – A Brief Intro

Jazz music as a genre is characterized by solo melodies and chord progression.

Jazz originated in the 1920s in New Orleans and was heavily influenced by African American culture. Still, influences also come from European American, Latin American, and Caribbean musicians.

One of the more important aspects of jazz is improvisation.

Jazz music relies on improvisation or making up the parts of a song as you go along. Improvisation is one of the essential elements in jazz because it allows musicians to explore possibilities that they wouldn’t be able to in traditional songs.

Jazz musicians use improvisation when they play over standards (jazz versions of popular tunes) and also when they are playing “head” arrangements (melodies without chords).

When you look back on this history, it is hard to say that any one artist or style harkens back more consistently to the earliest form of jazz than another.

Even “pure” New Orleans jazz isn’t as pure as people think.

New Orleans musicians heavily influenced the first swing bands and big band music. In addition, bebop had a strong connection with blues and rhythm & blues. Hard bop was strongly connected to bebop in its early incarnations but soon found ways of introducing modalism and freer rhythms into its musical palette.

But let’s not get too deep into the nitty-gritty details. We are here to talk about the types of jazz and help you choose your favorite!

Different Types of Jazz You Can Enjoy

Which different types of jazz exist?

Like all forms of art, music always bases itself on styles and forms that came before, in one way or another. As a result, there are many types of jazz spanning many decades and taking different directions at any given time.

#1 – Early Jazz

Among the most popular types of jazz is early jazz.

The name suggests that it was one of the oldest forms of jazz that some people even refer to as Dixieland or hot jazz music. It is known as hot music because it is made up of upbeats that one typically considers hot.

In the early twentieth century, this jazz style began from a blend of ragtime, drums, banjos, trombones, etc. The music is full of growls, half-valving, glissandos, and mutes.

All of that mumbo jumbo means that when a person hears early jazz, there are many highs and lows, quick, bright tempos, and immediate musical breaks.

Famous musicians:

  • Louis Armstrong;
  • Sidney Cechet;
  • Jelly Roll Morton.

#2 – Fusion

Fusion jazz is a genre of music that combines elements of jazz with other genres, including funk, blues, rock, and more. Fusion was popularized in the 1960s by Miles Davis.

A big reason for the fusion of jazz with other genres was its growing popularity. As it gained more popularity, it caused jazz musicians and singers to want to expand their music further than they could do with just traditional jazz.

As a result, they began looking into different ways to grow and develop their music styles while still retaining some aspects of the original genre.

Famous musicians:

  • Miles Davis;
  • Chick Corea;
  • Herbie Hancock.

#3 – Gypsy Jazz

Gypsy jazz emerged in France (hence the alternative name – jazz manouche) at the beginning of the 20th century.

It is best described as a fusion of harmonic jazz improvisation or bebop with Eastern European music, typically of Romanian, Hungarian or Czechoslovakian origin.

Though the genre is best known for its guitar instrumentals, many gypsy jazz musicians are multi-instrumentalists who play violin, mandolin, and accordion in addition to guitars.

Famous musicians:

  • Django Reinhardt;
  • Stéphane Grappelli;
  • Biréli Lagrène.
Gypsy jazz.

#4 – Swing Music (Big Band)

Swing or big band music is a famous jazz type that pops in all jazz lovers’ minds when someone mentions jazz music.

Swing is a style of jazz music that developed in the 1930s. Swing often has a lively, “break-neck” tempo and involves specific dance steps such as the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. Typically, it is played by many musicians that can play bass, drums, piano, and guitar.

Specialists on clarinet and saxophone became some of the most important soloists in swing music. Their tunes are among some of the most memorable from this era.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many renowned musicians emerged from New Orleans due to its popularity amongst jazz circles.

Famous musicians:

  • Duke Ellington;
  • Benny Goodman;
  • Coleman Hawkins.

#5 – Latin Jazz

Latin jazz is a blend of jazz and Latin American musical vibes. Take some instruments from Cuba, musical elements from Africa, and rhythms from Cuba. It is a type of dance beat that is similar to early jazz in a lot of ways.

It evolved from Afro-Cuban music at the beginning 20th century as Cuban musicians brought their musical legacy to New York City.

Latin jazz is one of the most popular forms of jazz, especially in Brazil and Latin America, whose popular dance music was a significant influence. However, audiences worldwide appreciate its rhythmic complexity, full-bodied harmonic sounds, and rich melodies.

Famous musicians:

  • Tito Puente;
  • Machito;
  • Eddie Palmieri.

#6 – Bebop

Bebop jazz is an intellectual form of art in terms of music. It is a unique form of jazz that not everyone likes, but there is no going back once the fast-paced music starts growing on you.

The term bebop is thought by many to have been derived from nonsense syllables used in scat singing techniques, although there are other theories. Scat is a style of jazz singing in which the singer improvises words and syllables rather than using traditional lyrics. 

Bebop musicians found that they could express complex ideas and emotions in an esoteric language using fairly common words. Still, it was meaningless unless you also knew the meanings of these word substitutions.

The best thing about this type of jazz is that it is somewhat near swing but has lots of complex harmonies, harmonic progressions, special improvisation techniques, and fast tempos.

Famous musicians:

  • Charlie Parker;
  • Dizzy Gillespie;
  • Thelonious Monk.
Man playing a guitar.

#7 – Modal Jazz

The name comes from the word mode, which simply means scale.

Unlike other types of jazz, modal jazz is based on music organized “horizontally” rather than “vertically”.

What does this mean?

It emphasizes single notes and modes (scalar = horizontal manner) rather than chord progressions (chordal = vertical manner).

Such an approach makes it very different from other forms of jazz that rely heavily on chord-based improvisation (such as bebop).

To this day, most modal jazz sticks close to its roots, remaining tonally centered in the original mode yet still improvising over the chords (often derived from the original mode).

Famous musicians:

  • John Coltrane;
  • McCoy Tyner;
  • Miles Davis.

#8 – Cool Jazz

As the name suggests, cool jazz is one of the types of jazz that can make anyone feel relaxed with its soft melodies and relaxing beats. 

It emerged in the late 1940s and is characterized by slower rhythm and lighter tones.

Cool jazz is most popularly known for its relaxed, reserved, laid-back atmosphere, in contrast to the heated passion of bebop.

There are also many similarities between classical music and this particular jazz style.

Famous musicians:

  • Miles Davis;
  • Gerry Mulligan;
  • Gil Evans.

#9 – Hard Bop

With a solid rhythmic groove, hard bop has been one of the most dominant types of jazz throughout history. Evolving out of bebop, hard bop incorporates elements of gospel and blues.

While bebop is known for its complex, high-note chops, hard bop emphasizes the groove and raw form.

Hard bop is characterized by a jazzier, bluesier sound created by using modal scales and the addition of electric instruments. All of this was thrown into the melting pot with one simple idea: this new music should be an accurate embodiment of black American life in the mid 20th century.

However, most musicians didn’t see it as their role to address social issues through music – they simply set out to make good music. And that they did indeed.

Famous musicians:

  • Art Blakey;
  • Horace Silver;
  • Clifford Brown.
Man playing a saxophone.

#10 – Free Jazz

Among all types of jazz, free jazz is a genre that has the fewest boundaries. If you consider the nature of jazz as a music genre, you will realize why that is a big statement.

Free jazz originated at the beginning of the 1960s. Free jazz musicians attempt to express themselves freely by abandoning many of the conventions of chord progression common in western classical music and jazz and by avoiding steady tempos.

It often features irregular rhythms — for example, it can be played by drummers using brushes or cymbals rather than sticks. Guitars may be played with brushes or repeated muted notes. Other instruments may similarly play very brief passages (referred to as “pockets”) which are not related harmonically to the piece of music.

Free jazz players strive to push their instruments beyond their conventional limits.

Famous musicians:

  • Ornette Coleman;
  • Cecil Taylor;
  • Pharoah Sanders.

Which Jazz Suits Your Taste?

Which type of jazz should I listen to?

We have mentioned quite a few types of jazz and did our best to explain them in-depth. However, we realize that the beginning of your journey can be confusing.

Here are a few guidelines which can get you started:

  • If you’re a beginner jazz listener, it’s good to start off with traditional jazz. It’s often slower and easier to follow, which will let you learn the basics of jazz song structure.
  • If you want something faster and more contemporary, try avante garde or bebop jazz. These are both great if you like complex rhythms or are looking for something high energy to cheer you up.
  • If you want something mellow and laid-back, try smooth jazz or cool jazz.
  • If you’re into the blues, definitely try blues/jazz fusion. It’s a unique blend that mixes good old southern style with the high energy of jazz.
  • And if you’re interested in orchestral music (like the inserts often used as background music in movies), check out big band and Latin jazz. These both use large groups of musicians to create a rich soundscape full of brass instruments and percussion. On top of that, big band is great for dancing as well!

However, at the end of the day, you have to try listening to a few styles before deciding for yourself. Nobody can know your taste better than you!

If you want the simplest solution, pick any style from the list above, turn to a few audios to know how it sounds like and get moving from there.

Your Turn

Now, we would like to hear from you.

Which of the ten types of jazz we have listed is your favorite and why?

Let us know by leaving a comment down below!

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