The American History Smithsonian, in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and Jazz at Lincoln Center, has created a digital archive of jazz. The website includes an interactive timeline that offers a short jazz history and a map that identifies important places where jazz music has been played worldwide. It also features videos, photographs, and other resources designed to educate students about the history of jazz.


What is Jazz?

Jazz music is a type of music that originated among African Americans in the late 19th century and early 20th century. One of the earliest forms of music became known as jazz. The two main characteristics that define jazz are improvisation and syncopation. Both characteristics showcase Africans’ impact on jazz development, particularly in America.

African and European music was heavily influenced by the rhythms found in Native American cultures. For instance, the musical scales found in African music were greatly influenced by those found in Native American music. These influences significantly shaped the sound of African American music.


Characteristics of Jazz Music

  1. Improvisation. Improvisation is what sets jazz apart from other kinds of music. In other types of music, there are noticeable patterns to the music that make it recognizable. For example, with a song like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, everyone knows when the melody starts, when the chorus comes, and when the song ends. With jazz, there are no clear indications of when a section will end and begin. The musicians improvise, meaning that they play whatever comes to mind at the moment. It means that jazz music is constantly changing and growing.


  1. Syncopation. Syncopation represents a second major characteristic of jazz music. Syncopation uses an offbeat rhythm pattern to create a sense of excitement and anticipation in a song or piece of music. The musician often tries to accentuate the unexpected accent by playing louder.


  1. Blues. Another thing jazz music is known for is the use of the blues. Blues is a type of music created by Black Americans, particularly in the southern part of the United States, to express their feelings about the tough times they had to face. While some people think that blues is a feeling or emotion, it’s a type of song structure/genre/form.


Jazz is a musical genre that has evolved. It incorporates elements from many different types of music, including European and African music. The improvisation and syncopation important to jazz originated in African music traditions. Many people also attribute the use of the blues to jazz music. It is because blues is such an essential aspect of jazz music, particularly in the United States, where it was created by Black Americans living in the southern part of the country.