I decided that I don’t REALLY want to explain what jazz is, mostly because it’s too difficult. You can read all about it on the page dedicated to Ken Burns’ Jazz, the third in his trilogy of documentary miniseries about Americana, along with the Civil War and baseball. The Wikipedia reads: “Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in black communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions… As the music has developed and spread around the world it has drawn on many different national, regional and local musical cultures giving rise, since its early 20th century American beginnings, to many distinctive styles.”
This level of cultural integration is evident as musicians of different races often played together at a period in the United States where integration was NOT the watchword. Speaking of which, read what the New York Times columnist Frank Rich was moved to write a few days after Ella Fitzgerald’s death. He stated that in the Songbook series, she “performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis’s contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul.
“Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians. As Ira Gershwin said, in the line quoted in every obituary: ‘I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.'”
Here are links to some great songs in various jazz traditions:
Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, a Gershwin tune
April in Paris – Count Basie (cuts off last 10 seconds)
Take Five – The Dave Brubeck Quartet, one of the few jazz songs to make it onto the pop charts in the rock era
My favorite album, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (read)
So What 9:22
Freddie Freeloader 9:46
Blue in Green (Miles Davis and Bill Evans) 5:37
All Blues 11:33
Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis and Bill Evans) 9:26
Finally, Jazz Corner Of The World/Birdland – Quincy Jones (1989) featured the last studio recordings of jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
Oh, one of a number of lists of the 100 great jazz songs of all time.