What is Jazz?

in jazz •  last month  (edited)

When I wrote this, I was listening to All Blues by Miles Davis on continuous loop.


I started a Masters in AI at Georgia Tech and I've started a class on AI. Some of the work was me getting familiar with Java and the other was understanding the spirit of how we were using AI. In my class, our goal was to write AI that could solve a series of increasingly difficult IQ tests.

This process was hard when I focused on the images, but when I shifted to classifying and deconstructing the images, I was getting better than a 58% passing rate which is all that was needed to get performance credit for each stage of the project.

Coding so many days in a row really was a lot to do as a father, husband, and teacher. I needed something to balance that activity out. It turns out that I enjoyed learning the music I was listening to, which was jazz. Specifically jazz from jazz trios and music composed by McCoy Tyner, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and many others.


Anyone who plays jazz knows that the music often played at the beginning of the song is called the head of the song. It is the notes and chords written out on sheet music.

source: https://cloverdalemusicworkshop.com/blues-session-songs-and-charts

It is very often likely that this music can all fit on one page. This is because jazz music or jazz charts are kind of a joke. It is very often that what you hear from a song somewhat matches what musicians actually play. This is done on purpose because it allows musicians to have full freedom over a song making it match their preferred sound or incorporate specific ideas like varying levels of color or spice.

At some point, after listening exclusively to jazz for months or years and trying to play it, one of your friends may send you a song and say, "Check out this cool jazz song."

Most times if the person actually plays jazz standards, the recommended song will be what I call jazz. If the person doesn't listen to jazz or play jazz, it will probably fall outside of what I consider jazz.

We now enter a territory where my college jazz teacher would have us think about every class. He would ask us, "What is Jazz?"

Jazz has evolved from blues and continues evolving and mixing its dna with other styles. Check out this piece that is a cover of Aphex Twin's Flim.

Is this jazz? I don't know, but it sounds really cool.

What is Jazz?

Technically, I would say a song that employs the elements of jazz is composed of 50% or more solos. I say this because traditionally, a solo is the centerpiece of any jazz song. It is the dynamic melting pot of melodic ideas over the songs chords that make the song a living entity.

I equate solos to how we may navigate through a day where you don't necessarily know what will happen, but you make decisions based on what has already happened in your life. Sometimes you may make general rules to help you consistently make good decisions. This is where jazz parallels AI nicely.

The problem with someone who recommends a jazzy song that has 5% of the song reserved to solos is that the song will generally sound static no matter who covers it. But if you reserve 50% or more of the song and give a musician freedom to spontaneously write new melodies over the chord changes, it becomes a living piece of art. Particularly because of the clever things jazz artists do behind the scenes to make the solo unpredictable.

If you don't listen to much jazz now, ask your local AI to play jazz or play jazz from the 1950s and you should end up finding great songs for your fall and winter playlists.

Like I said, I've been listening to All Blues on a continuous loop even after I finished this post. I got the idea that I should prove my theory and use All Blues as an example of what I consider jazz since there are 4 full solos in the song.

All Blues

Head (103 seconds)
Davis Solo (129 seconds)
Adderly Solo (123 seconds)
Coltrane Solo (123 seconds)
Evans Solo (60 seconds)
Head (113 seconds)
Davis Solo 2 (20 seconds)
Head Ending (70 seconds)

The percent of time dedicated to solos is 455 seconds / 688 seconds or 66%.

Here is a great resource if you want to learn to play All Blues.

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