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How to Get into Jazz Even If You’re a Complete Newcomer to the Musical Genre

For those unfamiliar with the beats of jazz, it is easy to very quickly become intimidated by the musical genre.

Jazz has a long history, and with it a reputation for being a little difficult to enjoy. With a tradition of long musical solos over complex rhythms, the music, at first glance, find incomprehensible. Those unfamiliar or uninterested often scoff at jazz as something only a certain ‘type’ of musical connoisseur can appreciate. However, with just a little introduction and a bit of time spent listening to the music, it can quickly become one of the listener’s favourite musical forms.

So if you’ve ever been curious about jazz music, don’t let the history and complexity scare you off! Here is an introductory guide that will get you off to a great start!

A Brief History of Jazz

Imaginative and bright, jazz has been a huge influence on almost all musical genres over the past 100 years.

It all began in 1917 when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded their first songs in North America. The genre was born out of a fusion of cultures, which were brought to the continent, most importantly by African slaves. While New Orleans was the original hotbed of jazz, Chicago and New York became popular centres soon after.

As jazz evolved, it moved into the swing bands of the world (like the Count Basie band) and experimental bebop, which saw famous musicians like Charlie Park and Miles Davis move away from traditional themes and into brand new harmonies the likes of which had not been heard before.

The Jazz Musicians to Try

The best place to start when you’re getting into jazz as a beginner is with the greats!

Louis Armstrong is where it all truly begins. He was the first great jazz soloist, and his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings from the 1920s Chicago are considered some of the best musical pieces from the genre. Most people know his 1944 hit, What A Wonderful World, but those still learning about jazz have lots still to explore.

Aside from Louis, artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington were amongst the top jazz musicians of their time. While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings to listen to, focusing your education down by decade and artist can help you to get a good feel for jazz music and what you like or don’t like!

Here are 5 of the very best artists and songs to start your jazz journey…

  1. Louis Armstrong – Hotter Than That
  2. Miles Davis – So What

  1. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan – Baby’s It’s Cold Outside
  2. Billie Holiday – Fine and Mellow
  3. Duke Ellington – Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue

For a more extensive playlist, take a look at BBC Music’s The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Jazz which has a selection of 12 key tracks that are essential to a jazz lover’s music collection.

Go to a Festival

There are a whole host of jazz festivals in the UK for you to experience, most catering to a wide variety of tastes. If you want to go and experience the very best of what is happening right now in the jazz world, here are three of the best festivals to go to…

Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 2 – 7th May 2018
A leading festival for jazz, and one that is run in partnership with the BBC, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival features a curated selection of music from the jazz world. For six days, festival goers can expect to hear a unique blend of old and new jazz and enjoy discovering new things in the festival’s hands-on musician sessions.

EFG Jazz Festival London, 16 – 25th November 2018
Considered one of the most ambitious festivals in the jazz world, the EFG Jazz Festival in London brings in top musical jazz talents from around the world and mixes it up with cutting-edge bands, emerging stars, and new collaborations and commissions.

Swanage Jazz Festival, 13 – 15th July 2018
Offering a wide spectrum of jazz music, which runs from traditional to contemporary and gypsy jazz, this small but mighty festival is one that comes up on many a jazz lover’s list. The festival has two main stages, but also spreads through the town, so you can spend some time exploring the local area while enjoying the music.

Try the Radio

Listening to the radio is a great way to get used to some of the old greats while familiarising yourself with the latest in modern jazz.

BBC Radio 2’s programme hosted by Jamie Cullum is the best place to listen to mainstream jazz, from the more eclectic pieces to those that stand in the jazz history canon. For a really lively jazz station, Jazz FM (Sky Channel 0202, Freesat 729 or DAB Digital Radio) provides listeners with an excellent mix of the jazz standards, blues and soul.

Once you’re a bit more familiar with the genre, you might want to check out jazzradio.com where you can listen to absolutely any kind of jazz all separated into themes; from modern big band to mellow, trumpet, and even gypsy jazz!

Further Reading

If you really want to get to grips with jazz then you might want to do some additional homework! There are a variety of books to peruse for those who want to get a deeper understanding of the complexities of jazz. Of course, you don’t actually have to swot up to enjoy jazz, but if you find yourself wanting to know even more then these books will give you a good place to start:

The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings
Considered the world’s leading guide to recorded jazz, this book is packed full of fascinating and insightful information on artists and their music, creating a browsable companion that both novices and aficionados can enjoy.

The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz
If you want to know what performances are critical to add to your record collection, or what key things a jazz beginner should watch out for, this guide is the one for you. Seven leading authorities on recorded jazz give you the quick guide to what to listen to, from what period, and why.

The Encyclopedia of Jazz
The name speaks for itself! This encyclopedia combines a collection of photographs of jazz performers, articles on jazz history and techniques, and biographies of over 2000 musicians and singers.

Where to Find Jazz in the Local Area

Modern jazz has a home at the Stoke by Nayland with Fleece Jazz, a long-standing event that sees some of the world’s leading musicians come and play to busy crowds of jazz appreciators.

Everyone is welcome to come and experience the music, and whether you have no knowledge or you have been following jazz for some time there is always something for you to enjoy.

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