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What are the Different Types of Jazz Music?

Jazz music is a vibrant tapestry woven with diverse threads, each genre offering a unique sound. From the soulful blues of New Orleans to the complex rhythms of Bebop, the smooth melodies of Cool Jazz to the avant-garde edges of Free Jazz, this genre is a rich musical journey. What's your jazz flavor? Discover the rhythms that resonate with you.
Matthew F.
Matthew F.

Jazz music is an art of improvisation. It is a combination of improvisation, swing notes, back beats, and blues with brass instruments. These ingredients have combined in different ways, with different factors, to make different types of jazz. From Dixieland to Chicago style to swing and soul, the different types all meet at one confluence.

Among the most popular and earliest forms was New Orleans Dixieland jazz. This genre, in the city credited with birthing the jazz tradition, is the source of many standards, such as “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Dixieland Jazz dominated the scene in the early part of the 20th century, from about 1918-1928. It was known for its ragtime sound, which was played over a rhythm section, unusual for jazz shows. The rhythm sections often included guitars, banjos and drums. New Orleans Dixieland had a northern counterpart in Chicago style jazz, which implemented a faster pace to this form of rhythmic jazz.

Jazz styles range from New Orleans Dixieland and ragtime, to bop and fusion.
Jazz styles range from New Orleans Dixieland and ragtime, to bop and fusion.

Swing dominated in the 1930s and through World War II. This genre was the main form of American popular music for much of this time and introduced the United States to exuberant big bands and band leaders. The genre was named for the strong swing notes played in the unique jazz style, in which a first note in a rhythm was extended over a second note and improvised.

Rhythm sections often include a guitar.
Rhythm sections often include a guitar.

Bop was the next big jazz music movement in the mid 1940s through to the 1960s. This style was an up-tempo jazz insistent on harmony. It spawned legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. Bop, to many listeners, sounded incomplete and rushed and led to a new revolution in the jazz movement with intricate melodies.

Cool Jazz followed in the 1950s and '60s, and was known for its easy tone. It avoided the abstractness of bop and incorporated Miles Davis into the musical lexicon. Free Jazz was different response to the tumult of bop. It answered with another abstract form, using less composition, and introduced the world to John Coltrane. Latin jazz and soul jazz would also emerge in the following years and would bring the jazz sound to an audience never before reached.

Chicago has its own style of jazz music.
Chicago has its own style of jazz music.

Jazz fusion was introduced in the early 1970s and melded with rock at a time when that genre was reaching its zenith. With performers like Herbie Hancock and Frank Zappa, jazz fusion spelled a more mainstream approach. In the years that followed, leading up to the beginning of the 21st century, jazz would see itself further transform in other subgenres with the advent of pop fusion.

Jazz fusion, which sometimes mixed rock and jazz, became popular in the 1970s.
Jazz fusion, which sometimes mixed rock and jazz, became popular in the 1970s.

These genres, along with countless other minor movements in jazz, have spelled a century-long love affair by American musicians to a form of music that is uniquely American. Like America, jazz music is diverse and free, with many different types and styles.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main styles of jazz music?

The main styles of jazz music include New Orleans Jazz, which is characterized by group improvisation; Swing, known for its strong rhythm section and emphasis on the off-beat; Bebop, which is more complex with fast tempos and intricate melodies; Cool Jazz, offering a smoother, more laid-back sound; and Fusion, which blends jazz with other genres like rock, funk, and R&B. Each style represents a unique period and approach to jazz, reflecting the genre's evolution over time.

How did bebop differ from earlier forms of jazz?

Bebop emerged in the 1940s as a reaction to the dance-oriented swing music that dominated the 1930s. It was characterized by fast tempos, complex chord progressions, and virtuosic improvisation. Unlike earlier jazz, which often featured structured arrangements and was played for social dancing, bebop was more about artistic expression and was often performed in small groups. This shift marked a significant change in jazz, making it more of a listener's music rather than dance music.

What is the significance of fusion jazz in the evolution of the genre?

Fusion jazz, which developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is significant for its innovative blend of jazz with other musical styles, particularly rock, funk, and R&B. This genre pushed the boundaries of traditional jazz, incorporating electric instruments, new technology, and global influences. Fusion artists like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock played pivotal roles in this evolution, attracting new audiences and keeping jazz relevant as popular music tastes changed.

Can you explain what cool jazz is and how it differs from other jazz styles?

Cool jazz, which arose in the late 1940s and 1950s, is characterized by relaxed tempos, lighter tone, and less aggressive improvisation compared to the intense and fiery bebop style. It often features formal arrangements and a more classical or chamber music aesthetic. Artists like Chet Baker and Dave Brubeck are well-known for their contributions to cool jazz, which provided a smoother, more contemplative alternative to the prevailing jazz styles of the time.

What role did New Orleans play in the development of jazz?

New Orleans is often considered the birthplace of jazz, with its rich cultural mix providing the perfect melting pot for this new music to develop around the turn of the 20th century. The city's vibrant music scene, blending African rhythms, European harmonies, and brass band traditions, fostered the growth of jazz. Iconic figures like Louis Armstrong helped popularize the New Orleans style of jazz, which emphasized collective improvisation and a joyful, expressive sound.

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Discussion Comments


In our hometown of Buffalo, New York, Dodo Greene was the Premier Lady of Jazz. All kinds of people came to see her act at the Anchor Bar, and a few notables, too. Dodo never forgot the evening that Brian Denehy, who in on a set, came back stage to compliment her on her singing style. Or, the night she invited Cloris Leachman and Shirley Knight onstage to sing a song with her.


Love all sorts of jazz, since the early beginnings to what it finally became techno!


I got tired of country and pop and rock and even a lot of blues. Now all I listen to is jazz, with a bit of blues thrown in. I love the earlier forms of jazz, ragtime, dixieland, swing. Not just the earlier performers but also the current performers who do those types of music.

Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker may have been geniuses, but I have not yet learned to appreciate much of their music, I don't like what they did to jazz, and I don't like any jazz without a pretty obvious melody. Give me Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and their ilk and I'll be happy. For now, anyway, and likely for a long time.


I know some people may disagree with me, but for me, 1930s jazz music is what it's all about.

I mean, how can you compare anybody to the great swingers that came about during that time, you know, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and of course Django Reinhardt.

One of the most underappreciated jazz artists came out of the 1930s too -- Artie Shaw. He may not have the same name recognition as some other players, but the things that man could do with a clarinet -- just awesome.

Now that's some music that I would actually buy -- jazz music should make a comeback and kick out all this modern computerized stuff.


Are there any good places to find 1940s jazz sheet music online?

My church choir is doing an "old-timey" series, and we'd really love to get some of that old, New Orleans-style gospel jazz music -- the kind that really had a kick, not the synthesized stuff.

Anybody know of a good supplier?


I really love jazz music, especially the really classic 1920s jazz music, like King Oliver and Bessie Smith. The really early Louis Armstrong is great too, although he's always great.

For me, there's nothing better than live jazz though -- music is meant to be experienced first hand, not through some cleaned up, synthesized, audio engineered process.

I say bring back the days of free, live jazz music in bars, and let's get rid of this elevator music nonsense that people tend to play in the background now.

Give me some good, smooth, live jazz -- that's music, pure and simple, and as it should be.


It's too bad that jazz fusion developed as it did. It really started off as a form of jazz music that incorporated instrumentation popular in 1960's rock and roll. Albums such as Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew" and "In A Silent Way" combined the subtlety and mood of jazz with the timbre and rhythms of rock. By the mid-1970's and into the 80's, fusion really became excessive. Musicians often used the genre to play dazzling solos but with, in my opinion, little of the subtlety and emotion of older jazz music. In the early 80's, fusion musicians used the newly developed synthesizers in a way that I just find to be cheesy in a modern context. I also think that fusion in many ways contributed to a defamation of jazz among the younger generations nowadays, and it's really too bad.

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    • Jazz styles range from New Orleans Dixieland and ragtime, to bop and fusion.
      By: Stefan Havel
      Jazz styles range from New Orleans Dixieland and ragtime, to bop and fusion.
    • Rhythm sections often include a guitar.
      By: mekcar
      Rhythm sections often include a guitar.
    • Chicago has its own style of jazz music.
      By: rudi1976
      Chicago has its own style of jazz music.
    • Jazz fusion, which sometimes mixed rock and jazz, became popular in the 1970s.
      By: Dangubic
      Jazz fusion, which sometimes mixed rock and jazz, became popular in the 1970s.