Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!



Jazz is a style of music which emerged in America around the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century. There are many styles of jazz, but broadly speaking jazz is characterised by improvisations, syncopations (offbeat accents) and swung rhythms.

Improvised playing is not based on a written score but on the mood of the moment.

Jazz Origins

Duke Ellington

Jazz musician Duke Ellington

Black music came over to America with the African slaves. African music combined with the music of the white European settlers to produce new styles of music including blues and ragtime.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century marching bands were popular in America. Black musicians began to jazz up the marches, adding syncopated rhythms, 'bending' notes and improvising on the melodies.

Trad (traditional) jazz emerged in the early twentieth century in Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans.

Back to Popular music index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.