Jazz band

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A jazz band plays in a park festival.

A jazz band (jazz ensemble or jazz combo) is a musical ensemble that plays jazz music. Jazz bands usually consist of a rhythm section and a horn section, in the early days often trumpet, trombone, and clarinet with rhythm section of piano, banjo, bass or tuba, and drums.

Jazz bands can vary in size from a Big band, to a smaller trio or quartet. The term jazz trio can refer to a three piece band with a pianist, double bass player and a drummer. Some bands use vocalists, while others are purely instrumental groups. Jazz bands usually have a bandleader. In a big band setting, there are usually more than one player for a type of instrument.

Ensemble types[edit]

Seating diagram for a typical big band jazz ensemble.
Count Basie and band, with vocalist Ethel Waters, from the film Stage Door Canteen (1943)

Three parts[edit]

In jazz, there are several types of trios. One type of jazz trio is formed with a piano player, a bass player and a drummer. Another type of jazz trio that became popular in the 1950s and 1960s is the organ trio, which is composed of a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and a third instrumentalist (either a saxophone player or an electric jazz guitarist). In organ trios, the Hammond organ player performs the bass line on the organ bass pedals while simultaneously playing chords or lead lines on the keyboard manuals. Other types of trios include the "drummer-less" trio, which consists of a piano player, a double bassist, and a horn (saxophone or trumpet) or guitar player; and the jazz trio with a horn player (saxophone or trumpet), double bass player, and a drummer. In the latter type of trio, the lack of a chordal instrument means that the horn player and the bassist have to imply the changing harmonies with their improvised lines.

Four parts[edit]

Jazz quartets typically add a horn (the generic jazz name for saxophones, trombones, trumpets, or any other wind or brass instrument commonly associated with jazz) to one of the jazz trios described above. Slightly larger jazz ensembles, such as quintets (five instruments) or sextets (six instruments) typically add other soloing instruments to the basic quartet formation, such as different types of saxophones (e.g., alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, etc.) or an additional chordal instrument.

Larger ensembles[edit]

The lineup of larger jazz ensembles can vary considerably, depending on the style of jazz being performed. In a 1920s-style dixieland jazz band, a larger ensemble would be formed by adding a banjo player, woodwind instruments, as with the clarinet, or additional horns (saxophones, trumpets, trombones) to one of the smaller groups. In a 1940s-style Swing big band, a larger ensemble is formed by adding "sections" of like instruments, such as a saxophone section and a trumpet section, which perform arranged "horn lines" to accompany the ensemble. In a 1970s-style jazz fusion ensemble, a larger ensemble is often formed by adding additional percussionists or sometimes a saxophone player would "double" or "triple" meaning that they would also be proficient at the clarinet, flute or both. Also by the addition of soloing instruments.


Rhythm section consists of the percussion, double bass or bass guitar, and usually at least one instrument capable of playing chords, such as a piano, guitar, Hammond organ or vibraphone; most will usually have more than one of these. The standard rhythm section is piano, bass, and drums,[1] augmented by guitar at times in small combos and regularly in large ones. Some large swing era orchestras also employed an additional piano, accordion, and banjo.

The horn section consists of woodwind section and brass section, which play the melody[1] and main accompaniment. The standard small combo usually limits itself to one trumpet and one saxophone at times augmented by a second saxophone or a trombone. Typical horns found in a big jazz band include 4-5 trumpets, 5-6 woodwind instruments (usually saxophones), and 3-4 trombones.

Rhythm section[edit]


The banjo has been used in jazz since the earliest jazz bands.[2] The earliest use of the banjo in a jazz band was by Frank Duson in 1917, however Laurence Marrero claims it became popular in 1915. [3]

There are three common types of banjo, the plectrum banjo, tenor banjo, and cello banjo. Over time, the four stringed tenor banjo became the most common banjo used in jazz. [2] The drum-like sound box on the banjo made it louder than the acoustic guitars that were common with early jazz bands, and banjos were popular for recording [3]


Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar, to improvise accompaniment and solos in a jazz band. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s, to supply the low-pitched walking basslines. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through Bebop and Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz groups.

Beginning in the early 1950s, jazz some bass players began to use the electric bass guitar in place of the double bass.[4] Most jazz bassists specialize in either the double bass or the electric bass.


Jazz drumming is the art of playing percussion, usually the drum set, in jazz styles ranging from 1910s-style Dixieland jazz to 1970s-era jazz-rock fusion and 1980s-era latin jazz. Stylistically, this aspect of performance was shaped by its starting place, New Orleans,[5] as well as numerous other regions of the world, including other parts of the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa.[6]

Jazz required a method of playing percussion different from traditional European styles, one that was easily adaptable to the different rhythms of the new genre, fostering the creation of jazz drumming's hybrid technique.[7]


Jazz guitar refers to a variety of guitar playing styles used in the various jazz genres. Although the earliest guitars used in jazz were acoustic and acoustic guitars are still sometimes used in jazz, most jazz guitarists since the 1940s have performed on an electrically amplified guitar or electric guitar.

Traditionally, jazz electric guitarists use an archtop with a relatively broad hollow sound-box, violin-style f-holes, a "floating bridge", and a magnetic pickup. Solid body guitars, mass-produced since the early 1950s, are also used.


Jazz piano has played a leading role in developing the sound of jazz. The pianos role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument's combined melodic and harmonic capabilities. For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement, regardless of their main instrument.

Jazz pianists also make extensive use of chord "extensions", such as adding the sixth, ninth, or thirteenth scale degree to the chord. When jazz pianists improvise, they use the scales, modes, and arpeggios associated with the chords in a tune's chord progression.

Woodwind section[edit]


Saxophone section[edit]

In the saxophone section, all of the saxophones will play a similar melodic line, but the baritone sax doubles by occasionally joining in with the bass trombone and bass to play the bass line. A big band saxophone section typically consists of two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, and one baritone saxophone.[8] The tenor saxophone plays the counter melody, though have the lead in some cases. Saxophone players are often expected to double on clarinet, flute, or soprano saxophone. In earlier periods of jazz, a bass saxophone was used as a bass line instrument, though this is far less common today.

Brass section[edit]


The trombone section consists of three tenor trombones and one bass trombone.


A trumpet player may sometimes double on a flugelhorn.


String section[edit]


Main article: Jazz violin



Main article: Vocal jazz

The human voice can act in place of a brass section in playing melodies, both written and improvised.[1]

Scat singing[edit]

Further information: Scat singing

Musical styles[edit]

Further information: List of jazz genres


Jazz standards are are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded, and widely known by listeners.

Another important aspect of jazz is improvisation ("jams"). Bands playing in this fashion fall under the category of jam bands.[9] A common way to incorporate improvisation is to feature solo performances from band members made up on the spot, allowing them to showcase their skill.[10]


Main article: Jazz § History
"Robinson's Band Plays Anything" – an illustration from a 1890 edition of a New Orleans newspaper The Mascot. Jazz historian Al Rose has called it "the earliest known illustration of a jazz band".[11]

Starting shortly after 1915, the first bands from New Orleans began to using the word "jass" or "jazz" in their band name, or to describe their music. Bandleader Tom Brown claims the first usage, which was disputed by Nick LaRocca of the Original Dixieland Jass Band [12]

Notable jazz bands[edit]

Some notable jazz bands include


Further information: List of jazz festivals

Major international jazz festivals include:


  1. ^ a b c "Roles of the Instruments". Jazzinamerica.org. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  2. ^ a b Boyd, Jean A. "The Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing". The Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing. p. 147. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Hardie, Daniel (2002). "Exploring Early Jazz: The Origins and Evolution of the New Orleans Style". Exploring Early Jazz: The Origins and Evolution of the New Orleans Style. Writers Club Press. p. 264. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  4. ^ "The history of the electric bass part one: the early days". MusicRadar. Future plc. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Gioia, T. (1997). The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press: New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-19-512653-2
  6. ^ Brown, T, D. (1976). A History and Analysis of Jazz Drumming to 1942. University Microfilms: Ann Arbor, MI.
  7. ^ Brown, T, D. (1969). The Evolution of Early Jazz Drumming. Percussionist, 7(2), 39–44.
  8. ^ Rzepiela, Jeff. "A Guide to Playing in a Big Band Saxophone Section". www.bestsaxophonewebsiteever.com. 
  9. ^ Hobson, Jacob (9 September 2013). "Improvising Art: From Jam Bands to Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "What is Jazz?". http://www.smithsonianjazz.org/. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Charles Suhor (11 April 2001). Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970. Scarecrow Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-4616-6002-6. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Knauer, Wolfram (2006). "An overview of the history of jazz". An overview of the history of jazz. Jazz Institut. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 

See also[edit]