Understanding the Influence of Jazz, RB, and the Blues

Intro to Jazz Theory

Table of Contents

For musicians, singers and music lovers around the world, great music can be transformative. A well-crafted song can evoke a mood or sentiment that is special and cathartic. The American music genres of jazz, R&B and Blues are especially good at this. They are built around the ideas of emotion and expression and have inspired musical growth for more than a century.

To fully appreciate what these styles bring to the cultural landscape, take a moment to look at what makes each style uniquely its own, and how each one has moved the world of music forward. Understanding the diversity of the sounds will change the way you listen to your favorite songs.

The Influence of Jazz

Jazz music is one of the most foundational genres of American music, serving as a base for many other styles of music. Thanks to its improvisational nature, jazz is a great medium for expressing a range of emotions, from joy to love to paint. Throughout jazz music history, artists have found their unique styles of expression and inspired artists from all backgrounds.

How Did Jazz Begin?

People often wonder where jazz music originated. The roots of jazz music can be traced to New Orleans in the 1800s and 1900s. The city was a melting pot, with people from different parts of the world. Recently free from enslavement, many Black people blended the sounds of African drums and rhythms with European-style harmonies, as well as Black hymns and chants.

As the sound evolved from “ragtime” music into more modern jazz, more artists found themselves drawn to the style, and exposure to the genre grew. By the 1920s, jazz had found a foothold in American culture. Jazz continued to grow well into the 1960s.

What Inspired the Jazz Sound?

The history of jazz music shows us that the sound came from a spirit of collaboration and experimentation. Artists who were embracing freedom brought together what seemed like dissimilar musical elements to create something new and special. They used improvisation to break free from traditional musical ideas.

The ideas of self-expression and independence are large parts of jazz music. Songs can transform depending on the artist’s mood or style, letting every practitioner of the genre bring their flare to a piece of music to give audiences something new with every listen.

What Defines Jazz Music?

You may wonder how jazz music is defined? At the heart of the music are the rhythms. In traditional jazz rhythms, an eighth note pair is often emphasized differently, with the first note of the pair getting added emphasis while the second note is lighter. Jazz also features very sophisticated harmonies that incorporate complex chords and note arrangements.

Improvisation is also a defining element of jazz. The most iconic artists could take an existing piece of music and turn it into something all their own on the spot. Instrumental riffs and vocal ad libs that fit the song make each performance different.

Who Are the Definitive Jazz Artists?

Over the decades, some of the best jazz artists have created amazing legacies. They include:

Studying the music of these artists will help any aspiring jazz artist begin to understand and perfect this style and grow your appreciation for the skill it takes to create jazz music.

How Does Jazz Influence Modern Music?

When you consider how jazz music impacts American culture, the answer is obvious every time you listen to the radio. Most modern genres take some influence from jazz. Hip-hop music is deeply rooted in jazz, with Black youth in New York mixing jazz and other musical styles to create a new sound, then adding often improvised lyrics.

The influence of jazz music can also be found in much of the modern R&B music that is produced today. For purists, there are still jazz artists who embrace a more traditional sound with big instrumental sounds and improvised vocals.

The Influence of R&B

R&B, or Rhythm and Blues, has stood the test of time as one of the most dominant genres of music. It stands on its own as a distinct style, while also playing a major part in pop and hip-hop songs. R&B music helped shine a light on Black American culture and talent, and even played a part in bridging societal gaps.

How Did R&B Begin?

The start of R&B is closely linked to the migration of Black Americans out of the south to northern and western cities in the early and mid-1900s. Black communities started to take root in places such as Detroit, New York and Los Angeles. As they got established, they began to get the opportunity to record music so record labels could sell albums to the community. These “race records” included big band music, jazz and blues, which would all become the basis of R&B. The music evolved in Black lounges and clubs.

What Inspired the R&B Sound?

The sounds of R&B are rooted in the sounds of the southern Black church. The music of worship was mixed with big band, jazz and more to create something unique. Social influences also played a big part in the development of R&B. The genre grew during racial segregation, two world wars and the Civil Rights movement. The music fueled the movement.

The songs often told the stories of the daily struggles of the community. Artists also used their lyrics to comment on the issues of the day, from inequity to international conflict. R&B record labels became symbols of Black ingenuity and culture.

What Defines R&B Music?

As you consider R&B music, the namesake rhythm is a key pillar of the genre. The musical style relies on eight-beat rhythm patterns, similar to what is heard in rock’n’roll. Much of the music is made to dance to. Modern R&B also heavily features keyboard sounds in the arrangements.

The sounds of blues are heavily heard in R&B as the name would suggest. This influence is especially obvious when listening to the vocals. The singing is very smooth, with the most praised singers often having a powerful and wide vocal range. Ballads in the genre tend to be very expressive much like blues, with repeating harmonies paired with adlibs throughout the song. Vocalists tend to get the most recognition in R&B.

Who Are the Definitive R&B Artists?

The most influential R&B artists over the decades have often crossed into pop stardom with much more ease than jazz and blues artists. Many have become iconic stars over the course of their careers, including:

These artists are often considered masters of the style, with both ballads and dance songs that help define the R&B genre.

How Does R&B Influence Modern Music?

In modern times, R&B music has evolved side by side with hip-hop. The R&B singing style is often paired with hip-hop beats. Conversely, more hip-hop music has begun to feature R&B-style production.

R&B is also easy to hear when listening to modern pop music. Many artists take the vocal inflections and musical rhythms and adjust them to fit pop music. The rhythm and blues genre also stands alone, boasting some of the biggest performers in the modern music landscape.

The Influence of the Blues

Of all American music genres, few have had the impact that the blues has. The style has been a key component of R&B, rock’n’roll, hip-hop and jazz. The music tends to be more personal than other genres, with performers pouring their emotions into personal tales of heartache. The music is also bolder and blunter than other styles, meant to evoke a deep response.

How Did the Blues Begin?

The blues began after the Civil War, as Black Americans explored their musical creativity in their new freedom. Early blues music featured the calls and hollers of people who had spent years working in fields in the deep south. As folk music and church music became integrated, the sound evolved into blues.

By the early 1900s, the blues sound took hold in Memphis and other areas such as Georgia, Texas and Mississippi. The first blues records were recorded in the 1920s, and after the Great Depression and the world wars, the sound spread north and diversified.

What Inspired the Blues Sound?

The style of blues music owes its roots to a broader blues culture. The connection to Black field workers and oppressed communities gives the music a thread of angst and perseverance. The stories told in these songs are meant to reflect emotional truths about the challenges and hardships of life.

Combining the spirituality of church hymns with the lyrics of salt of the earth people created a unique lyrical style, unlike many other genres. Musically, the blues relies on simple messages that resonate with listeners. The music shares its emotional nature with American folk music although the execution is different.

What Defines Blues Music?

Let’s look at what blues music is. Blues music is often defined by a combination of very expressive vocals and distinct instrumentals, often based on guitar or harmonica sounds. The cadence of the lyrics is sometimes closer to spoken word than singing and tends to feature an unusual timing when compared to other genres.

Call and response is also a big part of what makes up blues music. Songs may have pauses meant for the audience to participate in the performance of the song. Longer instrumental breaks may also be prominent in a blues piece.

Vocally, blues singers often embrace a gruff sound when they sing. They don’t aim to be smooth like R&B or jazz singers but emphasize gritty sounds to convey emotion. Blues singers are also extremely expressive, nearly yelling or moaning some lyrics when appropriate for the message of a song.

Who Are the Definitive Blues Artists?

Blues artists have helped set the course of American music for more than a century. Their genre-defining works have influenced music for decades to come. Notable names include:

Studying the work of these blues artists will help you understand how the music is written to maximize emotion, instead of being perfectly composed for smooth notes and transitions.

How Does Blues Influence Modern Music?

The blues can be detected throughout modern music, from the way lyrics are written to the way songs are performed. Blues plays a huge part in R&B music, inspiring the use of music breaks, personal lyrics and call and return rhythmic styles.

Modern artists also still use the extremely expressive singing style to entertain audiences during live shows. Hip-hop artists have often sampled blues music to create new songs that get an emotional boost from the original piece. Modern blues artists still record in the raw singing style that originally defined the genre more than a hundred years ago.

Across modern pop, R&B and hip-hop, you can hear the influence of blues as singers bend certain notes for greater emphasis and impact. The legacy of blues shines through as modern writers work to put together emotionally raw work that can touch an audience rather than creating direct narratives in their songs and music.

Appreciating music starts with exploring all genres, and understanding how they are connected and how they have built upon one another. Jazz, R&B and blues are all closely linked, yet each has a distinct sound that touches people in different ways. Each genre has also influenced the world in different ways, both artistically and socially.

As you explore the world of music and work to expand your knowledge, take the time to study these important styles. Becoming well-versed in these areas will allow you to appreciate other types of music in a deeper way while offering you new inspiration.


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