One cannot speak about music in America without referencing Jazz or Blues. These two genres of music are synonymous with the American music scene originating from Southern America. Their similar point of origin has caused much confusion in distinguishing between the two mainly because today’s music crosses over into both. Jazz and Blues, are two independent genres that formed concurrently in the 20th century.[i]
Jazz music originated from New Orleans and was initially known as “Jass”, the “ss” was later converted to “zz” meaning “cool”.[ii] In the 19th century, Jazz was popularly featured with an ensemble consisting of the saxophone, piano, cornet, and the trombone dominating the music.
In contrast, Blues music originated from southern Mississippi and was first recorded in the 1920s. Blues music is further differentiated from Jazz because it was originally played as a solo using a slide guitar. This is not the case today because Blues has been modified and adapted by practising artists utilizing complex bands.
Pioneering artists in Jazz include;
- L Edward Ory alongside the Creole Orchestra,
- George Lewis, and
- Louis Armstrong..
In the 1960s, as the genre became more popular, icons such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis became overly remarkable successes.
Notable Blues artists include:
- Blind Lemon Jefferson ,
- Robert Johnson, who was a top musician in the genre, and
- B.B. King and his electrical.
The diffusion of the music genres across America also highlights the difference between the two genres of music and their appeal to audiences. Both Jazz and the Blues enjoyed vast popularity in Chicago, but the similarities end there. Jazz diffused northwards into New York, while Blues gained more traction and popularity in Texas.
The audiences and listenership of the two music genres shows how vastly different they are. Jazz has often been called an interracial genre; it launched into mainstream listenership, earning it diverse and vast popularity across America.[iii] The Blues, however, is a more urban music genre and competes with rock and roll for listenership, a scenario that was exacerbated in the 1950s.
The difference between Jazz and Blues music is also largely linked to the music composition. Jazz music has more syncopation (rhythm deviations from the regular beats) than Blues[iv]. Blues tends to be more vocal than the more instrumental Jazz.
Like African, Latin, and Military music, Blues music has been defined as an element of Jazz music. This is probably the biggest reason why distinguishing the two tends to be complicated. Jazz is difficult to define, but its foundation is made up mainly of improvisation, syncopated rhythms, and ensemble interactions. Though connections can be found between the two genres, they are most certainly not the same. Popular culture unfortunately has led to Jazz and Blues music being assoicated together though they are markedly disparate.[v]
Blues music usually has lyrics while instruments dominate composition of Jazz music. However, the tone, mood, and subject matter of the two genres are similar.
Blues music, by origin, is African American folk music, while most Jazz music doesn’t have the same folk elements.
The key feature of Jazz is improvisation. Jazz is innovative, inflatable, unpredictable, and seems to always be searching to improve itself.[vi] The genre keeps evolving as more and more artists add their own flair to its original state. On the other hand, Blues music is a bit more conservative and draws from folklore, making it less adaptable becuase folklore a sort of history of the past and true events that are not always changeable.
Jazz and Blues have common roots, and it’s common to have stylistic overlap in the genres as well as the terms.
The differences between Jazz and Blues music are highlighted in their origins; though both were popularised in Chicago, Jazz gained more traction in New York and Blues was mostly embraced in Texas. Further, the composition of the two genres is different, with Blues heavily reliant on vocals and Jazz on instrumentals. Blues music is based on folklore and thus relays history and stories that have been passed on from generation to generation. Some argue that Blues music took Jazz and added vocals to it in order to create Blues music; however, history disputes this as both genres originated at the same time in different settings.