Different Types of Jazz Music

Jazz music is a distinctly American music form. The genre was born when African music and rhythms, brought to America by enslaved Africans, mixed with European marching band music. Work songs, Negro spirituals, and the tradition of call and response also contributed to the genre. Jazz is widely thought to have originated in the red light district of New Orleans, but after several evolutions, jazz has spread throughout the entire world.


Ragtime was established in the 1890s and was the result of an evolution of traditional marches. Ragtime consisted of syncopated piano rhythms, which were common to African dance music and new to American music. In ragtime piano music, usually the left hand plays the bass notes while the right hand plays the melody. Ragtime music was composed and published, rather than improvised. The first composer to publish a ragtime piece was Ben Harney.

New Orleans Style

New Orleans style jazz music evolved out of ragtime and became popular in the early 1900s. The bands consisted entirely of brass instrumentation. According to Vernick and Haydon, the earliest forms of New Orleans style jazz featured collective improvisation, wherein each player improvised at the same time. Jelly Roll Morton was a prominent player of this style.

Chicago Style

Chicago style jazz music became popular in the 1920s. This style is characterized by solo improvisation, prominent saxophone, a more frantic rhythmic style and a more swing-oriented drum style. Chicago style players relied on written arrangements and typically had high technical ability. Benny Goodman made significant contributions to the genre.


Bebop music became popular in the 1940s. This style is characterized by complex melodies and harmonies, fast tempos, small groups and an air of sophistication. Players often wore suits and berets, and considered themselves cool and hip. Charlie Parker is one of the innovators of this style.

Cool Jazz

Cool Jazz, also known as West Coast Jazz, was popularized in the 1950s. Cool evolved out of Bebop and is characterized by advanced harmonies, unusual instrument combinations, complex arrangements and little to no vibrato. Miles Davis's album "Birth of the Cool" exemplifies the style.

Smooth Jazz

Smooth Jazz came into fashion in the 1980s. Synthesizers, electric keyboards, saxophones, bass guitars and programmed percussion are the predominant instrument choices, and they combine for a polished, downtempo sound. Smooth jazz has been the most commercially successful style of jazz. George Benson, Dave Koz and Najee have all been successful in the genre.