Jazz History: The Standards (1930s)
By - Jazz Musician and Historian
While jazz may be difficult to define, improvisation is clearly one of its key elements. Early blues was commonly structured around a repetitive call-and-response pattern, a common element in the African American oral tradition. A form of folk music which rose in part from work songs and field hollers of rural Blacks, early blues was also highly improvisational. These features are fundamental to the nature of jazz. While in European classical music elements of interpretation, ornamentation and accompaniment are sometimes left to the performer's discretion, the performer's primary goal is to play a composition as it was written.
Michelle Lewis Director of P.R. The Chicago Jazz Orchestra
In jazz, however, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition exactly the same way twice. Depending upon the performer's mood and personal experience, interactions with fellow musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician/performer may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will. European classical music has been said to be a composer's medium. Jazz, however, is often characterized as the product of democratic creativity, interaction and collaboration, placing equal value on the contributions of composer and performer, 'adroitly weighing the respective claims of the composer and the improviser'.