After its birth in the late 19th century, jazz has come a long way – many musicians reformed the understanding of jazz, it branched out into various segments, all of which had a certain level of influence on the world. Just like all other art forms, jazz has developed into a genre that can accommodate the preferences of most due to its distinct variations. Although most attribute the notion of contemporary jazz to hard bop or avant-garde jazz, in reality there are four most prominent waves that dominate the world of jazz nowadays. Let’s explore them.
Jazz fusion is a genre that appeared back in the 1960s. It is very evidently influenced by rock, funk and R&B because it was developed during moments of improvisation that mixed jazz and with the previously named music genres. Together with fusion, instruments like electric guitars, keyboards as well as amplifiers appeared on jazz stage. They are seen to substitute piano and double bass, however, traditional jazz instruments such as saxophone and trumpet are still widely seen in jazz fusion. The arrangements of jazz fusion are very different in their intricacy; some base their entire melody on a single note or chord while others offer chord progressions, counter-melodies and unique rhythm. Among those who significantly contributed to the development of jazz fusion was the famous jazz musician Miles Davis, while some other notable names include John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock as well as bands such as Weather Report and Return to Forever.
As the name correctly implies, this branch of jazz takes a lot of its essence from pop music. Pop-jazz makes a claim about the melodic accessibility of music, which has been intensely debated in the world of jazz. Many forms of jazz, especially free jazz, are built upon experimentation and exploration by employing the melody, which might make it difficult for an average listener to understand, decipher and have an opinion on. Pop-jazz, on the other hand, has memorable melodies as its main focus. Some of the more notable musicians who can classify as representatives of pop-jazz genre include Norah Davis, Michael Buble, Basia and Frank Sinatra.
Here the name is also rather self-explanatory. It is loudly and proudly commercially oriented and became a dominant style in the world of jazz back in 1980s. Smooth jazz tries to avoid improvisation, abrupt changes, pauses and experimentation in general, all of which are usually considered to be inherent to jazz. Instead it puts emphasis on the melodic form and attempts to produce soothing, pleasant, mellow tunes. Despite being harshly criticized for being bland and not having enough character, smooth jazz has its group of fans. Among some of the more notable names associated with smooth jazz are John Klemmer, Geroge Benson, Spyro Gyra and Chuck Mangione.
In this style, the largest amount of influence from other genres of music is seen. It takes a lot from contemporary versions of funk as well as R&B. It is characterized by polished sound and performance, and its intended audience, unlike with most other branches of jazz, is huge. The intent to popularize jazz has brought about both positive and negative comments of the critics, however, there is something to be said about the value of bringing hardly accessible art forms to broad circles of people. Names to note when in comes to crossover jazz include Grover Washington Jr., Lee Sanborn, Lee Ritenour and Michael Franks.