The idea that jazz is a language can be quite confusing and ambiguous. We often make this statement, as do many teachers and professionals, but it takes time to understand what this phrase actually means and what it doesn’t mean. We’re used to a language being something like English; a body of words, phrases, grammar rules…And in jazz, the same is true, however it’s not as cut and dry.
How jazz is a language
Jazz has a vocabulary that’s been built upon since its inception. It’s an always evolving entity, passed down aurally from generation to generation. At any point during the history of the music, performers looked to what came before them to develop what they were creating; they learn this vocabulary, this language, of their predecessors and then expand it based upon their own preferences, experiences, and ideas.
For example, Charlie Parker revolutionized the music, but to do it, he absorbed the phrases, the sound, the articulation, the vibe, and the feel…of Lester Young. This “stuff” he focused on was the language of Lester Young, the language of jazz at the time.
Similarly, Lester Young built upon the language of the players that came before him. In effect, each generation passes down their language aurally to the next generation, so the language of jazz is a living entity, constantly being passed down.
Why are chords and scales not the language of jazz? Chords and scales are used in all western music. Moreover, the same chords, scales, and … Read More