Jazz dictionary

Blues (from the American "to feel blue" = "be sad" or the English "blue devils" = "melancholy") - one of the highest achievements of negro music culture, a genre with roots in the Afro-American tradition. There are many strands of blues music throughout the southern, central and northern USA. Research indicates that blues developed out of negro, folk, vocal tradition. The most prominent forms are: work-song, holler, ballads and spirituals. The unique sound of Blues is manifest in its characteristic intonation, melody, harmony and form. The Blues tradition has influenced almost all the main styles of jazz. The leading academic composers of the 20th century (eg. Ravel, Miyo, Gershwin, Copeland, Onager, Martineau) drew on Blues in their own work, and some forms of modern popular and dance music were also developed under its influence.

Blues form - The characteristic Blues couplet is usually based on the classic twelve bar AAB, question/response structure. The question ‘A’ is repeated followed by the response ‘B’. This harmonic model (square) structure, characteristic of Blues, is based on the D-S-T scale which has no equivalent in European music. The stability of this repeated sequence provides the principal basis for improvisation. This specific Blues form can be applied in different measures (8, 10, 16, 20, 24, 32 bars).

Blue notes - As opposed to the European practice of dividing octaves into tones and half tones, it is characteristic of jazz and negro music to contain phrases of unstable intonation. In the seven-step scale (heptatonic) the Blues "Third" and "Seventh" are based on the third and seventh steps. European misinterpretation of Blue notes led to a false association of the Blues with sadness and melancholy (the norms of European music dictate that a base on the third and seventh takes music into a minor key).

Bongos - A kind of small drum, thought to be of Indian origin, and popular now throughout Latin America. It is mainly used as a block consisting of two different-sized drums joined at their wooden rim. After the Second World War bongos were commonly used in popular dance music; in jazz they are used only occasionally.

Bop - A jazz style which appeared in the early 1940s, variously known as ‘bebop’, ‘bebop’, ‘rebop’ or ‘Mintons style’. Apart from the latter, these names imitated the sound of the music, and were associated with ‘scat’ vocals; ‘Mintons style’ originated with Minton’s
Playhouse in Harlem, the venue favoured by the founders of bop music. Bop replaced swing as small, black groups (combos) experimented in a new direction. The main characteristics of Bop were a modernising of the old ‘Hot Jazz’ and innovations in free solo improvisations, melodics, rhythm and harmonies. Bop is seen as the first form of ‘Modern Jazz’.

Bopper - Musician who plays in the bop style

Brass band - A name for one of the orchestras of wind instruments, formed by black musicians in the early period of jazz. Some of the classic jazz and modern Dixieland bands used this name.

Break - A short, solo improvisation which creates a ‘break’ in an ensemble’s playing. Any part of a jazz composition which acts as an ‘answer’ to ensemble playing, when a musician launches into a solo.

Breakdown - Up-tempo, traditional negro dance which emerged in the mid nineteenth century minstrel theatre (see minstrel show). A finale feature in which all performers engaged in a mass dance improvisation. The boogie-woogie piano style popular in Chicago in the first two decades of the 20th century, was sometimes also called "breakdown".

Boogie woogie - (imitation of sound) - A black, instrumental blues piano style (alongside old guitar blues, barrelhouse blues and others). It is thought that it developed among North American negroes as a result of applying guitar and banjo playing styles to the piano. Boogie-woogie developed in the second half of the 19th century in the USA becoming popular in the first two decades of the 20th century thanks to house-rent parties; the classic examples of boogie-woogie date from the 1920s. During the ‘Swing’ period boogie-woogie appeared in the repertoires of the big bands. The characteristic features are: a base in blues roots, off-beat rhythm, a number of breaks and riffs, improvisation, virtuoso technique, ‘lost bass’ accompaniment and a specific rhythm (shuffle) played with the left hand. Some features (12 bar blues, motor rhythm, up-tempo playing and repetitive bass figures) were established in the 1930s as boogie-woogie entered the commercial entertainment industry and from 1945 it became associated with the eccentric dance of the same name popular in Europe.