All about Swing and Improvisation? Not necessarily! Not all Jazz pieces have improvisation, and the question if a song has swing also depends on the listener…
Duke Ellington: Isfahan, 1965.
Miles Davis: Gone, gone, gone.
Then what is actually typical for Jazz music?
The timbre, the quality of a musical sound, in Jazz seems closely related to vocal styles. That is, the way in which jazz is played, reminds a lot of actual speech, the intonation of vocal language. the ‘buzzing and ringing’, which you can typically also find in African music.
Duke Ellington: Concerto for Cootie, 1940.
In Jazz the intonation is different from most other music styles, the accents are often, and typically off-beat.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Caravan, 1984. With Tizol, Ellington.
Jazz has it’s own melodic style: a typical use of pentatonic scales, intonation (blue notes), pitch-bending and musical phrasing.
Charlie Parker: K.C. Blues, 1951.
Polyrhythmic. Jazz generally has a fixed pulse, which means that the tempo doesn’t change during the song. The time signature will typically be a 4/4 pulse. But you will often see that in some pieces the musicians do play a lot with the time-signature and instead of all following a 4 beats per bar rhythm, some instruments might suddenly change to a 3/4 rhythm, while the others sustain the 4/4 beat. So from a 1,2,3,4 or 1-and,2-and,3-and,4-and, they could change to a da-ba-da,da-ba-da,da-ba-da,da-ba-da.
Bill Evans Trio: Solar, 1961.
Also typical for Jazz is the so called call & response, one musician plays a pattern and others respond with a different pattern.
Duke Ellington: Take the ‘A’ train (Strayhorn), 1941.