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Director of the Jazz Orchestra and Ensemble, Alan Durst, defines jazz as “America’s original art form, the baseball of music.” Famous saxophonist and composer Sonny Rollins describes jazz as being “the art of improvisation and reaching people with spontaneous music.” It is this spontaneity and improvisation of America’s original art form that is present in much of modern music. Aside from electronic dance music, the influence of jazz is present in other genres of music.


Anyone who has been to a live concert of jazz or pop music can recall the improvisation that the musicians have used to extend or vary a part of a song already familiar to the audience. Sometimes, a lead guitarist may improvise, lengthening his usual role in a musical piece using rhythmic, harmonic and melodic tools employed in jazz. In other instances, an additional musician who is not part of a group will explore a particular theme of the musical piece with altered chords and chordal complexity.


Because improvisation is an individual expression, many artists enjoy incorporating elements of jazz in their music when they appear before audiences, or when performing with other musicians. This improvisation with jazz draws in the audience, providing them interaction with the musicians. Jazz influence on a musical piece lends it “newness” as a result of jazz’s defining component of spontaneous improvisation. The incorporation of elements of jazz into musical pieces gives a variety of rhythms to them. The swing rhythm of jazz is the most famous as it been both adapted and transformed. This syncopated rhythm has been altered to fit favourite musical pieces and modified into the shuffle groove, used in blues because it moves the emotion of the piece forward with an energy that is infectious. Creative musicians have also incorporated Latin rhythms with those of jazz in original ways.


Such hard rock musicians as Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young and groups such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin extended their musical performances with a mix of jazz improvisation. Often a single musician in concert would create material on stage and play spontaneously for an unplanned amount of time. Jazz has even extended its influence to Hip Hop. Hundreds of rhythmic accompaniments are woven into the backdrop for a hip hop artist’s text. Research has shown that rhythmic backdrops have been created from the music of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and George Benson hundreds of times.