The Structure of Jazz
Much of what happens in jazz is strongly influenced by the rather rigid structure of the genre. But, far from being an obstacle, the structure provides a set of agreed-upon “rules of the game” that allow musicians to come together and play jazz with little more advance communication than is required to pick a tune and the key to play it in.
Understanding this structure is essential to playing jazz well.
The structure of jazz has three principal components: rhythmic, formal, and harmonic.
The rhythmic component dictates fixed rhythmic relationships among the participating instruments.
The formal component is based largely on popular song forms, which follow a few small, highly predictable patterns.
The harmonic component is governed by a relatively small number of types of chord progressions; however, these chord progressions — and the individual chords themselves — are subject to a great deal of variation and elaboration, which accounts for much of the real complexity encountered in jazz.
The rhythmic, harmonic, and formal components together confine jazz to a fairly narrow range of musical possibilities. Jazz has been criticized for these limitations but it is this very confinement that allows several musicians to collaborate successfully in the production of mostly improvised performances.