Jazz was born in the African-American communities of New Orleans in the late 19th century. With roots in blues and ragtime music, its unique characteristics included call and response vocals, ‘blue notes’ (a minor interval where a major would be expected, which gives a moody feeling) and polyphonic improvisation.
The guitar has always been heavily involved with jazz, although not necessarily at the forefront. With guitars being used as early as 1889 in jazz music. In the early 1920’s Eddie Lang became an incredibly popular artist and is considered the first jazz guitar virtuoso, even working with Bing Crosby in the early ‘30s. The 1930’s also saw jazz expand its reach by taking influences from dance, which led to swing and hot jazz becoming popular. It was also around this time that Django Rienhardt became an icon of the immediately recognisable genre ‘Gypsy Jazz’. For more on Django Rienhardt check out our Alternative Inspirations article.
The genre took on many forms throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, with Modal, Free, Latin, Acid, Bebop and many, many other variations becoming commonplace. The guitar was later taken to an electric realm and amplified, giving guitarists the chance to be heard clearly in performances. It was in the 40’s, 50's and and 60’s where players such as Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass established jazz guitar as a prominent genre of itself. The jazz guitar continued to take on many shapes, with rock, latin, funk and fusion variations appearing through the 80’s onwards.
Recent years have seen contemporary jazz acts such as Snarky Puppy, Kamasi Washington, Go Go Penguin and Jacob Collier use extreme reharmonisation and advanced polyrhythms to establish their own unique style of jazz.