How To Listen To Jazz

No, this is not intended to be a text book. You will not be preparing to take a test.

This Jazz Listening Guide, an introduction to the Jazz Secrets book, will introduce you to the skill and joy of How To Listen To Jazz. Understanding more about the music enhances the enjoyment of the listening experience. It will increase your knowledge so you can become a virtuoso listener, ultimately being able to hear a Jazz performance and distinguish what is “ordinary” from what is “extraordinary,” what is “banal” from what is “brilliant.”

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Most musical listening requires no explanation. Jazz, however, has a more vast range of styles and forms than most any other kind of music. The elements of Jazz can be more nuanced and intricate, and it is easy to not understand what the musicians are trying to accomplish if you don’t have a very basic knowledge of some of the structure and form.

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I’ll give you some music basics pertaining to Jazz, and share my personal secrets, along with tips, insights and recommendations gained from a lifetime in music, as an enthusiastic listener, student, musician, producer and music entrepreneur. An enjoyable early warning notice (which may cut into your social media time)……

You will have to listen to more and more Jazz music to develop these skills.

You’ll learn three of the steps to understanding Jazz: Composition (creating the work), Performance (interpretation), and Listening (understanding and evaluating).

In general, rather then trying to give you concrete answers to somewhat abstract concepts, I will pose questions for you to consider and things to listen for.

Combining this How To Listen To Jazz Guide with the musical examples and analysis from the Arkadia Short Cuts and the links provided here will create an entertaining and enlightening path towards this goal.

As Duke Ellington said,

“…just like people who listen to music. They don’t necessarily know what they’re listening to. They don’t have to know that a guy is blowing a flatted fifth or a minor third, but they enjoy it. Music is music and that’s it. If it sound good, it’s good music. How good? It depends on who’s listening.”

Take this beautiful tune, for instance. The song Isn’t It Romantic is is a popular song and part of the Great American Songbook. The music was composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. It has a 32-bar chorus in A–B–A–C form. Alec Wilder, in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900–1950, calls it “a perfect song. This recording features George Shearing on the piano and Neil Swainson on bass.

This performance by Freddie Hubbard is a must-watch for trumpet lovers! This is a rare and classic performance by one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of all time. Freddie Hubbard is known for his virtuosity and amazing soloing, and this performance is no exception. If you’re a fan of jazz, then this is a performance you don’t want to miss!


Art comes in many different forma and degrees. In culinary terms, you can get a Big Mac or go to a fancy restaurant.

When you read, you can be reading many different things: a newspaper or magazine, a legal document, a novel, a lease, a book of poetry, philosophy, an insurance policy, a text book or a comic book. Each requires a varying degree of concentration.

Bill Frisell

Listening to music is similar. To get the full effect of different kinds of music, it takes the effort of listening with varying degrees of concentration. Are you really hearing what’s going on? How does it affect you? How do you evaluate it?

The more we listen and learn about music, Jazz in particular, the more we can asses what we hear. Listening is a skill and an art. You can become a virtuoso listener. Gaining this knowledge deepens our understanding, enhances our enjoyment, and enriches our lives.

In language, to communicate to others, we use grammatical rules and a well-developed vocabulary to express our own individual thoughts and impressions. Learning some of the rules of music will build a foundation for more informed listening. By learning the language of Jazz, we will be able to discern, grasp and better evaluate what is musically “so-so” and what is truly “special.”

Please don’t get blown away by superior technique alone. Speed for the sake of speed is not an artistic achievement. It is a technical one. Superior technique (fast or slow, bold or delicate, loud or soft) can be truly exhilarating when used to express emotion and to achieve artistic storytelling. That refinement is what demonstrates a true talent.

Read on to discover more jazz secrets.

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