Common Jazz Instruments

Jazz instruments play a vital role in making it one of the most interesting and diverse varieties of music in America. However, it isn't just the instruments themselves that are special-it is how they are played.

The Beginnings Of Jazz
Jazz slowly evolved when slaves from West Africa were brought to America and mixed their musical styles with those more typical of the West. Many of jazz's defining characteristics, such as atypical rhythms and scales, are due to these African influences.

In the American South, jazz became more popular, especially in New Orleans, where slaves playing brass and reed instruments would organize marching bands and lead funeral processions. It later spread to the rest of America and found footholds in Northern cities, such as Chicago and New York City. It grew to influence other musical forms, including ragtime, blues and swing. Many of 20th century America's most famous musical figures, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Artie Shaw and John Coltrane, were jazz musicians.

Variations On The Jazz Trio
A typical jazz trio, as you may see at brunches or other events all around America, consists of an upright bass, percussion (usually a snare drum, high hat and a cymbal) and a piano or organ. In the true nature of jazz, however, there are no clear-cut guidelines or rules, and any of these instruments can be substituted for another. A common substitution would be a guitar (usually a hollow-body electric) for the keyboarded instrument. Jazz quartets are also popular and are usually made by adding a brass instrument, such as a trumpet or trombone, or a woodwind instrument, such as a saxophone, to a standard jazz trio.

Other Jazz Instruments
Large jazz groups can consist of 20 or more members and are usually composed of 5 saxophonists, 5 trumpeters, 4 trombonists, a piano player, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and occasionally a singer.

Other less common jazz instruments include the flute, harmonica, vibraphone and oboe. No instrument is off-limits, though. In the true spirit of jazz, which is deeply rooted in the culture of American slaves, musicians make do with what they have.

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