Smithsonian Folkways Jazz Education Website

The challenge of talking about any music is compounded when the subject is jazz, a word of clouded origins whose meaning reflects an evolution of astounding rapidity and imposing diversity. The meaning of the word, like the music it represents, has evolved over time, a condition unlikely to change as we enter jazz’s second century. The term was originally applied to the music developed in New Orleans around the beginning of the twentieth century. Initially a product of the city’s African American community, it was quickly picked up by several of the city’s young white musicians as well. Within a mere two decades, as many of these early practitioners left home to perform throughout the United States and around the world, jazz became an international phenomenon. The earliest examples of the style, like those of the related blues, were never documented on sound recordings; but once jazz musicians did begin to record, the music expanded its audience rapidly and attracted practitioners and influences from all classes, cultures, and parts of the world. (From the introduction by John Edward Hasse and Bob Blumenthal in JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology).

This feature explores jazz from different perspectives: chronologically with a timeline, geographically with a world map, and musically with a virtual mixer in which you can listen to and observe the musical elements of jazz. We also invite you to be part of a constructive exchange of ideas about jazz in the discussion board. Jazz is music that continues to change and to add new performers and standards. This feature has been created with the capability to expand and grow as new developments appear. Also, if you feel that an important element and/or performer have been left out, please know that in many cases copyright of audio and images make it difficult to include all of them. For more information about this and other educational materials, please contact León F. García at


This project was possible by the support of the Smithsonian Women’s Committee


CTS Images
Frank Driggs Collection
Guy Fonck
Andy Freeberg
Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University
The William Gottlieb Collection at the
Library of Congress
Gennaro Visciano "Checiap"
Jacky LePage

Richard Laird
Arturo Sandoval
Duncan Schiedt Collection
Lee Tanner/The Jazz Image
Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos
Todd Boebel
Deghelt Productions: Photographer Ina Behrend
Miles Evans