Jazz Speaks to the Soul

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Tony Monaco
Vail Jazz Festival musicians wax poetic about a genre that defies definition

VAIL, Colorado -- The definition of jazz has always been elusive. Ever since jazz emerged in the black communities of the South (most notably in New Orleans) in the late 1800s, it has been a style of music that relies heavily on improvising a basic song structure.

Over the years jazz music, musicians and audiences have evolved, but the genre's roots remain the same.

“When you go to the gigs and performances and see who's coming to them, it's everybody, and it's mostly the common man, just as it was," said jazz vocalist and saxophone player Max Wagner.

Wagner is right. Simply put, jazz is the music of the common man. But dig deeper and jazz's true essence shifts like a vapor being grasped at. Unlike rock and roll or hip hop, jazz's parameters aren't clearly defined.

In honor of the Vail Jazz Festival's annual Labor Day Weekend Party, we asked several of the musicians playing at this year's festival to share their definition.

“It seems that no one can put their finger on exactly what the answer is," said jazz pianist Don Washington. “For me, I guess jazz is ... a music that gives the artist or the listener the opportunity to draw upon a wealth of experiences -- no matter what their background -- to kind of create their own mixture of music and also their own contribution to what's going on in the music."

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