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It’s a simple question but it doesn’t have a simple answer!

At the start of the 20th century, New Orleans was a cultural melting pot in which (amongst other forms) the music of marching bands as well as ragtime and the blues could all be heard. Musicians combined these elements in order to create their own music; the process of improvisation which is a key element of jazz. As the music progressed – enriched during the 1920s by the work of founding fathers including Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong – it developed its own character and vocabulary and became a natural stage for the jazz soloist as well as the foundation for formal composition as epitomised from the 1920s by Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington. So jazz can be both improvised and written down.

For its next thirty years, the music accelerated through a number of progressive stylistic genres including swing, modern jazz (or ‘bebop’) and free-form; all of which contributed to the music’s diversity. With the advent of 1960s rock music, jazz-fusion was born in which the music took on the dual characteristics of both forms. Since then, jazz performers have continued to take on the musical colours of the times (including rap, hip-hop reggae and more) as well as keeping the music’s classic traditions alive.

In short: we feel jazz is where you find it! The only qualification is that the performer – whomever they may be – want to please their jazz listener. To gain further points of view and discover more about jazz we invite you to scroll down! We hope that the information on this page points you in the right direction to discover what jazz means to you.

Gottleib Jazz Image

Esperanza Spalding

"Jazz music just resonates with the frequency of me"
What 'Jazz' Means

What 'Jazz' Means


'What Jazz Means to Me' and 'Voices from the Past' were two very exciting projects within our National Lottery Heritage Fund project 'Jazz at the 100 Club: Bringing History to Life'. Both of them collated memories, thoughts and feelings around the topic of Jazz. The 'Voices from The Past' project culminated in our very first publication 'Ace of Clubs' which collates memories of The 100 Club through the decades from over 50 musicians, promotors and personalities. You can purchase the book today via our online shop.

Our 'What Jazz Means to Me' brought together contemporary and past opinions on the genre through a series of Interviews conducted with UK musicians, general listeners and researched statements by classic performers from 1930s - present.

You can watch the video 'What Jazz Means to Me' on this page or on our YouTube Channel. We hope you enjoy the film and that it helps convey the broadness of perception to the music.

The 100 Club Entrance
Lara Jones


We were also delighted to run another exciting project with the National Lottery Heritage Fund titled 'Breaking Barriers'. 

This project begins to explore the diversity of Jazz music and highlight barriers contemporary musicians may be facing today. Topics including race, gender, women in music, LGBTQI+, age and education were covered through a series of interviews with young established musicians.

We invite you to watch the full interviews on our website via the button below or on our YouTube channel. 


Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to discover 'what jazz means' is to listen! If you are new to the genre our Trustees and volunteers have compiled some great Spotify playlists to get you going.

Use the buttons to the right to explore the decades of Jazz; those who performed at Britain's longest-running jazz venue 'The 100 Club'; playlists that highlight Women in Jazz, and much more by following our Spotify profile.

Vinyl Collection


Another fantastic place to learn all about jazz is at our Centre! We invite you to visit our extensive jazz music library and Media Centre.

Research, learn, listen, watch and enjoy our huge offering of vinyl, CD, tape, video, books, periodicals, letters, pictures and rare heritage artefacts.


The largest resource of anything today is of course the internet! But it is very difficult to know where to start so, we have compiled some of the best online resources to listen, learn and enjoy jazz music.

We wish you the very best with your exploration of the genre and cannot wait to see you soon either at the centre or one of our virtual events!

Useful Websites Background
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