Regular price: $9.95

Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free.
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price.
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love.
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel.
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month.
  • Get access to the Member Daily Deal
OR
In Cart

Publisher's Summary

Jazz is a uniquely American art form, one of America's great contributions to not only musical culture, but world culture, with each generation of musicians applying new levels of creativity that take the music in unexpected directions that defy definition, category, and stagnation.

Now you can learn the basics and history of this intoxicating genre in an eight-lecture series that is as free-flowing and original as the art form itself. You'll follow the evolution of jazz from its beginnings in the music and dancing of the antebellum plantations to its morphing into many shapes as its greatest innovators gave us ragtime, the blues, the swing music of the big band era, boogie-woogie, and big band blues.

You'll follow the rise of modern jazz in all of its many forms, including bebop, cool, modal, free, and fusion jazz. And you'll learn how the course of jazz was changed by key technological innovations, such as the invention of the microphone, which allowed smaller-voiced singers like Bing Crosby or Mel Torme to share a limelight once reserved for the bigger voices of stars like Bessie Smith or Al Jolson.

Beginning the story on those antebellum plantations, Professor Messenger reveals how the "cakewalks" of slave culture gave birth to a dance craze at the end of the 19th century that was ignorant of its own humble roots. And he explores the irony of the minstrel shows, which derived from Southern beliefs of black cultural inferiority yet eventually spawned a musical industry that African-American musicians would dominate for decades to come.

As a bonus, the lectures are also very entertaining, with Professor Messenger frequently turning to his piano to illustrate his musical points, often with the help of guest artists.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©1995 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1995 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    206
  • 4 Stars
    100
  • 3 Stars
    42
  • 2 Stars
    6
  • 1 Stars
    3

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    195
  • 4 Stars
    78
  • 3 Stars
    33
  • 2 Stars
    8
  • 1 Stars
    0

Story

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    171
  • 4 Stars
    87
  • 3 Stars
    42
  • 2 Stars
    8
  • 1 Stars
    4
Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good introduction, but serious omissions.

I enjoyed this short course about jazz, and Messenger is a talented piano player as well as teacher. I was disappointed that Thelonius Monk (1917-1982) was omitted. Perhaps less appreciated during his lifetime than now, he was a major innovator. Maybe a "second course" is what is called for, one that includes people such as Monk, Charlie Mingus, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, all of whom had or are still having a discernable impact on jazz development and evolution.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

A Disappointingly Distorted, Myopic View Of Jazz

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

An honest presentation of the subject!The lecturer's fast forwarding through the segment on modern jazz, brushing aside or even ignoring such universally recognized Jazz Giants as: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lambert, Hendridks & Ross, Cannonball lAdderly, Max Roach, Oliver Nelson, J.J. Johnson, Eric Dolphy, and too many more to mention in this small space, and replacing them with time wasting mediocre and mundane musical samples and seeming shameless self promotion is unconscionable , The lecturer mentions Beat author Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind. But he reminds me of another book popular around that time, titled Advertisements for Myself. Had I not been a life long lover of jazz - and especially modern jazz - and gotten my introduction to the subject through the lecturer's course, I would not have touched the music with a ten foot pole.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Not Bill Messenger

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Professor Bill Messenger?

The subject material, not the narrator was the problem.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Hard to tell. The author so warped the section on modern jazz, that I can not trust any of the rest of the course.

Any additional comments?

Most of the Audible books and The Great Courses material I have purchased have been excellent and well worth the money. I just ordered a DVD: Great Scientific Ideas That Changed the World course about an hour ago.

22 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Very Good Shew

I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in music history who doesn't happen to be a musician. A basic knowledge of music helps, but this class is over my head there at times. What I enjoyed the most was learning how the music of a time reflected everything else that was going on in that time. Sometimes the recording was too...quiet, muted sounding, a technical issue?

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

It's too short!

I enjoyed the course very much but the whole course is too short. In particular the more modern elements were really short changed as well as Latin elements.

This was recorded in the 1990s and could Stan updating.

All that said I learned a lot about the history of jazz.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Needed a few more lectures

I enjoyed the course and got stuff out of it, but it would have been improved with a couple more lectures.

An introduction was most seriously lacking, something to set the tone and provide an overview to fasten the rest of the lectures to. A lecture about pre-cake walk music, covering African music and maybe spirituals and gospel would have been helpful.

Maybe it would also have helped to have 2 blues lectures, one in the origins and one on its development and influence on other styles. But because the blues is one lecture with a guest, all of blues is covered in about 20 minutes.

And then breaking up modern jazz into 3 instead of 2, and spending more time on, say, Latin Jazz, or presenting the development in a bit more detail. The final lecture also has guest musicians, but it would have been more helpful and interesting if they would have talked a bit more about what we were hearing.

This is the first great courses music course I listened to that wasn't done by Robert Greenberg, and while it was interesting, it wasn't nearly as good as the Greenberg lectures. I wish I could give it 3.5.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Like Jazz, this sounds improvised

Professor Messenger is truly a master of jazz. His demonstrations are entertaining and help the listener with jazz and the historical tale that weaves in and out of the demonstrations helps put the various styles into perspective.

Unfortunately, like the jazz that he is demonstrating, the eight lectures sound improvised.For example, the topics that are covered are many and the argument can be made that not enough time has been given to the topics. Professor Messenger does not deal with the time issues well. Thus we get one half a lecture dealing with one blues artist because she is available, while modern jazz, fusion, free jazz and bebop are all crammed into one lecture.

Also, many references are made to recordings that are never played. Often it seems as if these examples have just popped into Professor Messengers head.

In conclusion, a better "road map" is needed, if the time is to be utilized better. OTOH, the historical information is very good.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Get a video course

This course points out charts the professor was displaying on a white board or a projector, which lost me after 3 lectures.

Interesting topic, not so good presentation.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Messenger Needs to Replace Greenberg

This little short course is fantastic. It's better than fantastic. I wish Greenberg would cut the corn and follow Messenger's style.

The course is packed with very interesting history, anecdotes and opinions. The professor is a very talented musician and he plays pieces throughout the course---and he plays brilliantly.

This is a fun and very worthwhile course. I loved it. 6 Stars!!!!

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

good for jazz history basics

It was great, a well balanced but somewhat topical course. Definitely good for non jazzers. No in-depth theory, though.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Kristi R.
  • Milwaukie, OR, United States
  • 07-30-15

“Life is a lot like jazz. it's best when ...

“Life is a lot like jazz... it's best when you improvise.” George Gershwin


1. Plantation Beginnings
2. The Rise and Fall of Ragtime
3. The Jazz Age
4. Blues
5. The Swing Era
6. Boogie, Big Band Blues and Bop
7. Modern Jazz
8. The ABC’s of Jazz Improvisation

I really enjoyed this class as I have always liked Ragtime and Dixieland Bands and as I grew I, loved going to a place in Portland, Oregon called Jazz de Opus where they would have a trio playing or just some classic records that the owner had. Alas, it is no longer in existence so I have to listen at home. Disneyland introduced me to the Dixieland music because they always had a great band playing at one of their restaurants near Frontierland.

Professor Bill Messenger is a musician who opened for Bill Haley and the Comets, played with Cass Elliott and many other musicians over the years before becoming a professor for The Peabody Institute.

Each class is forty-five minutes in length. Prof. Messenger always includes many musical examples, played by him or guests or sometimes pre-recorded. The class is lively and easy for a non-musical person to follow along.

Every class flows by so fast that I began looking for examples of music he talked about so I could continue my education. The only Jazz variant I wasn’t wild about was fusion, which from some of the examples he played seemed just like a lot of noise. No beat, no rhythm and no blues.

I highly recommend this class for anyone that wants to learn more about Jazz and the different versions it has undergone. The Professor makes his class fun and begging for more.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Chris
  • 07-03-17

A nice introduction but needs more content

This course covers various styles of jazz as it developed from the late 19th century until the mid to late twentieth century.

Starting from ragtime, the professor discusses the development of African music into an American art form in an interesting and clearly well informed manner. I have a couple of issues with the course which is why I've given three stars but it's really more like a 3.5 star course.

Firstly, the level of detail in the theory is very uneven. In some cases we get really detailed descriptions of what to listen for in a certain style of jazz. In others, words like Dorean mode and modulation seem to get thrown in without much preface. I've done a fair amount of musical theory and in the last lecture I pretty much lost track of what was being said.

I will say that the quality definitely decreases as you move forwards. The negatives below really only apply as the course progresses.

Secondly, the professor seems to assume we already know many jazz artists names and songs going into the course. The reason I chose to listen to this course was to learn who I should listen to and what to listen out for. But we don't get much help in that regard (except in the early sessions) - he throws names around and we just have to assume they are relevant to the topic at hand but there is little introduction or narrative about who they are or how they fit in to the topic at hand.

Finally, the final lecture definitely needed to be spread out over several lectures. After covering maybe one style of jazz a lecture, we suddenly have four or five in one go and there's little chance to understand how they all relate to each other.


This course was a let down to me and I hope they do a second edition that does the topic justice. If you are really into the topic this might be worth your while, but I'm going to get a book on the history of jazz and read that instead (along with some records...).

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Fatmusketeer
  • 12-30-16

Excellent introduction to The history of Jazz

Where does Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have listened to a lot of Great Courses. This is one of the best. It is very accessible, entertaining and illustrated with examples played by the lecturer who is a fine jazz pianist.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion?

One of Rachmanino's prelaudes was being 'ragged' when the composer (unknown to the pianist) was in the room....but I won't spoil the story.

What about Professor Bill Messenger’s performance did you like?

Bill Messenger is a fine jazz player and loves his subject. This came across very clearly in the course. An inspirational teacher.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not advisable. I would recommend listening to some of the music talked about after each lecture.

Any additional comments?

The course material is adequate but not as comprehensive as some other courses. And I wish the course was longer!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Sceptic
  • 01-28-18

The vacancy is still open...

I have listened to some great lecture series from the Great Courses stable but alas this isn't one of them. It certainly has interest but the overall package doesn't add up to much. While Bill Messenger seems to have taken the elements of jazz, notably improvisation, to heart and tried to mirror this in the series form it doesn't always work and overall leaves this being a superficial and overly brief saunter through the history of jazz. Bop gets one lecture which with all the playing adds up to about 20 minutes talking.

So there is still a vacancy for a good audible book on Jazz or, even better, another Great Course from a different voice.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • papapownall
  • 05-11-18

Great jazz primer but could have been much better

I'm a jazz fan and ordered this instantly when I saw that the Great Courses series had a course on jazz. I had previously listened to Bob Greenberg's excellent course on How to Listen to and Understand Great Music so my expectations were high for this. Bill Messenger isn't as exuberant or as articulate as Greenberg, few people are, but I was a little disappointed by his, sometimes hesitant, delivery style. Having said that, this is a good romp through jazz history from Cakewalk through to Swing, Bebop, Free Jazz, Fusion and very briefly even touching on (shock, horror) non-American jazz styles. The demonstrations are well delivered and Messenger obviously knows his stuff and is more fluent when playing than speaking. Sadly this is the only jazz course available on Great Courses and it seems that this was recorded some time ago. There is a gap in the market here for a more comprehensive course that has greater depth.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • J A MARTIN
  • 01-25-17

Really enjoyed this.

Lots of interesting nuggets of info. Well thought through and fascinating. A history of jazz with examples. Brilliant and highly recommended. Thanks

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • MR B ALLDIS
  • 11-03-16

Absolutley fantastic!

Hands down one of the best lectures i've heard! Jazz history with examples.A great listen!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Quentin
  • 07-09-17

amazing

it was mind blowing lectures. Fabulous piano playing to illustrate everything. Really the best thing about jazz I listened on Audible so far

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Callum Brown
  • 08-11-18

interesting

For me, it was more along the lines of a History of Jazz. Still worthwhile

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Reuben Schwarz
  • 04-13-17

fantastic brief history of jazz

great basic intro to origins of jazz. mainly focuses on the early years. loved it

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Pauline M
  • 11-15-16

Enthralling history of Jazz

Where does Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Really enjoyable to listen to, with live performances of many famous pieces. It improved my knowledge considerably

What did you like best about this story?

Live performances by the lecturer