Jazz is a music that originated at the beginning of the 20th century, arguably earlier, within the African-American communities of the Southern United States. Its roots lie in the adoption by African-Americans of European harmony and form, taking on those European elements and combining them into their existing African-based music. Its African musical basis is evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note. From its early development until the present day, jazz has also incorporated elements from popular music especially, in its early days, from American popular music.
As the music has developed and spread around the world it has, since its early American beginnings, drawn on many different national, regional and local musical cultures, giving rise to many distinctive styles: New Orleans jazz dating from the early 1910s, big band swing, Kansas City jazz and Gypsy jazz from the 1930s and 1940s, bebop from the mid-1940s on down through Afro-Cuban jazz, West Coast jazz, ska jazz, cool jazz, Indo jazz, avant-garde jazz, soul jazz, modal jazz, chamber jazz, free jazz, Latin jazz in various forms, smooth jazz, jazz fusion and jazz rock, jazz funk, loft jazz, punk jazz, acid jazz, ethno jazz, jazz rap, cyber jazz, M-Base, nu jazz and other ways of playing the music.
Talking of swing, Louis Armstrong, one of the most famous musicians in jazz, said to Bing Crosby on the latter's radio show, "Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation, then they called it ragtime, then blues, then jazz. Now, it's swing. White folks - yo'all sho is a mess!"
In a 1988 interview, trombonist J. J. Johnson said, "Jazz is restless. It won't stay put and it never will".
Jazz spans a range of music from ragtime to the present day—a period of over 100 years—and has proved to be very difficult to define. Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions—using the point of view of European music history or African music for example—but critic Joachim Berendt argues that its terms of reference and its definition should be broader. Berendt defines jazz as a "form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music" and argues that it differs from European music in that jazz has a "special relationship to time defined as 'swing'", involves "a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role" and contains a "sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician".