In contrast, jazz is often characterized as the product of group creativity, interaction, and collaboration, which places varying degrees of value on the contributions of the composer (if there is one) and performers.

In jazz, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition the same way twice; depending on the performer's mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will.

By the swing era, big bands were coming to rely more on arranged music: arrangements were either written or learned by ear and memorized, while individual soloists would improvise within these arrangements.

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Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions, such as European music history or African music.

But critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that its terms of reference and its definition should be broader, and arguing 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".

Subsequent styles such as modal jazz abandoned the strict notion of a chord progression, allowing the individual musicians to improvise even more freely within the context of a given scale or mode.

In many forms of jazz, a soloist is often supported by a rhythm section consisting of one or more chordal instruments (piano, guitar, etc.), double bass playing the basslines and drum kit.

In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style and Gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles.

Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music toward a more challenging "musician's music" which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation.Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation.Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music.The approach to improvisation has developed enormously over the history of the music.In early New Orleans and Dixieland jazz, performers took turns playing the melody, while others improvised countermelodies.Modal jazz developed in the late 1950s, using the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of musical structure and improvisation.