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date: 20 February 2020

Break (jazz)locked

  • Barry Kernfeld


A brief solo passage occurring during an interruption in the accompaniment, usually lasting one or two bars and maintaining the underlying rhythm and harmony of the piece. Breaks appear most frequently at the ends of phrases, particularly the last phrase in a structural unit (e.g., a 12-bar blues or a 32-bar song), or at the end of a 16-bar unit of a multithematic piece (e.g., a march or rag). The break probably formed an evolutionary link between brass-band music and improvised jazz, at a stage when soloists were capable of creating short stretches of new material but not complete choruses; the first coherent, extended solos may have evolved from chains of breaks. The break may also have developed by analogy with the cadenza of art music.

Jelly Roll Morton stressed the importance of the break to early jazz in his Library of Congress recordings of 1938 (AAFS 1651). His performances of the 1920s, as well as the legendary duet breaks by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong in ...

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