Traditional jazz, also known as ‘trad jazz’ describes a style formed in Britain in the 1950s and 60s that was a revival of New Orleans Dixieland jazz.

Dixieland, (also referred to as ‘hot jazz’ or ‘traditional jazz’) originated in the 1910s and as a combination of African American New Orleans ragtime and Sicilian music. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band made the first jazz recording, Livery Stable Blues in 1917 with the most famous track being Tiger Rag, as well as the record containing many ‘jazz standards’ we still refer to today.

Dixieland had a distinctive sound of the melody line usually performed by the cornet, (and later the trumpet), with the other instruments improvising around that line. Because of this, Dixieland jazz had a polyphonic, improvisational feel and the usual instrumentation for a standard band became trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and usually two instruments from guitar or banjo, string bass or tuba, piano and drums. Influenced by Dixieland, the later traditionalist jazz band instrumentation setups in the revival were similar, most often consisting of trumpet, trombone, clarinet, banjo, double bass and drums. Different bands could range from a three-piece band of tuba, banjo and a melody instrument, (trumpet, clarinet or trombone) to the full traditional jazz band.

In the USA, a Dixieland revival had started in the late 1930s and continued into the 1950s; smaller trad jazz groups fell into favour over big bands during the wartime recession, and public tastes changed with the creation and evolution of other jazz styles in this time.

Trad jazz repertoire often featured jazz versions of pop songs and nursery rhymes in the melody line. Nowadays the term ‘traditional jazz standards’ often includes pre-1920 compositions that included Dixieland and New Orleans jazz. Some well-known pieces are When the Saints Go Marching In, (aka The Saints) High Society, and Basin Street Blues.

Two of the most famous traditional jazz musicians, Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory could read music, and this was a way of bringing the latest pop songs to the jazz style. Jelly Roll Morton is another famous jazz artist who worked in a similar way of rehearsing with notation, and all three musicians would add improvised passages to supplement the score, add flare, and each create a distinctive sound.

In jazz music, musicians will often work from either charts or sheets. A chord chart outlines the chord names, e.g. Bb, F etc, within each bar, and outline the structure of a piece in terms of its sections e.g. A and B. Everything else is left to the players’ discretion, so if you were a piano, guitar, banjo or bass player, your chord inversions, root notes and rhythm would all need input from you!

If you were a front line player working from a lead sheet, this would similarly include the chord names above the lead melody line, which is notated. This gives the frontline the information they need to create countermelodies and improvise around the lead while remaining in the correct key. Again, a lot of input is needed from the players to work with a lead sheet.

If you’re looking for free jazz music scores online there are plenty of resources, as well as places that sell jazz sheet music. The website Jazz Charts offers a huge selection of pieces arranged for trad jazz bands as well as other ensembles, with the tagline “Play hot jazz in 1920s style!” They have options of both lead sheets and charts, and also differentiate between keys on scores where there are several options.

Another good site offering free jazz scores online.

While there are dedicated jazz music sites for instruments such as guitarists at https://www.jazzguitarlessons.net/jazz-guitar-standards/

As well as the Real Jazz Standards Fake Book by Hal Leondard.

For classical musicians or those less comfortable with improvisation that want to be able to play jazz, there are even sites that offer fully notated pieces across jazz styles https://www.oktav.com/en/le/essential-jazz-standards/11049

Whatever style of jazz you’re interested in, PlayScore 2 can be a useful addition to your toolkit. The app can read your standard printed notation and playback your scores – meaning PlayScore 2 can be utilised as an interactive backing track and improvisational practice device. You can learn established versions of pieces through the app, or simply use it to digitise and convert your sheet music to other formats. However you work with music scores, PlayScore 2 is a great way to make your processes quicker and easier.