Miles Davis, Jazz, and Your iPad

One of the most frequent themes in writing about the iPad is the way that it continuously allows developers to present information in new and novel ways. The History of Jazz App is no exception to that trend.

The History of Jazz aims to condense the history of that very American, very elusive form of music into something clear and simple to follow. When you open up the App, you first are shown a quote from a jazz great.  This quote from Charles Mingus that often pops up speaks not only to the ineffable power of jazz, but of the uniqueness of this App: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

The History of Jazz elects to present jazz’s development in the clearest and most linear way possible. While jazz enthusiasts might find something to scoff at (an overlooked movement, an unrecognized great, etc.), the App displays a comprehensive history that will appeal to individuals who wish to refresh themselves on popular jazz trends from 1935 to 1939 (it was Swing and Gypsy Jazz, by the way) or those who seek to gain their first understanding of Jazz.

After the App opens, you are presented with a timeline of small vertical bars. Each bar represents a five year time period (some are ten), and the bars begin in 1890 and end in 2010. When you select one of the bars, you are taken to the jazz history of that particular moment. Selecting 1960 to 1964 brings you to a page of Avant Garde Jazz. The App gives you a brief definition of the particular sub-genre (“Avant-garde jazz (also known as avant-jazz) is a style of music and improvisation that combines avant-garde art music and composition with jazz”). Next to it, a sample set of youtube videos are readily available for your consumption.

Anyone who has ever read a book on music has noticed that it’s difficult to fully appreciate the text unless you have the actual music to flesh out your experience. The History of Jazz places the music right are your fingertips. You won’t have to wonder about what Avant Garde Jazz will sound like—you can listen to it immediately.

After the youtube videos, you can read about several famous jazz musicians who are emblematic of that era (Albert Ayler and Don Cherry). By tapping on their image, you gain access to their biography, more youtube videos, and iTunes samples of some of their masterpieces. The History of Jazz uses Wikipedia as its source for information. Unfortunately, if you don’t have wi-fi access, you won’t have access to longer pieces written about movements and musicians (so is also the case with the videos).

However, this is a minor drawback for an App that delivers on its promise to present the history of jazz. It is an incredible experience to start in 1890 and leisurely scroll across the century to gain an idea of how this art form has progressed so dramatically. For those of us unfamiliar with jazz, The History of Jazz allows us to politely introduce ourselves to the music that has so dramatically shaped America and the world.

For only $9.99, Discover Jazz.