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Because it spans music from Ragtime to the present day – over 100 years now – jazz can 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 jazz critic Joachim Berendt argues that all such attempts are unsatisfactory.

One way to get around the definitional problems is to define the term "jazz" more broadly. Berendt defines jazz as a "form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music"; he argues that jazz differs from European music in that jazz has a "special relationship to time, defined as 'swing'", "a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role"; and "sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician".

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