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Jazz, however, is often characterized as the product of egalitarian creativity, interaction and collaboration, placing equal value on the contributions of composer and performer, 'adroitly weigh[ing] the respective claims of the composer and the improviser'.

In New Orleans and Dixieland jazz, performers took turns playing the melody, while others improvised countermelodies.

Later, in bebop the focus shifted back towards small groups and minimal arrangements; the melody (known as the "head") would be stated briefly at the start and end of a piece but the core of the performance would be the series of improvisations.

While in European classical music elements of interpretation, ornamentation and accompaniment are sometimes left to the performer's discretion, the performer's primary goal is to play a composition as it was written.From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th century American popular music.From its beginnings in the early 20th century jazz has spawned a variety of subgenres: New Orleans Dixieland dating from the early 1910s, big band-style swing from the 1930s and 1940s, bebop from the mid-1940s, free jazz and a variety of Latin jazz fusions, such as Afro-Cuban, from the 1950s and 1960s, jazz fusion from the 1970s, acid jazz from the 1980s (which combines funk and hip-hop elements), and nu jazz in the 1990s.As the music has spread around the world it has drawn on local, national, and regional musical cultures, its aesthetics being adapted to its varied environments and giving rise to many distinctive styles.Jazz can be very difficult to define because it spans from Ragtime marches to the present day.

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