Jean Dubuffet. Grand Jazz Band (New Orleans), 1944. Image and original data provided by the The Museum of Modern Art. © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Happy Jazz Appreciation Month! While the attributes of jazz are difficult to describe without getting technical, the key element that ties together its many sub-genres, from swing to bebop to avant-garde, is improvisation—or as Louis Armstrong put it, “Jazz is music that’s never played the same way once.”

Adolphe Sax. Alto saxophone, about 1844-46. Image and data from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Magnum Photos collection in the Artstor Digital Library offers iconic photos of the jazz greats, including Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, and hundreds more. Search for Dennis Stock Jazz to see 50 classic black and white photos, many of which were featured in his landmark book Jazz Street (Doubleday, 1960), and for Guy Le Querrec Jazz for hundreds of photos from 1962 to the present from the French photographer and author of such books as Jazz de J à ZZ (Marval, 1996) and Jazz, Light and Day (Motta, 2001).

A simple search for the term jazz will lead you to Roy Lichtenstein’s poster for the 1967 Aspen Winter Jazz Festival (from Roy Lichtenstein), Wolf Zimmerman’s posters for the German Amateur Jazz Festival in Düsseldorf (from The Museum of Modern Art, Architecture and Design Collection), and Jean Dubuffet’s 1944 painting above (from The Museum of Modern Art: Painting and Sculpture). And don’t forget to search for musical instruments such as saxophone or clarinet to find images from the collections in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

For more music-related resources, check out our Music History Featured Group, and read “Music Iconography and Artstor,” Lois Kuyper-Rushing’s 2010 Travel Awards-winning essay.

Jazz Appreciation Month (or JAM) was introduced in 2001 by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which sponsors a number of programs to promote the style, including concerts, lectures, and exhibitions. Find out what’s in store this month at Smithsonian Jazz.

Any jazz fanatics among our readers? Do you listen to new jazz? Old jazz? Who is your favorite musician/singer?