Live jazz abounds in Columbus - on the stage of the Southern Theatre, in upscale steakhouses and at clubs like Dick's Den and Park Street Tavern. But jazz can seem a little intimidating to those of us who don't know how to play in the pocket (that's what it's called when musicians have a really good groove going). William McDaniel, head of jazz studies at OSU, and Robert Breithaupt, Columbus Jazz Orchestra drummer, Capitol University professor and executive director of Jazz Arts Group, offered some insight into what makes jazz swing.

Live jazz abounds in Columbus - on the stage of the Southern Theatre, in upscale steakhouses and at clubs like Dick's Den and Park Street Tavern. But jazz can seem a little intimidating to those of us who don't know how to play in the pocket (that's what it's called when musicians have a really good groove going). William McDaniel, head of jazz studies at OSU, and Robert Breithaupt, Columbus Jazz Orchestra drummer, Capitol University professor and executive director of Jazz Arts Group, offered some insight into what makes jazz swing.

What is the definition of jazz these days?

McDaniel: It's a tradition of improvised music where soloists have the opportunity to perform in a very creative fashion. Jazz is this very fluid, organic music tradition that crystallized certainly by the late 1920s that has continued to evolve. It can be in various musical formats, from a solo piano to a duo to a piano trio, big band, vocal groups. In a sense the music lends itself to all sorts of ways in which you can twist it and turn it.

If you're seeing a big band, how much of that music is improvised?

Breithaupt: Generally when the instrumentalist stands up, they're improvising. That's a good guideline, except for the pianist and the drummer. Most of everything else has been orchestrated in some way.

And if you're listening to a quartet playing at a club or restaurant?

The majority is improvised.

So if you're playing with a group like that, what is a rehearsal like?

It begins with common language, and that can be common literature, common key signatures. If a group is playing at a club, and they're playing what we call "standard jazz tunes," that's common language. People will come up and ask, "How much do you guys rehearse?" And you say, "Well, I've never worked with these guys."

How many standards are in a professional jazz musician's arsenal?

A really skilled jazz musician would be able to just on the spot recreate a few hundred songs.

How can you tell the difference between a decent jazz group and an excellent one?

McDaniel: There's something about the rhythm that is not only attractive but captures you. The way they do the thing they do. It's musical, it has a certain amount of excitement. It's captivating. It gets inside of you. You can feel it. Some groups you hear, it's like some piped-in Muzak and it does nothing for you. There are groups that call your attention; they're saying something deep and something heavy, and the music grabs you. It's almost magnetic.

If someone wants to learn more about jazz, what resources would you recommend for them?

Breithaupt: I would say buy "Jazz for Dummies." It's really an effective book. They could ask people who like jazz to take them to a show.