A New Way to Discover Jazz

In the century since its birth, jazz has exploded from its African American roots to music scenes around the world, absorbing and incorporating cultural traditions as it goes. With its incredible variety of subgenres and branches, it covers a huge breadth of instruments, performers, and styles. That complexity gives Roon a tremendous amount of data, connections, and content to work with.

Finding your way with Roon

Jazz stands apart from other contemporary genres largely due to its emphasis on improvisation, which often blurs the line between “composer” and “performer.” While much of jazz relies on a songbook of standards for its foundation, no two performances of a tune are alike, making the canon of recorded jazz rich territory for exploration. Take a standard like Gershwin’s Summertime as an example… In Roon, you’ll find thousands of recordings by various performers from different periods and across genres, and then you can search within them. (Try using Filter to find versions by Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, or even Janis Joplin).

Roon makes it easy to find new recordings, to put your discoveries into context, and to make clear links between performers. Our goal is to create a fluid, sprawling journey through jazz that mirrors the music itself.


Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night, but differently each time.

Ornette Coleman

Seeing the whole picture

Another defining characteristic of jazz is that ensemble lineups (even among well-known groups) are fluid, and collaborations among musicians are the rule rather than the exception. Because Roon knows the personnel on most jazz recordings, you’ll be presented with music in a way that lets you easily uncover gems in your collection and beyond it.

For example, you might know Herbie Hancock from classic albums like Maiden Voyage or Head Hunters, his groundbreaking innovations like Rockit, or popular recent releases like his album covering Joni Mitchell, but Roon understands the full breadth of his work over the last 60 years, across more than 500 albums.

Explore his early performances on classic Miles Davis releases, his collaborations with luminaries like Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter, or his hundreds of appearances across legendary labels like Blue Note, Verve, and Columbia Jazz. When you explore a jazz legend in Roon, you’re not limited to their own albums or someone’s idea of a “greatest hits” playlist – you can find every performance, every appearance, and every composition using Focus.

From Kamasi to Coleman

Connections between jazz musicians form a web-like pattern, which makes for some exciting discoveries. Our recommendation technology, Valence, guides you with recommendations and suggestions whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned connoisseur. Browsing a performer, for example, you may be guided to recordings made during their career heyday, see their music performed by other musicians, or explore their influences and followers. All these cues are designed to send you even deeper into the genre.

Let’s use Kamasi Washington’s acclaimed Heaven and Earth (2018) as an example. In Roon, when you view the track list, you’ll see that the majority are original compositions, but the third track, Hub Tones, is by trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard. We can see that there are 17 other recordings of the composition, which takes us off into other artists, albums, performances, and even different places in time. Or you could scroll through Kamasi Washington’s page to see his influences, which include greats like Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter and Ornette Coleman. In a few simple steps we’re discovering jazz musicians and performances as if we had an expert by our side.

Ready to hear more?

We’ve curated some playlists if you’d like to kickstart your own journey through jazz. They’re made by our experts and informed by the listening habits of thousands of enthusiasts. See if you agree with our choices and let us know what stands out for you!

Qobuz: Roon Rhythm, London Jazz Explosion

TIDAL: Cuban Jazz, Icelandic Jazz, Fireside Jazz (festive/winter)

Daymé Arocena: Cuban Music Breakout. Part 1.

Image: Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Pablo Dewin

In celebration of International Jazz Day, we had the privilege of speaking to the Havana born and raised 28-year-old singer, choir conductor, and composer Daymé Arocena about her music journey. In our Cuban Jazz playlist on TIDAL, we feature Daymé’s Homenaje from her latest album, Sonocardiogram. Daymé chats with us from her home in Toronto, and takes us on a trip through Cuba’s rich music history.

[Editor]: What do you want our readers to know about contemporary Cuban music?

First, to understand music in Cuba, you have to understand Cuba. Before 1959, Cuban musicians were getting influence from everywhere. The music was developing and reinventing, and that’s why we have big ages of movement. The beginning of Cuban music, danzón and contradanza, was inspired by French music from Paris. It was really complicated to dance to. I don’t even know how to dance to it! Then we have bolero. Then cha-cha-cha, created by Enrique Jorrin.

Then we get the big movement filin, which is all of those beautiful songs which people call boleros. People like Louis Miguel brought a lot of those songs back in the 90s.

Then we get mambo, the first big meeting between the United States and Cuba. The big band arrived in Cuba, in a Cuban way, with congas and bongos. It was like swing and New Orleans style, but at the same time it had montuno. It was a huge movement.

There is also the vibe of the music of the Caribbean with more traditional songs from Santiago de Cuba to Havana, coming with the immigration of people to and from Cuba. In the 1990s, the movement of Timba was huge. Timba is not salsa. It’s really complicated to dance to. People didn’t want to travel because Cuba was the place to play Timba.

In 1959, there was the Cuban revolution with no more people coming in and going out. That’s why people around the world are stuck in the idea that Cuban music is that of before 1959. In the 90s, when Buena Vista Social Club was really big, nobody was listening to or playing that music in Cuba, so people felt disrespected. People were bringing this to the world as the Cuban music to listen to, whilst another 40 years of music was being ignored!

It was disappointing for that generation to confuse people around the world with music that is more than 100 years old. We have to respect that tradition, but it was unfair for the development of Cuban music.

After 1959, we had songo, a lot of rhythms and genres. We didn’t stop! What stopped was the industry. We didn’t have industry to publish our music overseas. Everything we were creating was stuck. People don’t know that there are people playing music like me in Cuba. They expect mambo or cha-cha-cha, but that is 70-years-old music.

Image: Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Pablo Dewin

Daymé speaks to us about her invitation to teach master classes at Berklee College of Music.

Berklee was an impossible dream to reach. As a Cuban I thought I’d never get there. I remember saying to someone “I wish I could study there” and they said “you could teach there”. Those students got the opportunity I didn’t have. I cannot believe that there are students who apply to Berklee singing my music. That’s huge!

Camila Cortina is one of the only students who got to study at Berklee from Cuba. She was my professor in Cuba, and she’s a student there now! Sometimes you don’t believe things that are happening to you, especially because in Cuba there is no opportunity. I wasn’t even allowed to perform in Cuba. 

In Cuba you need the permission of the government to perform, even if you’ve studied music at school. When you finish school you have to apply for permission to perform, and that obligation is a huge nightmare. I wanted to play my own music and have my own band. I applied three times and was denied. I remember the first global tour I did as Daymé Arocena, I was surprised that I didn’t need permission from other governments to perform. I didn’t know that that was just Cuba!

I started travelling the world, but I’d return to Cuba and not be allowed to perform. The government noticed that I was in The New York Times and The Guardian. The Minister of Culture said to me “they stole you from us!”. I said, “I was here! You denied me three times!”. I know people in the same situation. People who are so talented and not allowed to perform in Cuba.

There are a lot of statements to make as a Cuban artist. I need to speak for those who are still waiting for their chance. I believe if I have the good luck to do things, I don’t need to be selfish. Everything is pretty raw in Cuba, there is a lot of talent but people don’t get the opportunity or the information.

I try to speak about my community, my people. They are my biggest supporters. I don’t have many followers on Instagram, because they just got it, they don’t know how to use it! I have to speak for them. If they have a cell phone now, it doesn’t get the internet, it’s pretty old style.

Follow Daymé Arocena on Instagram, and listen to her music on TIDAL and Qobuz. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Women in Music

For International Women’s Day 2021 we created two playlists to celebrate some of the fantastic women in music. For our first playlist, Women Composers on TIDAL, we chose to celebrate women composers in classical music, highlighting a range of composers from 12th century Hildegard von Bingen to 19th century pioneer Louise Farrenc and contemporary composer Dobrinka Tabakova. 

Hildegard composed many liturgical songs along with academic writings, and is one of the first identifiable composers in western music. Here we feature her song O pastor animarum (O shepherd of our souls). 19th century pianist, composer, and teacher Louise Farrenc deserves a special mention as a pioneer of music scholarship and equal pay. Farrenc was the only woman to become a professor at the Paris Conservatory in the 19th century. Until 1870, women could not enroll in composition classes at the conservatory, and Farrenc was only allowed to teach piano, not composition. Despite this, Farrenc persevered with composition, producing a variety of orchestral, chamber, and piano works. Farrenc fought hard for equality, demanding equal pay to her male contemporaries. In her day, Farrenc was more famous for her piano playing than her composing, with her compositions becoming more well-known in the 21st century. Despite the barriers to women working in composition and creative arts, Farrenc received praise by Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann in her time. In this playlist we feature Farrenc’s lyrical Cello Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op.46 – II. Andante sostenuto

Another French composer to study at the Paris Conservatory was 20th century Lili Boulanger. Boulanger was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome in 1913 for musical composition at the age of 19. She came from a musical family, and her sister Nadia Boulanger was a composer and conductor best known for teaching leading 20th century composers including Quincy Jones, Aaron Copland, and Philip Glass. Lili Boulanger also sang and played piano, violin, cello and harp, and studied with family friend Gabriel Fauré. Her catalogue includes orchestral, chamber, vocal, and choral works. Boulanger’s compositions are noted for the use of harmonies and text setting. In this playlist we feature Nocturne performed by Janine Jansen. 

Another pioneer of women’s rights in music was Amy Beach, an American pianist and composer of the 19th and early 20th centuries who wrote the first symphony composed by an American woman. Beach was a symbol of women’s rights during the suffrage movement, fighting hard for a woman’s place in the musical world. Beach famously expressed that “music is the superlative expression of life experience, and woman by the very nature of her position is denied many of the experiences that colour the life of man.” Another important woman composer of the early 20th century was Croatian countess Dora Pejačević. Pejačević, another composer born into a musical family, was the daughter of singer and pianist Baroness Lilli Vay de Vaya. Pejačević studied in Zagreb, Dresden and Munich and produced a wide catalogue of piano pieces, orchestral works, chamber music and songs.

Other composers included are Pauline Viardot, Clara Schumann, Teresa Carreño, Rebecca Clarke, Florence Price, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Poldowski, Ethyl Smyth, Margaret Bonds, Ruth Gipps, and contemporary composers Anna Clyne, Thea Musgrave, Isobel Waller-Bridge, Dobrinka Tabakova and Meredith Monk.

Our second playlist, Inspiring Women on Qobuz, features a mixture of iconic and contemporary female artists. We feature iconic artists such as Madonna, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday, Carole King, Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell. Contemporary highlights include the unique sounds of Norwegian jazz bassist and singer Ellen Andrea Wang and London-based jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia. We feature Garcia’s Stand With Each Other from her pan-global album Source. Contemporary vocal highlights include Ane Brun, Joy Denalane, Kandace Springs, Kimberose, Lianna La Havas, Dominique Fils-Aimé, Celeste, and Jazzmeia Horn.

Sarah works on music editorial and research as part of Roon’s Music Team. Artists pictured from top to bottom: Jazzmeia Horn, Dominique Fils-Aimé.

The end of the walled garden

In January 2015, I wrote a deck to help me talk to the music and audio industries about Roon, which was still months or more from launching. Depending on how you looked at it, the presentation was either a cool product vision or (as Danny complained) it was “full of lies.”

The problem was a pair of slides that (I thought) handily summarized how Roon was going to work. The first stated that “Roon understands all your content,” meaning that it would find and identify music in various file formats on your hard drives, your iTunes library, and on your NAS, as well as importing your playlists and favorites from your streaming service. All of that was true enough (sort of). The second slide more boldly claimed that “Roon plays with all your hardware” which was – there’s no nice way to dress this up – just completely untrue at that point.

A fresh start with a new vision

After years of building closed hardware systems at Sooloos and Meridian, we learned that our place in the world is designing user experiences, not audio hardware. To reach all the enthusiasts and audiophiles out there, Roon had to work with absolutely everything.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. Roon 1.0 worked, to varying degrees, with USB, AirPlay, and Meridian devices. It was a good start, but hardly “all your hardware.” Over the next few releases, we added support for Squeezebox, Google Cast, Sonos, HDMI, and a handful of proprietary integrations like Devialet AIR, Linn, and KEF. The Roon Remote apps on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows also play audio, so the dream of playing music everywhere was ever closer to becoming reality.

As we expanded Roon’s support of audio devices, though, two issues emerged as show-stoppers: (a) there was uncertainty about whether a device would work with Roon, and (b) there was no simple, reliable way to play high-resolution audio over your network.

To solve the first issue, we created the Roon Tested program, which lets us collaborate with audio brands on testing and quality assurance. Manufacturers send us their products, and we confirm that Roon identifies them correctly and has their features and specifications in its database. It turns out that seeing your device pop up in Roon – fully identified and working as expected – goes a long way to building confidence.

The second issue was a bigger challenge. The broadly accepted standard for high-resolution streaming at the time was UPnP, which we actively chose not to support. While promising in principle, the UPnP standard (and its derivative, DLNA) makes sacrifices in user experience (specifically audio format support and rich metadata) that run contrary to our goals for Roon. Also, because there’s no certification mechanism for UPnP devices, implementations vary widely and the experience of using them is… variable.

Build it and they will come

As an alternative, we chose to develop a high-resolution streaming protocol (RAAT) that addressed the shortcomings of existing systems, and we built an SDK for hardware manufacturers to integrate into their devices. Armed with a data sheet and a dream, we set out to convince an industry that we had built something better.

That was December 2015. To our surprise and delight, it was only 30 days later that the world’s first Roon Ready device was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas – the Auralic Aries. Since then, over 80 brands have signed on to the program, making it the most widely-used high-resolution streaming protocol in the world.

Together, the Roon Ready and Roon Tested programs have changed the audio industry. By collaborating with manufacturers, we’ve created a new kind of experience, in which hardware from one company and software from another genuinely work together flawlessly. Roon subscribers can readily get support from a team that has access to the products they’re using, so both our subscribers and our partners are happy.

Which brings me back to my infamous deck. This week, five years since we launched Roon, we can finally say with a straight face that Roon plays with all your hardware.