1930s-40s History of Jazz

By Christine Bynum


During the 1930s and 1940s, towards the end of the great depression, jazz was born. Jazz was born in New Orleans, on the congo square, where slaves and free Blacks could freely practice music. Jazz began as a fusion of ragtime, and blues, with an upbeat and lively rhythm, that encouraged dance and most commonly incorporates instruments such as the banjo, piano, trumpet, saxophone, and clarinet. As time progressed, many other versions of jazz emerged, such as swing and bebop. Swing emerged from African-American communities as well; it encouraged to dance, as musicians would swing notes. Bebop, however, was not as danceable as it fused improvisation and fast nature. While it did not necessarily allow dancing, musicians could express and practice their musical talents freely. Nevertheless, traditional jazz or New Orleans jazz remained widespread, with musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Louis Armstrong, born and raised in New Orleans, is known as the father of jazz for his mastery of the trumpet. Armstrong’s improvised solos transitioned jazz from group-based music to a focus on solos and improvisation. He gained popularity across the country.

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Ella Fitzgerald is considered to be one of the most known jazz singers ever. Her voice was considered to be timeless and versatile. She had a high vocal range with her ability to sing sweet jazz and ballads. During her lifetime, she won over 13 Grammys and sold millions of common household records. 

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As the dust bowl began forcing families to migrate west, trad, swing, and bebop jazz began spreading to Chicago, Detroit, and Harlem. Additionally it remains a staple in many American communities. 

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