The Origins of Jazz

The art of jazz, distinguished by the originality of its improvisation, the virtuosity and erudition of its performers and composers, and its professionalism and artistry, is widely acknowledged as the pinnacle of African American music in the twentieth century. Despite some disputes, many jazz practitioners consider jazz to be “America’s classical music,” or “African American classical music.” Urbanization, racism, recording and broadcasting technology, modernism as an aesthetic concept, World Wars I and II, and the Civil Rights Movement have all shaped the history of jazz and changed its cultural meaning over time. Jazz is characterized by improvisation, syncopation, a rhythmic-propulsive quality known as swing, blues feeling, and harmonic complexity. In contrast to most other African American music genres, instrumental performances have been the most prestigious and influential. In addition to ragtime, blues, marches, American popular song, European classical music, and musical theater, several other genres contributed to the development of jazz. At the turn of the twentieth century, ragtime, musical theater, and jazz had significant overlaps, as evidenced by their close relationship.( Burnim, Mellonee V, et al. African American Music : An Introduction. Routledge, 2006.)

Differing Forms of early Jazz

As early as the first decade of the 20th century, observers recognized the character of New Orleans jazz as improvisation, the blues feeling of uptown Black New Orleans, and new rhythmic interpretations that had altered the basic march beat into the slow drag and up-tempo strut, two distinctive elements of New Orleans jazz.

Early jazz was defined by Armstrong’s well-known recordings that embodied the expansive improvisational style. Instead of relying just on the melody to guide his improvisation, Armstrong used underlying harmonies rather than melody alone.

Jazz musicians like Jelly Roll Morton used the ensemble creatively for his 1926 recordings for Victor Records

By incorporating jazz soloists such as Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins into a dance band, Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman developed a big band sound in New York in the 1920s that was larger than the typical New Orleans jazz ensemble. Henderson’s band featured three trumpets, a trombone, three reeds, and a rhythm section.

Jazz in the 1930s/1940s

Swing

Bebop

Cool Jazz

Hard Bop