All About that Jazz

Jazz is distinguished by the originality of its improvisation, syncopation, swing, blues feeling, and harmonic complexity. Societal forces that have shaped the history of jazz and its evolving cultural meaning in the 20th century, include urbanization, racism, the arrival of recording and broadcasting technology, and modernism, World Wars 1 and 2, and the Civil Rights Movement.  Some notable genres that contributed to the formation of jazz are ragtime and blues.

The city of New Orleans is where Jazz music was born. The presence of French, Spanish, Creole, and African American populations in New Orleans created a diverse mixture of cultural influences. By the early part of the 20th century, New Orleans jazz featured an improvisatory style, the blues feeling of uptown Black New Orleans, and new rhythmic interpretations. The sound of New Orleans jazz is associated with artists such as Joe “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong.

Chicago became a primary destination for New Orleans musicians. Chicago’s South Side clubs also became sites of racial boundary crossing in the 1920s because interested young Whites came to enjoy jazz music. However, racial boundary crossing in Chicago was not reciprocal, because Black musicians were not free to go to White clubs on the Northside. This conveys commodification and social implications during this time period. Jim Crow segregation had an enormous effect on the circumstances of interracial contact.

Notable jazz musicians include Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Don Redman. Okeh is a series of recordings known as the Hot Fives and Sevens. Louis Armstrong made these recordings and they are considered some of his most celebrated recordings. I have included a video below of these recordings.

Particular sounds that were produced through rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, and timbral vocabularies of the ensemble are crucial in defining jazz as a genre. Jazz sounds and styles include double time, shout chorus, big band jazz, call-response, riff, jungle sound, swing, bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal, and free jazz.

The jazz community was apart of the Civil Rights Movement through performing at benefit concerts, recording albums with political themes, attributing political meaning to particular jazz aesthetics, and engaging in highly charged dialogues about race and racism in the jazz industry. This exemplifies social implications of this time period.

Future implications of jazz sounds is characterized by traditionalist modernist, populism, global internationalism, and experimentalism. Jazz continues to find talented and innovative musicians who continue to reinvent and redefine jazz.

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