All That Jazz

Out of the groundbreaking genres of blues and ragtime came a madness to be reckoned with: Jazz.  ‘America’s Music’, Jazz emerged from New Orleans, Louisiana in the early 1900’s as an art form which spelled madness, but somehow made sense. By Jim Crow Law, Creole people living in New Orleans were suddenly ostracized thus, pushed towards their African American neighbors under the umbrella of being people of color. Through this mergence, the fusion of creole classical musicals training and the syncopation& soul of blues and ragtime accompanied by saxophones, trumpets, piano, drums, bass, clarinets, and countless other instruments, jazz was born.

Louis Armstrong is one of the most known trumpeters and artists, and composers associated with jazz music. Born in New Orleans in 1901, his contributions include his most popular “Star Dust,” “La Vie En Rose” and “What a Wonderful World.” Born in 1899, Duke Ellington is among the greats as well regarding his influence on jazz music.  His contributions include one of his most famous compositions, ‘Mood Indigo’.

Jazz relies on improvisation and individualism, as well as syncopation, much like ragtime, and consists of many different sub-genres. Bebop jazz, which gained popularity following World War II is characterized by faster tempos and improv based on harmonies instead of melodies. Miles Davis is attributed to have popularized cool jazz in the late 1940’s with the Birth of the Cool project, whose recordings were published in 1949 and 1950. Cool jazz is characterized by more relaxed tempos and a lighter feeling, as well as the emphasis on melodic style and softer sounds.

The controversial sub-genre of Free Jazz emerged in the early 1960s, as a style in which artists do not have a set harmonic structure to adhere to, and change keys as they go. Groundbreaking artists of free jazz include Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane, who had a considerable effect on the popularity of this style.

Jazz was born and evolved during a time period with outstanding racial tensions. This allowed it to spread through developments such as segregations, the great migration, and the civil rights movement. Jazz was commodified through music recorded by whites who were ‘appreciating’ the art from afar, as well as by the The Original Dixie Land Jazz Band, who recorded some of the first jazz records in 1917.

Jazz is unique because of its free flowing-ness, and its independence. I feel as though Jazz may have characteristics true to the genre itself, but it cannot be contained. The art of improvisation is most commonly associated with jazz, and anyone who hears it, can never forget its lack of confines.


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