Jazz; An “American” Art Form

As a dancer and long-time fan of jazz, its reputation as an American art form has always been a contentious relationship. Think about the people who created jazz, Black laborers, and musicians down in New Orleans being influenced by their environment. Congo Square was this melting pot of international voices and rhythms. Pioneering Jazz musicians were reacting to the state of the world around them and choosing joy. There’s also this element of African spirituality and traditions. Second-line bands celebrate a myriad of events, it could be death, marriage, harvest, or a yearly celebration such as Mardi Gras. Think about how 3rd line bands wear white when playing a funeral, similar to Igbo death ceremonies where white is worn. For Jazz musicians, there has always been more credit and visibility. However, for jazz dance and ensuing social dances, the credit is a lot harder to find. Even internationally, we have white jazz companies representing the US as the formal authority on Jazz, despite it being entrenched in Africanist traditions. These discussions around credit make me wonder who is seen as the originator or Jazz music and dance around the world.

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