Origins and Characteristics
“Jazz is freedom,” according to Thelonious Monk, and for many individuals involved in the ever so fluid movement that was and is jazz, this statement rang and rings true. Through the influence of other genres, such as blues and ragtime, Jazz has been grown and cultivated into what it is today. Jazz was recognized as the peak of African American music in the twentieth century due to its innovation with musical inventiveness, complemented by astonishing composers and performers, and finally paired with sheer artistry. Widely acknowledged as ‘African American Classical Music’. Jazz features characteristics including syncopation, improvisation, harmonic complexity, and rhythmic feeling. Jazz received its humble, or not so humble, beginnings in New Orleans with a heavy chiming in of different ethnicities to provide cultural influences. The presence of French, Spanish, African American, Creole, Cuba, and Caribbean populations created a melting pot in New Orleans. This melting pot converged all into one central space: Congo Square. Congo Square became an open space where these integrated ethnic societies were free to express themselves in a mix of styles that would contribute to the creation of jazz. This complex genre took the nation by storm. A Jazz band had no typical sound, some provoked deep feeling and featured improvisation and smooth melodies, and some were flamboyant and over the top as well as improvisational.
There are certain elements of jazz that you simply won’t find in other genres in quite the same way, like Double Time, Shout Chorus, as well as different riffs. Double time is a section of music, doubled down for dramatic effect, Shout Chorus is a section of a song that serves as the climax; this element is usually found near the end of the song. A riff is a short recurrent melodic-rhythmic phrase. Common instruments found in the Jazz genre include, but are not limited to, the clarinet, cornet, trombone, saxophone, bass, and drums.
The Jazz genre has several subgenres; these subgenres include, but are not limited to, Bebop, Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, Free Jazz, Jazz Fusion, and of course Traditional Jazz. Bebop is a combo jazz that combined styles from big band swing in the 1940s, as well as elements such as fast tempos, harmonic structure, and improvisational lines. The 1950s brought in the era of Cool Jazz. Being most commonly associated with the west coast, this subgenre features a relaxed and lighter tone. Modal jazz is based on the repetition of one or two chords. The subgenre of Free jazz is was initiated in the late 1950s; this form took jazz in a new direction, leaving behind fixed harmonies and placing more emphasis on improvisation. Jazz Fusion is a style created in the 1970s that incorporated rhythms, harmonies and melodic motives that would soon influence the genres of funk and rock. An improvising soloist is the common trademark of traditional Jazz, as well as the development of jazz ensembles. Traditional jazz usually contains a short chorus with dramatized climatic effects occurring at the end of the piece.
Radio broadcasting was essential to establishing and preserving the status of jazz, especially bands. Jazz was at risk of being taken by the whites simply because Jazz was originally something that could be played or danced to by almost anyone, but as times changes and black people wanted to make a type of jazz that couldn’t be danced to. This gave birth to pieces like Salt Peanuts by Dizzy Gillespie. Many artists like Dizzy wanted to reclaim Jazz so they homed in on their skills and abilities to make it their own once more.
Jazz simply boils down to the Black artist’s journey towards complete musical autonomy. Artists fought to keep Jazz alive for the African American community and not let it be taken, redone, and claimed as their own work by whites. Jazz also served as a form of defiance to what the public felt like typical music should sound like. Free jazz was one of the subgenres that combatted musical stereotypes Reaching optimal eminence in the 60s, Free Jazz was symbolic in conveying the social discord many Blacks felt in relation to the current social order in the US during the period. This defiance was shown through the unified, energetic sound that free jazz brought to the table. Comparing Free Jazz with the subgenre of Traditional Jazz, where traditional sounds sought after acceptance from the white community, Traditional Jazz frequently featured safe and clean-cut rhythms. By the start of the 70s, the need to please the white crowd had virtually disappeared and the respectability politics ceased to hold artists back from full expression. This new freedom welcomed in an era of new and flamboyant sounds for jazz. Modal Jazz popularity increased during the Civil Rights Movement where Blacks didn’t have much economically, politically, or socially; Modal Jazz was reflective of the times through its simplistic elements.
Influence on Future Genres
Jazz and its subgenres opened the door and paved the way for a myriad of future genres, including Disco, Soul, Funk, Rock, as well as many others. Besides a sound influence, Jazz also carried a social influence. This particular genre was daring, and it dared to venture out into the unknown. It was brave enough to challenge the norm and had enough confidence to be intersectional and not be the music that all the people wanted to dance to. Jazz forced you to sit down and listen to it, and those who did stop and listen took notes and took elements ranging from band style to improvisation and spontaneity to bring new genres to the musical dinner table.
Jazz brought a fresh sound to the table and out of the genres of its time, it was the most socially conscious and aware of the political climate. Jazz dared to blow respectability politics to the wind and it became a locomotive for expression, and ultimately an expressway to freedom. This genre indeed can be deemed as a fundamental genre in analyzing the musical history of the African Americans, and it only exemplifies how the Black community has once again risen above the struggle and laid claim to something to not only make a statement, but to make the world a better place as well, one riff or improv section at a time.