The Story of Jazz

By Nichele Washington

Originating first in New Orleans, Jazz is a genre of music that encompasses what it means to be a Black individual in America. Being a sound that marks the beginnings of the Great Migration, Jazz music has a rich background populated by some of the world’s most talented musicians, singers, and composers. This post will explore some of the history of this genre as well as its biggest influencers.

Key Points

 – Jazz is different from classical music because it contains an “upbeat” sound and rhythm rather than a “downbeat.” 

 – This genre of music used to be considered “sin music” and was looked down on in it’s earlier days 

 – Jazz has deep West African roots and arrived first in New Orleans via slave trade from the Caribbean. Singing and dancing of the newly enslaved Caribbeans in the Congo Square helped to cultivate the culture and sound of Jazz. 

 – Because of the diversity of New Orleans, Jazz is a combination between many African and western cultures

 -In its onset, the Banjo was considered the most popular Jazz instrument. With the help of artists like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and King Oliver, this would later change and be true of the trumpet and the tenor saxophone.

 – Savoy club/ballroom became important to the production of Swing music but was very “white male” dominated and ruthless in its appropriation of Black sound. Only a few prominent Black bands were able to play swing music at the Savoy.


Key Figures

– Duke Ellington: Was a key Jazz pianist, band director, and composer. With Harlem, New York being the new epicenter for Black art and culture, Duke Ellington and his band often preformed in a prominent nightclub there. Not only was Ellington’s style of playing Jazz more classical, but it was also highly improvisational (both things that had not been formerly introduced to Jazz) His band (being both strong and loyal to one another) eventually became very popular  for their ability to convey a range of emotions through the composed music. Being heavily versatile, many individuals put Ellington’s music in its very own category. 

 – Sam Wooding: Is largely responsible for the internationality of Jazz as he took it with him and played in countries around the world like Germany, Barcelona, etc. This helped to establish Jazz as an international music that could be played at home and abroad. 

 – William Bassey: Leaving his home to play Jazz in Kansas City, William Bassey is also largely responsible for Kansas City transforming into yet another hub for music and Black culture. Bassey was famously known for playing the blues and manipulating the genre in a way that produced many diverse sounds such as the Swing Blues. (It is, in part, because of him that the sub-genre ‘Boogie Woogie’ originated in Kansas City.)

 – Mary Lou Williams: Produced by Kansas City as being a leading lady in modern Jazz

 – Charlie Parker: Yet another skilled jazz musician produced by Kansas City 

 – Benny Goodwin: “The King of Swing”

  – Coleman Hawkins: Largely responsible for integrating the tenor saxophone into jazz as a serious instrument

Key Figures

 – Scott Joplin: Well-known ragtime performer 

 – King Buddy Bolden: The first Jazz legend. He played for a  band in New Orleans which became very popular. He was  best known for his talent with the trumpet and for his  influence  on Louis Armstrong 

 – Joe “King” Oliver: Famously known for bringing Jazz to  Chicago. At the time, Chicago was a very popular spot for  African American migration from the South. This movement  is essentially what spread Jazz all over the city of Chicago.  King Oliver is also known for hiring one of the first female  Jazz piano players, Lil Hardin Armstrong.  

 – Louis Armstrong A.K.A Father of the Trumpet: Was able to  consolidate all the sounds and aspects of Jazz music into t  the trumpet. Because of this, he was also deemed the  “Father of the Organized Solo.” Armstrong was heavily  influenced by King Oliver and in 1925, left for New York to  play in an orchestra band. Louis Armstrong is best known  for his immeasurable influence towards the creation of  Jazz and other Jazz players.

 – Fletcher Anderson: Owner of the Band Louis Armstrong left  to play for in 1925

 – Harry B. Johnson: Amazing Jazz pianist. In fact, Johnson  was so skilled with the piano that he could play with only  his left hand and still manipulate the keys in such a way  that it appeared he was playing with two hands.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion, Jazz is a multifaceted genre that (though its origins are in New Orleans) has planted roots all throughout the United States and even in nations abroad. Jazz is a genre of music that conveys the most raw forms of human emotion and when harnessed through melodies, timbres, pitches, keys, and harmonies, it becomes a sound that speaks to our souls and validates our lifes’ experiences. 

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