The Role of Jazz Music

Jazz music is a music genre that developed in the late 19th and early 20th century in New Orleans, Louisiana. By the early 19th Century, the U.S. was home to half a million African slaves, who had origins in the greater Congo River basin and West Africa. With them, they brought their musical traditions to the US. In tune with the seasons, during the time of harvests, large gatherings and festivals were organized that hosted the dance and musical performances by these communities of slaves. New Orleans was the only place where slaves were allowed to own drums. Slaves and free blacks would dance in the open area which was known as Congo Square—today Louis Armstrong Park stands on the same ground.

The roots of Jazz music can be found in blues and ragtime. What differentiates Jazz from the rest of the music is its improvisation, spontaneity, polyrhythms, group interactions, and swing. One of the most intriguing aspects of jazz is that it brings out the individuality of the performing jazz musician, like no other genre does. Jazz can be seen as a reflection of the cultural diversity and individualism across the world. Throughout its history, jazz has straddled the worlds of popular music and art music, and it has expanded to a point where its styles are so varied that one may sound completely unrelated to another.


International Influence

For instance, in South Africa jazz emerged from harsh conditions, fusing a diverse array of influences to give voice to the oppressed population. Apartheid suppressed African culture which limited opportunities of cultural development. Jazz musician, Masekela heard township bands and the music of the migrant laborers who would gather to dance and sing in the shebeen on weekends. One of his uncles shared 78s of jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. By the mid-1950s, he had joined Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Revue in Johannesburg; within just a few years, Masekela was good enough to co-found a landmark South African band, The Jazz Epistles, which also featured another landmark South African artist, the pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim. They recorded the first modern jazz record in South Africa featuring an all-black band. Over time South African jazz took on a dual narrative, representing on the one hand the voices of jazz artists in exile and, on the other, it represented the revolutionary discourse within the country.


Women in Jazz

The shift in perception about gender roles during World War II meant greater freedom for women in the music industry. As the draft eroded memberships of men’s bands, all-woman bands enjoyed increased prestigious bookings in major ballrooms and theaters, and in new circuits of military entertainment.

At its core Jazz was used to express openness to all influences and personal expression through improvisation.

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