We About to Jazz It Up: Improvisation and Commodification

Rising from what was already booming of the Blues and Ragtime, in the cosmopolitan streets of New Orleans, came Jazz. Emerging in the early 1900’s, Jazz found itself being born from the jerk of creoles being torn away from their elitist status, due to new Jim Crow laws, and being pushed away towards their other black counterparts; West Indian immigrants and former slaves, and European standards of virtuosity…at first.  With all of that fusion being created, Jazz was a mixture of the classical training of the creoles, syncopation of ragtime, the soul and rhythm of blues, all accompanied by instruments such as the saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, piano, drums and percussion, and of course, among countless others, there was my personal favorite, the bass.

Miles Davis can be considered one of the influential musicians in Jazz history. Davis left his studies at the highly esteemed music school, Julliard, to pursue his passions in the musical department of the club scenes in Harlem. In the span of a five decade career, Davis helped develop numerous amounts of stylistic changes in Jazz.

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Jazz, like many other music genres, contains numerous sub-genres that fall under its umbrella. Cool Jazz, in contrast to the complexities and fast arrangement of Bebop styled Jazz, relies much more on smooth tempos and relaxed tone. Deriving as an alternative to what the White audiences had been dancing to and eventually playing in their own bands, Cool Jazz was a means for “hip” Black performers to stay smooth and suave in their music, while also playing something of their own that hadn’t been stolen yet.

While Cool Jazz is one of many sub-genres, it is a very powerful one as it can be considered ironic. The same cool cats that created it were doing so as to stay hip, and kind of fly away from the popular crowd. They also were trying to find something new as they realized White musicians had stole their sound. To this day, White people who try to stay away from what’s popular, and find the newest things to have as trends, distinguish themselves as “hipsters”. The word deriving from one created to explain a very Black experience. Now we see many White musicians performing Jazz, as they should since it is a beautiful sound, however many claim it as their own, and only perform it as a means of profiting off of the demand from audiences, not for the love of the music.

What makes Jazz unique is its heavy reliability on improvisation, independence, and illumination. Jazz has a way of making even the darkest room feel bright, as there is real soul and passion within the music, when its played right.

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