THE HISTORY OF JAZZ
Jazz is a music genre that originated in African American communities of New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African American and European American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Although the foundation of jazz is deeply rooted within the black experience of the United States, different cultures have contributed their own experience and styles to the art form as well. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as “one of America’s original art forms”.
As jazz spread around the world, it drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles. New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass-band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style and Gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music toward a more challenging “musician’s music” which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation. Cool jazz developed in the end of the 1940s, introducing calmer, smoother sounds and long, linear melodic lines.
The 1950s saw the emergence of free jazz, which explored playing without regular meter, beat and formal structures, and in the mid-1950s, hard bop emerged, which introduced influences from rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues, especially in the saxophone and piano playing. Modal jazz developed in the late 1950s, using the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of musical structure and improvisation. Jazz-rock fusion appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, combining jazz improvisation with rock music’s rhythms, electric instruments, and highly amplified stage sound. In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called smooth jazz became successful, garnering significant radio airplay. Other styles and genres abound in the 2000s, such as Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz.
ETYMOLOGY & DEFINITION
The question of the origin of the word jazz has resulted in considerable research, and its history is well documented. It is believed to be related to jasm, a slang term dating back to 1860 meaning “pep, energy.” The earliest written record of the word is in a 1912 article in the Los Angeles Times in which a minor league baseball pitcher described a pitch which he called a jazz ball “because it wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it.”
The use of the word in a musical context was documented as early as 1915 in the Chicago Daily Tribune. Its first documented use in a musical context in New Orleans was in a November 14, 1916 Times-Picayune article about “jas bands.” In an interview with NPR, musician Eubie Blake offered his recollections of the original slang connotations of the term, saying: “When Broadway picked it up, they called it ‘J-A-Z-Z.’ It wasn’t called that. It was spelled ‘J-A-S-S.’ That was dirty, and if you knew what it was, you wouldn’t say it in front of ladies.” The American Dialect Society named it the Word of the Twentieth Century.
Jazz has proved to be very difficult to define, since it encompasses a wide range of music spanning a period of over 100 years, from ragtime to the 2010-era rock-infused fusion. Attempts have been made to define jazz from the perspective of other musical traditions, such as European music history or African music. But critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that its terms of reference and its definition should be broader, defining jazz as a “form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of the Negro with European music” and arguing that it differs from European music in that jazz has a “special relationship to time defined as ‘swing'”, involves “a spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role” and contains a “sonority and manner of phrasing which mirror the individuality of the performing jazz musician”. In the opinion of Robert Christgau, “most of us would say that inventing meaning while letting loose is the essence and promise of jazz.”
A broader definition that encompasses all of the radically different eras of jazz has been proposed by Travis Jackson: “it is music that includes qualities such as swing, improvising, group interaction, developing an ‘individual voice’, and being open to different musical possibilities”.Krin Gibbard has provided an overview of the discussion on definitions, arguing that “jazz is a construct” that, while artificial, still is useful to designate “a number of musics with enough in common to be understood as part of a coherent tradition”. In contrast to the efforts of commentators and enthusiasts of certain types of jazz, who have argued for narrower definitions that exclude other types, the musicians themselves are often reluctant to define the music they play. As Duke Ellington, one of jazz’s most famous figures, said: “It’s all music”.
ELEMENTS & ISSUES
Although jazz is considered highly difficult to define, at least in part because it contains so many varied subgenres, improvisation is consistently regarded as being one of its key elements. The centrality of improvisation in jazz is attributed to influential earlier forms of music: the early blues, a form of folk music which arose in part from the work songs and field hollers of the African-American slaves on plantations. These were commonly structured around a repetitive call-and-response pattern, but early blues was also highly improvisational. European classical music performance is evaluated by its fidelity to the musical score, with much less discretion over interpretation, ornamentation, and accompaniment: the classical performer’s primary goal is to play a composition as it was written. In contrast, jazz is often characterized as the product of group creativity, interaction, and collaboration, which places varying degrees of value on the contributions of the composer (if there is one) and performers. In jazz, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition the same way twice; depending on the performer’s mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will.
The approach to improvisation has developed enormously over the history of the music. In early New Orleans and Dixieland jazz, performers took turns playing the melody, while others improvised countermelodies. By the swing era, big bands were coming to rely more on arranged music: arrangements were either written or learned by ear and memorized, while individual soloists would improvise within these arrangements. Later, in bebop, the focus shifted back toward small groups and minimal arrangements; the melody would be stated briefly at the start and end of a piece, but the core of the performance would be the series of improvisations. Subsequent styles such as modal jazz abandoned the strict notion of a chord progression, allowing the individual musicians to improvise even more freely within the context of a given scale or mode. In many forms of jazz, a soloist is often supported by a rhythm section consisting of one or more chordal instruments (piano, guitar, etc.), double bass playing the basslines and drum kit. These performers provide accompaniment by playing chords and rhythms that outline the song structure and complement the soloist. In avant-garde and free jazz idioms, the separation of soloist and band is reduced, and there is license, or even a requirement, for the abandoning of chords, scales and rhythmic meters.
TRADITION AND RACE
Since at least the emergence of bebop, forms of jazz that are commercially oriented or influenced by popular music have been criticized by purists. According to Bruce Johnson, there has always been a “tension between jazz as a commercial music and an art form”. Traditional jazz enthusiasts have dismissed bebop, free jazz, the 1970s jazz fusion era and much else as periods of debasement of the music and betrayals of the tradition. An alternative viewpoint is that jazz is able to absorb and transform influences from diverse musical styles, and that, by avoiding the creation of ‘norms’, other newer, avant-garde forms of jazz will be free to emerge.
To some African Americans, jazz has highlighted their contribution to American society and helped bring attention to black history and culture, but for others, the music and term “jazz” are reminders of “an oppressive and racist society and restrictions on their artistic visions”. Amiri Baraka argues that there is a distinct “white jazz” music genre expressive of whiteness. White jazz musicians appeared in the early 1920s in the Midwestern United States, as well as other areas. Bix Beiderbecke was one of the most prominent white jazz musicians. An influential style referred to as the Chicago School (or Chicago Style) was developed by white musicians including Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland. Frank Teschemacher, Dave Tough, and Eddie Condon. Others from Chicago such as Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa became leading members of big-band swing during the 1930s. Some jazz bands were notable for their inclusion of both black and white musicians, and this refusal by some influential jazz musicians and promoters to countenance segregation contributed towards changing attitudes in the United States.
ROLES OF WOMAN
Women jazz performers and composers have contributed throughout jazz history. While women such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Ethel Waters, Betty Carter, Adelaide Hall, Abbey Lincoln, and Anita O’Day are famous for their jazz singing, women have achieved much less recognition for their contributions as composers, bandleaders, and instrumental performers. Other notable jazz women include piano player Lil Hardin Armstrong and jazz songwriters Irene Higginbotham (1918–1988) and Dorothy Fields (1905–1974). Women began playing instruments in jazz in the early 1920s, with the piano being one of the earliest instruments used which allowed female artists a degree of social acceptance. Some well-known artists of the time were Sweet Emma Barrett, Mary Lou Williams, Billie Pierce, Jeanette Kimball, and Lovie Austin.
When the men were drafted for WWII, many all-women big band jazz bands took over. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm (founded 1937) was a well-known jazz group of this era, becoming the first all-women integrated band in the U.S., touring Europe in 1945 and becoming the first black women to travel with the USO. The dress codes of the era required women to wear strapless dresses and high-heeled shoes, which was somewhat of a hindrance to the integration of women into the big bands of suit-wearing men. Nevertheless, women were hired into many of the big-league big bands such as Woody Herman and Gerald Wilson.
Jazz originated in the late 19th to early 20th century as interpretations of American and European classical music entwined with African and slave folk songs and the influences of West African culture. Its composition and style have changed many times throughout the years with each performer’s personal interpretation and improvisation, which is also one of the greatest appeals of the genre.
Blended African and European music sensibilities
By 1866, the Atlantic slave trade had brought nearly 400,000 Africans to North America. The slaves came largely from West Africa and the greater Congo River basin and brought strong musical traditions with them.The African traditions primarily use a single-line melody and call-and-response pattern, and the rhythms have a counter-metric structure and reflect African speech patterns.
Usually such music was associated with annual festivals, when the year’s crop was harvested and several days were set aside for celebration. As late as 1861, a traveler in North Carolina saw dancers dressed in costumes that included horned headdresses and cow tails and heard music provided by a sheepskin-covered “gumbo box”, apparently a frame drum; triangles and jawbones furnished the auxiliary percussion. There are quite a few [accounts] from the southeastern states and Louisiana dating from the period 1820–1850. Some of the earliest [Mississippi] Delta settlers came from the vicinity of New Orleans, where drumming was never actively discouraged for very long and homemade drums were used to accompany public dancing until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Another influence came from the harmonic style of hymns of the church, which black slaves had learned and incorporated into their own music as spirituals. The origins of the blues are undocumented, though they can be seen as the secular counterpart of the spirituals. However, as Gerhard Kubik points out, whereas the spirituals are homophonic, rural blues and early jazz “was largely based on concepts of heterophony.”
During the early 19th century an increasing number of black musicians learned to play European instruments, particularly the violin, which they used to parody European dance music in their own cakewalk dances. In turn, European-American minstrel show performers in blackface popularized the music internationally, combining syncopation with European harmonic accompaniment. In the mid-1800s the white New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk adapted slave rhythms and melodies from Cuba and other Caribbean islands into piano salon music. New Orleans was the main nexus between the Afro-Caribbean and African-American cultures.
African Rhythmic Retention
The “Black Codes” outlawed drumming by slaves, which meant that African drumming traditions were not preserved in North America, unlike in Cuba, Haiti, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. African-based rhythmic patterns were retained in the United States in large part through “body rhythms” such as stomping, clapping, and patting juba dancing.
In the opinion of jazz historian Ernest Borneman, what preceded New Orleans jazz before 1890 was “Afro-Latin music”, similar to what was played in the Caribbean at the time. A three-stroke pattern known in Cuban music as tresillo is a fundamental rhythmic figure heard in many different slave musics of the Caribbean, as well as the Afro-Caribbean folk dances performed in New Orleans Congo Square and Gottschalk’s compositions (for example “Souvenirs From Havana” (1859)). Tresillo is the most basic and most prevalent duple-pulse rhythmic cell in sub-Saharan African music traditions and the music of the African Diaspora.
Tresillo is heard prominently in New Orleans second line music and in other forms of popular music from that city from the turn of the 20th century to present. “By and large the simpler African rhythmic patterns survived in jazz … because they could be adapted more readily to European rhythmic conceptions,” jazz historian Gunther Schuller observed. “Some survived, others were discarded as the Europeanization progressed.”
In the post-Civil War period (after 1865), African Americans were able to obtain surplus military bass drums, snare drums and fifes, and an original African-American drum and fife music emerged, featuring tresillo and related syncopated rhythmic figures. This was a drumming tradition that was distinct from its Caribbean counterparts, expressing a uniquely African-American sensibility. “The snare and bass drummers played syncopated cross-rhythms,” observed the writer Robert Palmer (writer), speculating that “this tradition must have dated back to the latter half of the nineteenth century, and it could have not have developed in the first place if there hadn’t been a reservoir of polyrhythmic sophistication in the culture it nurtured.”
"Spanish tinge" — The Afro-Cuban rhythmic influence
African-American music began incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythmic motifs in the 19th century when the habanera (Cuban contradanza) gained international popularity. Musicians from Havana and New Orleans would take the twice-daily ferry between both cities to perform, and the habanera quickly took root in the musically fertile Crescent City. John Storm Roberts states that the musical genre habanera “reached the U.S. twenty years before the first rag was published.” For the more than quarter-century in which the cakewalk, ragtime, and proto-jazz were forming and developing, the habanera was a consistent part of African-American popular music.
Habaneras were widely available as sheet music and were the first written music which was rhythmically based on an African motif (1803). From the perspective of African-American music, the habanera rhythm (also known as congo, tango-congo, or tango.) can be thought of as a combination of tresillo and the backbeat. The habanera was the first of many Cuban music genres which enjoyed periods of popularity in the United States and reinforced and inspired the use of tresillo-based rhythms in African-American music.
New Orleans native Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s piano piece “Ojos Criollos (Danse Cubaine)” (1860) was influenced by the composer’s studies in Cuba: the habanera rhythm is clearly heard in the left hand. In Gottschalk’s symphonic work “A Night in the Tropics” (1859), the tresillo variant cinquillo appears extensively. The figure was later used by Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers.
Comparing the music of New Orleans with the music of Cuba, Wynton Marsalis observes that tresillo is the New Orleans “clave”, a Spanish word meaning ‘code’ or ‘key’, as in the key to a puzzle, or mystery. Although technically the pattern is only half a clave, Marsalis makes the point that the single-celled figure is the guide-pattern of New Orleans music. Jelly Roll Morton called the rhythmic figure the Spanish tinge and considered it an essential ingredient of jazz.
1890's - 1910s
The abolition of slavery in 1865 led to new opportunities for the education of freed African Americans. Although strict segregation limited employment opportunities for most blacks, many were able to find work in entertainment. Black musicians were able to provide entertainment in dances, minstrel shows, and in vaudeville, during which time many marching bands were formed. Black pianists played in bars, clubs, and brothels, as ragtime developed.
Ragtime appeared as sheet music, popularized by African-American musicians such as the entertainer Ernest Hogan, whose hit songs appeared in 1895. Two years later, Vess Ossman recorded a medley of these songs as a banjo solo known as “Rag Time Medley”. Also in 1897, the white composer William H. Krell published his “Mississippi Rag” as the first written piano instrumental ragtime piece, and Tom Turpin published his “Harlem Rag”, the first rag published by an African-American.
The classically trained pianist Scott Joplin produced his “Original Rags” in 1898 and, in 1899, had an international hit with “Maple Leaf Rag”, a multi-strain ragtime march with four parts that feature recurring themes and a bass line with copious seventh chords. Its structure was the basis for many other rags, and the syncopations in the right hand, especially in the transition between the first and second strain, were novel at the time.
African-based rhythmic patterns such as tresillo and its variants, the habanera rhythm and cinquillo, are heard in the ragtime compositions of Joplin, Turpin, and others. Joplin’s “Solace” (1909) is generally considered to be within the habanera genre: both of the pianist’s hands play in a syncopated fashion, completely abandoning any sense of a march rhythm. Ned Sublette postulates that the tresillo/habanera rhythm “found its way into ragtime and the cakewalk,” whilst Roberts suggests that “the habanera influence may have been part of what freed black music from ragtime’s European bass.”
Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre, which originated in African-American communities of primarily the “Deep South” of the United States at the end of the 19th century from their spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants and rhymed simple narrative ballads.
The African use of pentatonic scales contributed to the development of blue notes in blues and jazz. As Kubik explains:
Many of the rural blues of the Deep South are stylistically an extension and merger of basically two broad accompanied song-style traditions in the west central Sudanic belt:
- A strongly Arabic/Islamic song style, as found for example among the Hausa. It is characterized by melisma, wavy intonation, pitch instabilities within a pentatonic framework, and a declamatory voice.
- An ancient west central Sudanic stratum of pentatonic song composition, often associated with simple work rhythms in a regular meter, but with notable off-beat accents (1999: 94).
W.C. Handy: Early Published Blues
W. C. Handy became intrigued by the folk blues of the Deep South whilst traveling through the Mississippi Delta. In this folk blues form, the singer would improvise freely within a limited melodic range, sounding like a field holler, and the guitar accompaniment was slapped rather than strummed, like a small drum which responded in syncopated accents, functioning as another “voice”. Handy and his band members were formally trained African-American musicians who had not grown up with the blues, yet he was able to adapt the blues to a larger band instrument format and arrange them in a popular music form.
Handy wrote about his adopting of the blues:
The primitive southern Negro, as he sang, was sure to bear down on the third and seventh tone of the scale, slurring between major and minor. Whether in the cotton field of the Delta or on the Levee up St. Louis way, it was always the same. Till then, however, I had never heard this slur used by a more sophisticated Negro, or by any white man. I tried to convey this effect … by introducing flat thirds and sevenths (now called blue notes) into my song, although its prevailing key was major …, and I carried this device into my melody as well.
The publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music in 1912 introduced the 12-bar blues to the world (although Gunther Schuller argues that it is not really a blues, but “more like a cakewalk”. This composition, as well as his later “St. Louis Blues” and others, included the habanera rhythm, and would become jazz standards. Handy’s music career began in the pre-jazz era and contributed to the codification of jazz through the publication of some of the first jazz sheet music.
Within the context of Western Harmony
The blues form which is ubiquitous in jazz is characterized by specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues progression is the most common. Basic blues progressionions are based on the I, IV and V chords (often called the “one”, “four” and “five” chords). An important part of the sound are the microtonal blue notes which, for expressive purposes, are sung or played flattened (thus “between” the notes on a piano), or gradually “bent” (minor third to major third) in relation to the pitch of the major scale. The blue notes opened up an entirely new approach to Western harmony, ultimately leading to a high level of harmonic complexity in jazz.
The music of New Orleans had a profound effect on the creation of early jazz. Many early jazz performers played in venues throughout the city, such as the brothels and bars of the red-light district around Basin Street, known as “Storyville”. In addition to dance bands, there were numerous marching bands who played at lavish funerals (later called jazz funerals), which were arranged by the African-American and European-American communities. The instruments used in marching bands and dance bands became the basic instruments of jazz: brass, reeds tuned in the European 12-tone scale, and drums. Small bands which mixed self-taught and well-educated African-American musicians, many of whom came from the funeral procession tradition of New Orleans, played a seminal role in the development and dissemination of early jazz. These bands travelled throughout Black communities in the Deep South and, from around 1914 onwards, Afro-Creole and African-American musicians played in vaudeville shows which took jazz to western and northern US cities.
In New Orleans, a white marching band leader named Papa Jack Laine integrated blacks and whites in his marching band. Laine was known as “the father of white jazz” because of the many top players who passed through his bands (including George Brunies, Sharkey Bonano and the future members of the Original Dixieland Jass Band). Laine was a good talent scout. During the early 1900s, jazz was mostly done in the African-American and mulatto communities, due to segregation laws. The red light district of Storyville, New Orleans was crucial in bringing jazz music to a wider audience via tourists who came to the port city. Many jazz musicians from the African-American communities were hired to perform live music in brothels and bars, including many early jazz pioneers such as Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton, in addition to those from New Orleans other communities such as Lorenzo Tio and Alcide Nunez. Louis Armstrong also got his start in Storyville and would later find success in Chicago (along with others from New Orleans) after the United States government shut down Storyville in 1917.
The cornetist Buddy Bolden led a band who are often mentioned as one of the prime originators of the style later to be called “jazz”. He played in New Orleans around 1895–1906, before developing a mental illness; there are no recordings of him playing. Bolden’s band is credited with creating the big four, the first syncopated bass drum pattern to deviate from the standard on-the-beat march. As the example below shows, the second half of the big four pattern is the habanera rhythm.
Afro-Creole pianist Jelly Roll Morton began his career in Storyville. From 1904, he toured with vaudeville shows around southern cities, also playing in Chicago and New York. In 1905, he composed his “Jelly Roll Blues”, which on its publication in 1915 became the first jazz arrangement in print, introducing more musicians to the New Orleans style.
Morton considered the tresillo/habanera (which he called the Spanish tinge) to be an essential ingredient of jazz. In his own words:Now in one of my earliest tunes, “New Orleans Blues,” you can notice the Spanish tinge. In fact, if you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz.
Morton was a crucial innovator in the evolution from the early jazz form known as ragtime to jazz piano, and could perform pieces in either style; in 1938, Morton made a series of recordings for the Library of Congress, in which he demonstrated the difference between the two styles. Morton’s solos, however, were still close to ragtime, and were not merely improvisations over chord changes as in later jazz, but his use of the blues was of equal importance.
Swing in the early 20th Century
Morton loosened ragtime’s rigid rhythmic feeling, decreasing its embellishments and employing a swing feeling. Swing is the most important and enduring African-based rhythmic technique used in jazz. An oft quoted definition of swing by Louis Armstrong is: “if you don’t feel it, you’ll never know it.” The New Harvard Dictionary of Music states that swing is: “An intangible rhythmic momentum in jazz … Swing defies analysis; claims to its presence may inspire arguments.” The dictionary does nonetheless provide the useful description of triple subdivisions of the beat contrasted with duple subdivisions: swing superimposes six subdivisions of the beat over a basic pulse structure or four subdivisions. This aspect of swing is far more prevalent in African-American music than in Afro-Caribbean music. One aspect of swing, which is heard in more rhythmically complex Diaspora musics, places strokes in-between the triple and duple-pulse “grids”.
New Orleans brass bands are a lasting influence, contributing horn players to the world of professional jazz with the distinct sound of the city whilst helping black children escape poverty. The leader of New Orleans’ Camelia Brass Band, D’Jalma Ganier, taught Louis Armstrong to play trumpet; Armstrong would then popularize the New Orleans style of trumpet playing, and then expand it. Like Jelly Roll Morton, Armstrong is also credited with the abandonment of ragtime’s stiffness in favor of swung notes. Armstrong, perhaps more than any other musician, codified the rhythmic technique of swing in jazz and broadened the jazz solo vocabulary.
The Original Dixieland Jass Band made the music’s first recordings early in 1917, and their “Livery Stable Blues” became the earliest released jazz record. That year, numerous other bands made recordings featuring “jazz” in the title or band name, but most were ragtime or novelty records rather than jazz. In February 1918 during World War I, James Reese Europe’s “Hellfighters” infantry band took ragtime to Europe, then on their return recorded Dixieland standards including “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”.
In the northeastern United States, a “hot” style of playing ragtime had developed, notably James Reese Europe’s symphonic Clef Club orchestra in New York, which played a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall in 1912. The Baltimore rag style of Eubie Blake influenced James P. Johnson’s development of stride piano playing, in which the right hand plays the melody, while the left hand provides the rhythm and bassline.
In Ohio and elsewhere in the midwest the major influence was ragtime, until about 1919. Around 1912, when the four-string banjo and saxophone came in, musicians began to improvise the melody line, but the harmony and rhythm remained unchanged. A contemporary account states that blues could only be heard in jazz in the gut-bucket cabarets, which were generally looked down upon by the Black middle-class.