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History of Jazz Music

jazz musician playing trumpet

In the early twentieth century, Jazz was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Considering that New Orleans had several different nationalities traveling through their port for several reasons, there were a lot of musical influences that graced the land of New Orleans such as French military band music, Spanish folk music, European ballroom dance music, Ragtime, and Blues music and all of them had an impact on how Jazz music came to be.

This music genre was primarily invented by black musicians and it was not written down the same way as other music genres because its style and tunes were passed on from one to another by ear. One thrilling aspect about Jazz music is the improvisation of different instruments around the main melody. With that being said, let’s take a look at how Jazz music came to be and how it changed through the years.

History of Jazz Music

Jazz music was formed in the late 19th to the early 20th century and it started as interpretations of European and American classical music that was mixed with slave and African folk songs with some influence from the West African culture. The genre’s style and composition have changed throughout the years because each performer has their own improvisation and personal interpretation and it is also one of the greatest appeals of jazz music.

Jazz Music Through the Years

The 1920s – Known as the Jazz Age and during this period, the music genre was called Dixieland Jazz or New Orleans because it originated in New Orleans and later it spread to New York and Chicago. Jazz became popular during this time because it combined different musical elements such as brass band marching beats, ragtime, and blues. It was also played with different instruments like the clarinet, trombone, and the trumpet. The 1920s was also the decade when the famous musician and Jazz legend Louis Armstrong became famous and he had a significant influence on the sound of jazz. Armstrong was an amazing trumpet player and he was allowed to play solos during his performance. Since then, Jazz music has been based on solos instead of the whole band playing and improvising around each other.

The 1930s – This period in Jazz music is called the Era of Swing and this is the period when jazz bands became bigger for Swing it was so big that they often included 16 or more players. This set up allowed the soloist more freedom to improvise and it even made way for more than one soloist in a band. More soloist means each of them will take turns to improvise while the band plays some composed melodies. Swing is easier and smoother than traditional jazz because some particular phrases of music are just being re-used throughout the piece. What makes swing unique is its closely compact and smooth rhythms. One popular artist that emerged from this era was pianist and composer Duke Ellington. He was particularly known for showing the combination of composed and improvised parts in the swing.

The 1940s and 1950s – The ‘40s and ‘50s were known to be the era of Latin Jazz and Cool Jazz. Latin Jazz is a combination of African and Latin American rhythms. It used straight rhythms compared to the “swung” rhythms of swing jazz. Cool jazz, on the other hand, was in complete contrast because it featured a gentler and subtle vibe without the fiery intensity.

The 1960s – The ‘60s was the era of Hard Bop, Soul Jazz, and Free Jazz. Hard Bop was known as the extension of Be-bop, a type of jazz that originated in the 1940s, but Hard Bop often featured a slower tempo and it has more varied playing on the bass. A legendary jazz artist that gained popularity in the 1950s is Johnny Adams. To know more about him, check out our article, Musical Legend – Johnny Adams.

Soul Jazz is a jazz subgenre that developed from hard bop. Soul Jazz was strongly influenced by gospel music and blues. What makes soul jazz unique is that its improvisations were not so complex compared to other jazz styles. Soul jazz also used more repetitive melodies and grooves, unlike the hard bop.

Free Jazz or also known as avant-garde jazz because it ignores the rules and constraints on harmony and structure. Free jazz’s improvisation is somewhat wider compared to other styles of jazz. Some people do not like free jazz because compared to other styles of jazz, free jazz did not appear to make much sense.

The 1970s – The ‘70s was the era of jazz fusion. This subgenre was formed with the merging of jazz with other music genres such as rock music. In this subgenre, you can hear jazz solos played over rock rhythms. Musicians also use both jazz and rock instruments, more particularly the electric instruments of rock such as the piano and electric guitar.

The 1980s and 1990s – During these decades, Acid Jazz and Jazz Rap became popular. Acid Jazz was a subgenre that took Jazz fusion to another level. Acid Jazz was formed in the early 1980s and it combined parts of jazz music with other genres such as hip-hop, soul, and funk. This jazz subgenre mostly started in London. On the other hand, Jazz rap was a mix of alternative hip-hop music and jazz.

Most Influential Jazz Artist

Over the years, jazz has been changing drastically and we have these artists to thank because they continue on bringing on new sound and influence to the genre. These musicians were even described as the best performers of all time. That’s why we made a list of the best and most influential jazz artist of all time.

  • Max Roach

Roach was a renowned bebop pioneer and he is considered to be one of the greatest drummers in jazz history. He is one of the performers who were responsible for the modern style of jazz drumming. Aside from being a musician, he was also greatly involved in the Civil Rights movement. In fact, he even created an album with Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Brown Jr. entitled “We Insist – Freedom Now!”  that honors the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. As a jazz musician, Max Roach showed an amazing and unique style while he performed entire shows solo. He showed his audience that he can completely satisfy them and give them a fulfilling solo performance. I

  • Billie Holiday

Eleanora Fagan or more popularly known as Billie Holiday or Lady Day was a jazz artist that had a singing career for over thirty years. She is even considered as the most exceptional popular music singer of the 20th century. Her intonation and vocal style was inspired by the sound of the instruments she heard and she sang every song with a profound intensity. That’s why Lady Day was able to develop a new style by incorporating the manipulation of tempo and phrasing. Her most acclaimed song was “Strange Fruit”, it was called as one of the most important songs in history because of Lady Day’s powerful performance and the moving theme and topic of the song. She received several subsequent Grammy Hall of Fame awards and Grammy Best Historic Album awards for her performance.

  • John Coltrane

John Coltrane was a composer and saxophone expert and he made serious improvement into becoming one of the most important persons in jazz music. Coltrane was able to play solo and improvise with astounding power and created “sheets of sound.” John Coltrane played the soprano and tenor sax, he could either play with an unmatched intensity or a smooth melodic sound. His works helped re-define the jazz subgenre be-bop and he also introduced modal harmony and the “Coltrane Changes”. Aside from redefining be-bop, Coltrane was also a figurehead of avant-garde jazz, made over 50 albums as a bandleader, inducted in the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and a Grammy for the category “Best Jazz Solo Performance.”

  • Count Basie

Count Basie is a groundbreaking composer, bandleader, pianist, and organist. He led one of the most successful jazz bands in history the Count Basie Opera. The band included several popular musicians such as Sweets Edison, Joe Williams, Lester Young, and Buck Clayton who all maintained a reputation for being one of the most hard-hitting and swinging bands in America for over 50 years. Count Basie introduced the big band sound to several generations of listeners and he wrote more than a few standards such as “One O’Clock Jump” and “April in Paris” which have been covered by countless artists for years. Count Basie won nine Grammy awards and without his presence on the jazz scene, big band and popular music would be incredibly different and less influential than it is today.

  • Louis Armstrong

Undoubtedly Louis Armstrong is one of the most important persons in American history. Also known as Pops or Satchmo, Louis Armstrong was a powerful jazz singer and trumpet player who came from New Orleans. With his amazing abilities on the trumpet, he was able to put it as a solo instrument in jazz music and he is also known as one of the first scat singers and the one responsible for its popularity. Louis Armstrong’s talent in singing was able to influence several artists such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra while his trumpet playing skills inspired Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Interesting Facts About Jazz Music

  • Jazz started out as Pop.

While most people consider Jazz as a genre of the elite and well-established, Jazz’s roots are somewhat the opposite. As we mentioned earlier, Jazz is a combination of European chamber elements, ragtime, blues, and marching band music. It became the most popular music genre in the American music scene during the 1920s. Famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald is even credited for popularizing the term “The Jazz Age” in his novel “The Great Gatsby” which was released in 1925.

  • No one actually knows how the word “jazz” came about.

Since it is originally a slang word, the word Jazz was sometimes spelled as “jaz”, “jas”, “jass”, or “jasz”. One of the most popular theories of how the word jazz came to be is that it was first used as a baseball term that means verve, vim, and fighting spirit. Another theory suggests that the word was derived from the African slang “jism” or “jazzing” which meant having sexual intercourse.

  • Jazz music helps you boost your creativity, relieve stress, increase your productivity and immunity.

Research shows that listening to jazz music helps activates theta brain waves for about 4-8 Hertz. Theta brain waves are the most highly creative brain wave that helps you inspire new heights and give you solutions to unresolved problems. Jazz music also helps you reduce anxiety and listening to it for thirty minutes helps to improve your immunoglobin A levels which helpfight bacterial and viral infections.

  • The piano trio is the most common configuration in jazz.

The piano trio is said to represent the essence of jazz in the most edited but effective way. A piano trio can take full advantage of interaction, dynamics, and swing.

Famous Jazz Quotes

  • “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.” – Louis Armstrong
  • “The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago.” – Louis Armstrong
  • “Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime.” – David Ackert
  • “The essentials of Jazz are: melodic improvisation, melodic invention, swing & instrumental personality.” – Mose Allison
  • “Jazz does not belong to one race or culture. It’s a gift that America gave the world.” – Ahmad Alaadeen
  • Never play anything the same way twice.” – Louis Armstrong
  • “Man, if you have to ask what it [jazz] is, you’ll never know.” – Louis Armstrong

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