Black History Month: The History of Jazz
Let's start with the basics: Did you know that jazz was born in the US? Did you know that the drum set was invented by jazz musicians? Did you know that words like "cool" and "hip" came from jazz?
It's more than just music to listen to in cafes and bars - it has an incredible story behind it. Here's a brief run-down, with the help of Scholastic's history of jazz curriculum!
The Blues was born in the South and was meant to express the pain and injustice faced by African Americans during this time. Inspired heavily by hymns and traditional work songs (thus the common use of call and response) this music used to accompany spiritual and social events. Blues set the foundation of jazz not to mention the inspiration for rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, and country music (think of Elvis Presley!)
New Orleans is a melting pot of sounds. The French trumpet mixed with the Blues, traditional African drumming, ragtime, and military marching bands all came together in cacophony that brought on the birth of classic jazz music. Improvisation and accompanied dancing was common and the music filled the streets!
Louis Armstrong is born
Louis Armstrong was one of a kind. His understanding of rhythm and his ability to improve made jazz what it is today. He is actually one of the most influential artists in the history of music. Born in New Orleans, on August 4, 1901, he began playing the cornet at the age of 13. He changed the way that jazz artists approached solos forever, and moved away from a more traditional Dixieland style. He played faster and louder than anyone had before.
Swing was born from the basic foundation of jazz. Swing as a jazz style actually first appeared during the Great Depression. The fast dance tunes were meant to lift the spirits of the American public, and it did! By the mid-1930s, a period known as the "swing" era, swing dancing had become our national dance and big bands were playing this style of music. Orchestra leaders such as Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, and Benny Goodman led some of the greatest bands of the era.
A pianist, composer, and bandleader, Ellington was one of the founders of the big band sound. "Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is his band. Each member of his band is to him a distinctive tone color and set of emotions, which he mixes with others equally distinctive to produce a third thing, which I like to call the 'Ellington Effect.'" —Billy Strayhorn, composer and arranger
n the early 1940s, jazz musicians were looking for new inspirations, and a new direction. Out of this desire for something new, style of jazz was born, called bebop. It's fast tempos and complex melodies created a "jazz for intellectuals." The big bands with dancing crowds was replaced with small audiences that sat and listened to the music, trying to catch all the details.
Trumpeter, bandleader, and composer John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was born on October 21, 1917. At the age of 20 he moved to NYC and started to experiment with jazz to eventually come up with the bebop sound. He was heavily inspired by Latin music and set musicians on the path towards modern jazz.
Latin and Afro-Cuban Jazz
Adding in more inspiration to the already eclectic, dynamic genre is Afro-Cuban music. The combination of African, Spanish, and Latin American music changed jazz's sound and the culture surrounding it.
I've seen plenty of people posting about Jazz in our music community and I'm sure you know much more than I do, so I'd love to hear your favorite stories about jazz history - they were wild times!!