A Brief History of Jazz

A Brief History of Jazz

As African americans learned to play European instruments in the 19th century and developed their own styles of music, like the cakewalk. The Cakewalk is a combination of harmony and syncopation. It became very popular and caught on among white folk, and was played in minstrel shows.

Toward the end of the 19th century, a new style of music emerged called ragtime. After the abolition of slavery, opportunities to learn opened up to many African americans. However, there were not many job openings. Many talented African americans took jobs as musicians in minstral shows, in bars and clubs. Ragtime was created in the red-light districts of New Orleans and was a modifcation of the march, characterized by polyrhythms and syncopation. It was very upbeat and perfect for dancing. Ernest Hogan was a black entertainer who first recorded ragtime on sheet music in 1895. It became very popular music and was even adopted by white musicians in America and in Europe. The ragtime is considered the first type of jazz music.

The ragtime carried its popularity into the 20th century. Small jazz groups began to travel and eventually spread the music from coast to coast. Jazz even traveled across the seas. During World War I, the "Hellfighters" infantry band carried ragtime to Europe. By the 1920’s Jazz had become the dominant genre of music in America. Jazz was associated with parties, extravagent behavior and drinking. The peak of Jazz music in the first half of the century lasted from 1920 to 1933. Many believed it was the cause of moral decay in American society. This period was the dubbed "The Jazz Age."

By the 1930’s ragtime had lost its novelty. A new grand and exaggerated form of jazz was introduced, the big band swing. Big band or swing jazz was composed of a very large section of brass and reed instruments and was headed by a bandleader or an arranger. Some of the most famous bandleaders were Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.

In the 1940’s Swing Jazz introduced a string section and vocals to the big band. Swing jazz was broadcasted over the radio and soon travled to other countries. During World War II, for example, a collection of dissenting german youth known as the “swing kids” adopted swing jazz and swing culture. They would dance and play swing music in defiance to Hitler. He had forbidden any Swing Jazz or swing dancing because of its ties with African-Americans and Jews.

During the 1950’s a type of jazz called “cool jazz” was preferred. The 1950’s was a decade of conservatism and the jazz music of the period definitely reflected that. Cool jazz was a toned-down version of jazz, where the big band reduced in size and sound.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a new forms of jazz with the introduction of Latin cultural influence rock and roll and soul. In the 1960’s Afro-cuban jazz became popular, but was soon replaced by Brazilian Jazz. Latin jazz combined traditional jazz with unconventional instruments like bongos, morracas and different types of flute. Into the 1970’s soul jazz was formed from a mixture of soul, blues and gospel music. The unique thing about soul jazz was that the solo instrument was typically an organ, which was very new to jazz music. Finally the 1970’s saw a rise in rock and roll. Jimmy Hendrix was famous for infusing jazz with rock and roll and established a form of jazz- jazz infusion. In the recent history jazz has been experimented with and a plethora of subgenres have emerged like, pop fusion or “smooth jazz”, jazz rap, nu jazz and even vocal jazz.

The author enjoys listening to and writing about all kinds of music, from jazz music to country to hard rock. He recommends visiting ArtistDirect.com for the latest news, videos, and interviews from popular musical artists.

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