History Of Jazz


Kaitlin Lee, Staff Writer

Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington. Even if you don’t listen to these musicians, you’ve probably at least heard of them. They are icons in the world of music, especially in the world of jazz. Jazz is a musical genre that originated in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many call it “America’s Classical Music” and it was celebrated on International Jazz Day on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. But where did jazz even come from?

Jazz was developed in New Orleans near the mouth of the Mississippi River. At the time, New Orleans was a melting pot of several cultures, including African, French, Caribbean, Italian, German, Mexican, Indigenous American, and English. African American music blended with other types to eventually form jazz. At first, jazz was mostly made for dancing, and the first record of jazz was made in 1917. After the first record, the genre spread quickly and was further developed. During the 1930s, jazz became more soulful and orchestral, and the 1940s introduced a more challenging type of music with faster tempos and more improvisation. Throughout the years, more and more additions and variations have been made in the musical genre, which has helped it stay popular throughout the decades.

The genre is characterized by swing and blues notes to help with the beat, call and response vocals, conflicting rhythms called polyrhythms, and improvisation. These characteristics were transferred over from traditional African music, which also has call and response vocals and polyrhythms. But the instruments used are European, such as the trumpet and a piano. Many see jazz as a combination of two cultures and worlds, but the genre is more associated with African American musicians.

Jazz was mostly used to express the black experience in the U.S. because of its deep roots in African American culture, but it has also been adopted by other cultures to contribute their own experiences and styles. White musicians were pivotal to the spread of the art form, as many jazz bands consisted of both black and white members, helping to change many minds about racial prejudice against jazz.

This amazing art form connected people back then and continues to connect people now. It remains a popular type of music in modern days, and several pieces of entertainment continue to revitalize it, from the movie La La Land to the off-broadway musical Hadestown. If you enjoy a fast-paced music genre with soulful melodies and invigorating improvisation, give jazz a listen!