Jazz has been a prominent genre for nearly 100 years, with its sounds influencing vast arrays of artists to this day. Jazz itself has shifted its style throughout its development, emerging from work songs of enslaved Africans in early America.
In the 1620’s the first shipments of African slaves were sent to the Americas. It is important to realize that these were the people responsible for the roots of Jazz. Working labor, they would sing work songs to distract from the harsh reality of their position. The rhythmic tribal style of these Africans would fuse with sounds of traditional hymns and musical instrument available to slaves. These sounds would be foundation of the musical style ragtime. In 1892, Tommy Turpin wrote the first known ragtime composition, “Harlem Rag,” in St. Louis, Missouri.
Ragtime was the inspiration of many well-known pioneers of jazz in the early 1900’s. Louis Armstrong was born in 1901 and grew up listening to ragtime and Dixieland music style. People like Eubie Blake, a famous rag pianist, wrote rags during the 1900’s. This was certainly the decade when the ragtime genre became particularly popular among African Americans.
Between the 1910’s and 1920’s there was a lot of progression of Dixieland and ragtime style jazz especially in New Orleans. In 1917 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (an all-white member group) released what is considered by many to be the first jazz album to be recorded.
A vast amount of the development of jazz took place in the northeastern part of the states. Many families traveled had traveled north in pursuit of better lives. Because of this, the “Harlem Renaissance” came about, signifying the fast development in African American art culture. In 1922 Race records was created, and it categorized music by race in the industry. Alcohol was also prohibited in America in 1920, which played a huge part in some developments in jazz during this time. There were tremendous amounts of private house parties where jazz was the main music being played. There was also a large emergence of different jazz icons like Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. All of these artists and more began recording and performing, as the popularity of jazz music grew rapidly.
In the 1930’s, America was feeling the struggles of the great depression. Many successful artists from the previous decade could not sustain careers as musicians because of these hard times; however, many artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington continued profitable careers writing and performing jazz music later categorized as “swing.” Big bands were playing in clubs with large dancing audiences. Count Basie was the leader of a very successful big band in Kansas City, proving that jazz was quickly migrating to more regions in the States. In his compositions, he featured soloists like Lester Young on the saxophone. Big bands often featured solo leads in their performances, and some speculate this could be the early seed of bebop. Many artists began to develop individual skills and form smaller ensembles featuring mainly improvisation by the end of the 1930’s. This contrasted big bands’ large amount of instruments and comparatively more structured music.
Im pretty sure this clip is a commercial, but I like how it features a lot of song samples and pictures. Hopefully it gets the point across a bit better!
In the early 1940’s, some of big band’s leaders, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, continued their successful leadership of their large groups. In 1941, bepop began to take root in the Minton’s Playhouse jam sessions, where artists like Charlie Parker on saxophone and Jay McShann’s band collaborated. Other bebop artists like trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Dizzy Gillespie brought the spotlight away from “swing.” Dizzy Gillespie brought attention to other forms of jazz like “afro-Cuban,” with songs like, “Manteca” in 1946. By 1949, what is now known as “cool jazz” had taken over the scene, and artists Miles Davis and Gil Evans were recording the iconic album “Birth of the Cool” album. The bebop style, however, was much less industry-driven, and was more for musical expansion. Other artists that contributed to this style include saxophonist John Coltrane, drummer Max Roach, saxophonist Thelonius Monk, and pianist Hank Jones. The bebop and cool jazz styles continued to stay very prominent in the jazz community throughout the 1960’s.
In the 1960’s and 70’s more sub genres began to develop. Free jazz was an unconventional style featuring little or no structure, relying strictly on the musicians’ improvisation. Saxophonist Ornet Coleman and drummer Max roach were some leading artists in this style. Fusion bands like Weather Report and Return to Forever were being formed by keyboardists Chic Corea and Joe Zawinul during this time.