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Jazz, a musical form that grew out of roots in the blues, has been called the first American art form.

Blues, a rural folk art, changed as black musicians migrated to the cities in the late 19th century. Some made a living in small marching bands and the instruments of these groups became the basic instruments of jazz: brass, reeds, drums. Early jazz also used the ordinary 1-2 beat of the march.

This change is not surprising. Around the turn of the century, marches were the standard form used for popular concert music. The middle class did not dance in public, only in private homes and only with people of their own circle. And though jazz has its folk roots, it was partly created by formally-trained musicians like Sidney Bechet; the element of aspiration should not be overlooked. Scott Joplin, playing ragtime? piano in a brothel and writing opera too, shows the different influences at work in that period.

There was a general liberalization of customs before World War I. Public dance halls, clubs, and tea rooms opened in the cities, and black dances like the cakewalk and the shimmy were eventually adopted by a white public. White audiences saw them first in vaudeville shows, then performed by exhibition dancers in the clubs.

Much of the music for this dancing was not jazz, but it was new, and the fashion for new music did involve enthusiasm for some idea of jazz. Popular composers like Irving Berlin made attempts at jazzy writing, though they seldom used the specific musical devices that were second nature to jazz players--the rhythms, the blue notes. Nothing did more to popularize the idea of jazz than Berlin's hit song of 1911,"Alexander's Ragtime Band," which became a craze as far from home as Vienna. Yet it wasn't written in rag time.

Phonograph records made new music available everywhere. Through a few recordings aimed at black audiences, Louis Armstrong made the first decisive change in jazz. He played with the usual New Orleans march combo, in which everyone improvised simultaneously. But he was an extraordinary improviser, capable of creating endless variations on the initial melody. Musicians imitated him, not the ensemble, and jazz became a solo form.

The presence of dance venues influenced jazz musicians in two ways. They were more of them, since they could make a living, and jazz--like all the popular music of the 20s--adopted the 4/4 beat of dance music.

With prohibition, the constututional amendment that forbade the sale of alcoholic beverages, the legal saloons and cabarets were closed, but in their place hundreds of speakeasies? appeared, where patrons drank and were entertained by musicians. The music was still a mixture of things--current dance numbers, novelty songs, show tunes. "Businessman's bounce music," as one horn player put it. But musicians with steady jobs, playing with the same companions, were able to go far beyond that. The Ellington band at the Cotton Club and the various Kansas City groups that became the Basie band date from this period.

The early development of jazz was racially segregated, reflecting the culture of the United States at the time, with the innovation of mainly black club musicians being taken onto bandstands by white band leaders, who tended to mould the music more to orthodox rhythms and harmony. The slow dissolution of this segregation began when guitarist [Charlie Christian]? joined the [Benny Goodman]? sextet. At this time (1939) the fashion for [big band music]? was in full swing, making stars of such men as [Glenn Miller]? and [Duke Ellington]?.

A development of swing? known as the jump blues anticipated rhythm and blues and rock and roll in some respects. It involved a use of small combos instead of big bands and a concentration on up-tempo music using the familiar blues chord progressions. One brief variation, known as [boogie woogie]?, used a doubled rhythm--that is, the rhythm section played "eight to the bar," eight beats per measure instead of four. [Joe Turner]?, a Kansas City singer who worked in the 30s with swing bands like Count Basie's, became a boogie woogie star in the 40s and then in the 50s was one of the first innovators of rock and roll, notably with his song "Shake, Rattle and Roll".

The next major stylistic turn came with bebop?, led by such distinctive stylists as the saxophonist [Charlie Parker]? (known as "Bird"). This marked a major shift from music for dancing towards an intellectual art form of the first rank. Later bebop musicians, such as trumpeter Miles Davis made more stylistic advances with [modal jazz]? where the harmonic structure of pieces was much more free than previously, and frequently only implied by skeletal piano chords and bass parts. The instrumentalists would the improvise around a given mode of the scale.

With the growth of rock and roll in the 1960s, came the hybrid form jazz-rock fusion, again involving Davis who released the fusion albums "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew".

Since then the stylistic diversity of jazz has shown no sign of diminishing, absorbing influences from such disparate sources as world music and [avant garde]? classical music, including African rhythm and traditional structure, serialism and the extensive use of chromatic scale, by such musicians as [Ornette Coleman]?. However, jazz's audience has shrunk dramatically and split somewhat, with a mainly older audience retaining an interest in [traditional jazz]?, a small core of practitioners and fans interested in highly experimental (and often inaccessible) modern jazz, and a constantly-changing group of musicians fusing jazz idioms with contemporary popular music genres, forming styles like [acid jazz]? which contains elements of 70's disco, [acid swing]? which combines 40's style big-band sounds with faster, more agressive rock-influenced drums and electric guitar.

Early jazz musicians:

Middle period

Modern innovators


Noted jazz figures by instrument:













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Last edited November 29, 2001 12:47 am by 208.200.242.xxx (diff)