One musical style that developed in the twentieth century is jazz. While its roots may be African American, jazz is considered the only American contribution to music (Wright, 1996, p.390). Alongside with blues and popular music, jazz is music that explored during the age of musical diversity, drawing inspiration from “musical streams from the New World” (p. 390). Originating in 1910, jazz music explored in southern and Midwestern cities of the US, such as New Orleans, St. Louis and Kansas. Jazz styles varied from city to city, giving way to variations such as the swing, bebop, cool and third stream (p. 390).
Ragtime music is the forerunner of jazz. For black musicians, playing “rag” is to play or sing in syncopated, jazzy form (Wright, 1996, p. 390). It started in 1890s and was popular in brothels, saloons and dancehalls (p. 390). Ragtime and jazz share the same rhythmic features.
Jazz music is usually played by an instrumental ensemble which consists of woodwinds, brasses and percussions (Kamien, 1998, p. 285). It has a tendency to be polyphonic, especially since instruments play independently from each other. Polyphony occurs when there are two or more simultaneous soundings lines which are independent, thus creating a counterpoint (Wright, 1996, p. A-6). Meanwhile, counterpoint is when several melodic lines are combined to produce a “meaningful whole” (p. 50).
Jazz is characterized by syncopations and lively rhythms (Wright, 1996, p. 390). Syncopation happens when the accented note comes when it is not expected (Kamien, 1998, p. 34). This happens when an “off-beat” note is accented, meaning the stress occurs between beats. Additionally, syncopation happens when a weak beat is accented, creating a pulsating rhythm. For example, in the beat 1-2-3-4 and 1-2-3-4, syncopation occurs between 1 and 3 and 3 and. Another unique feature of jazz is the improvisation. Jazz musicians are prone to improvise, giving the performer the freedom to pursue their own musical fancy. This improvisation comes together with repeated chord progression (Porter, 2008). What happens is that soloists play against a changing harmony and a steady beat which the rhythm section gives. The rhythm is usually provided by drums, piano and string bass (Wright, 1996, p. 390). While there are many patterns for improvisations, two patterns stand out- the AABA form, which accounts for song choruses (2008). The AABA form has 32 measures in meter, split into four 8-measures, which comprises Section A, section A repetition, section B, and another repetition of section A (2008). Section B serves as the “bridge” or “release” and is often in a new key (208). On the other hand, the second form consists of the 12-bar blues form. With roots in African American folk music, blues possess “standardized chord progression” (2008).
Jazz is often said to be the birthplace of jazz, specifically in New Orleans (Wright, 1996, p. 391). At that time, New Orleans was inclined to be associated with France and the Caribbean but following the Spanish-American War, military band instruments were brought in and were brought by underprivileged blacks (p. 391). Since then, it has migrated to Chicago, and then New York, which by that time was known as the capital of ragtime (Scaruffi, 2005). Jazz musicians settled in New York to play. New York jazz players combined blues and ragtime and the result was called “stride” piano (Porter, 2008). Jazz pianists such as performed in Harlem, considered the black ghetto on New York (2005). By 1920s, white tourists flocked to Harlem to witness the music of the blacks. Rent parties soon surfaced, wherein parties where conducted to help pay rent. This was in style in the aftermath of World War II, particularly among destitute black folks (2005).
While New Orleans was known for brass bands, New York became known for its stride piano. Sales in piano increased in New York by this time. Pianist and composer Eubie Blake is known for the main driver for fusing rag and stride (Scaruffi, 2005). To play stride means the left hand does the beat but is permitted to “stride” over the keyboard to create a lively feel while the right hand is left to create improvisations with the melodies (2005). There are three known stride pianists: James Johnson, who is deemed the inventor of it; Thomas “Fats” Weller, and Willie “The Lion” Smith (2005).
In 1922, the first black band of jazz was established in New York (Scaruffi, 2005). Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman and Coleman Hawkins were responsible for ushering in the standard big band model (2005). It was also Hawkins, a tenor saxophonist, who made the sax a unique facet of jazz (2005).
As jazz music became popular, the need for a bigger ensemble was necessary. The small jazz combo was being upstaged by the loud stomping and feet swaying of the audience. Thus, the big band era was born. The bands were bigger than the traditional New Orleans orchestra but relatively smaller than the symphonic groups (Scaruffi, 2005). Big bands played took their repertoire from Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and the vaudeville (2005). With the distinct improvisation, big bands took the stage from 1930s- 40s (Wright, 1996, p. 394). Henderson’s orchestra was the one that brought in jazz’s thee section big band- reed (saxophone and clarinets), brass (trumpets and trombones) and rhythm (piano, tuba, banjo, and drums) (Scaruffi, 2005).
Swing came in after the time of big bands. With the addition of saxophones, the sound produced was more mellow and flowing, as if “swinging”; hence the term “swing” (Wright, 1996, p. 394). In New York, Edward “Duke” Ellington’s orchestra was the famous group. His group had four trumpets, five reed musicians (those who both played clarinets and saxophone), and a rhythm section which had piano, string bass, guitar and drums (p. 394). Ellington played at Harlem’s Cotton Club, which usually had a white audience (Scaruffi, 2005). Since the shows were often aired live, Ellington became a national celebrity (2005). The benefit of radio was tremendous and Ellington was perhaps one of the first black people who owed his popularity to it (2005).
In 1934, Dove Beat became the first magazine dedicated to jazz music (Scaruffi, 2005). A few later, Commodore and Blue Note became the first labels assigned to jazz music (2005).
Jazz music’s influence is wide-ranging. Debussy’s Golliwogg’s Cakewalk hints elements of jazz (Kamien, 1998, p. 286). But the influence of jazz music is openly associated with hip-hop. For one, both follow the rule of improvisation. When hip-hop music started out in the 60s, jazz was also in midst of a makeover (Pauley, 2008). Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron were considered the forefathers of hip-hop. In one of Scott-Heron’s session, jazz bassist Ron Carter and jazz flutists Hubert Laws jammed with him. It was the first vinyl recording wherein jazz artists played with a song artist (2008). By the 80s, African- American culture was big in New York and many musicians, who had loved jazz music, had started to imitate jazz’ horn rhythms to do hip-hop. The 90s saw the great collaboration between jazz and hip-hop musicians. Miles David, a trumpeter, collaborated with hip-hop producer Easy Mo Bee on his album Doo-Bop (2008). In 1993, Gang Star emcee G.U.RU. released an album called Jazzmatazz, a collaboration with jazz artists. In New York, the fusion of jazz and hip-hop is alive and thriving. In fact, hop-hop emcees like Mos Def and Q-Tip and jazz pianists Robert Glasper and trumpeter Roy Hargrove have continued the practice (2008). Several companies have also been formed to accommodate more fusion.
The history of jazz is not only rich but has represented a unique kind of tone. Its most basic characteristic is improvisation, a spontaneous right now creativity which is present in modern music, particular in hip-hop. This improvisation is adhered throughout the performance, punctuated by detailed harmonic progressions. The fact that both jazz music and hip-hop both have black roots is also another unique connection.
- Kamien, R. (1998). Music An Appreciation. USA: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc
- Pauley, J. (2008). Jazz and Hip-Hop. Can they really mix? retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www.jazz.com.
- Porter, L. (2008). Jazz. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www.encarta.msn.com
- Scaruffi, P. (2005). A History of Jazz Music. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://ww.scaruffi.com.
- Wright, C. (1996). Listening to Music.
- Minnesota: West Publishing Company.