This research paper is essentially about jazz music. It introduces the genre to the reader by first giving the characteristics. However, the paper primarily focuses on the origin and history of jazz music. It traces the origin of jazz from New Orleans to the two other venues which promoted the genre, Chicago and New York. The paper also notes the significant figures that contributed to the development of jazz music, both of Caucasian and African American descent. The research paper also included the experiences of the author which lead to the discovery of the genre, as well as personal opinion and insights of the author about jazz music.
Music is not what is used to be. These days, the music industry is characterized by manufactured artists who rely more on appearance and appeal rather than real talent. The numerous talent shows wherein a winner emerges through public voting are a testament to that. Instead of being a venue for discovering new talents, these shows become simply popularity contests. It also does not help that most record companies encourage it, as they prioritize profit over quality. The constant preoccupation with image has dampened the emergence of real musical talent. The above statement holds true for the pop and rock genre. However, the same cannot be said with jazz. Jazz is my favorite genre of music; it is because it allows real musical talent to shine through, something which cannot be manufactured. This research paper aims to discuss the origin and history of jazz, as well as the reasons how and why it is the author’s favorite musical genre.
Jazz music was not a part of my household. My parents never listened to it when I was younger. But it still is my favorite genre of music. I spent most of my childhood with young friend named Ben, who was also a neighbor. I spent many hours a day in his home, the place in which I first learned about jazz and fell in love with it. His parents were both musicians, and there was not a time when jazz was not played in the house. His mother was a pianist, and she was greatly influenced with one of jazz music’s biggest figures, Chick Corea. She would often tell us stories of him and his amazing performances. She also played his records frequently, like My Spanish Heart and The Mad Hatter. Ben’s father, on the other hand, was a guitarist. He did admire many jazz guitarists like Django Reinhardt and John Mclaughlin, but his idol was actually a trumpeter. He was in awe of Miles Davis, and he never failed to play Davis’ Bitches Brew in the house. At such a young age, I was not able to understand the genre entirely, but it did not mean I did not appreciate it. I was introduced to the genre, and have been in love with it ever since.
Jazz is actually a native musical art form that originated in America (Ivey, 1992). In fact, it is the only one that proved to be influential in the world of Western music. This kind of music was made by unnamed African Americans that can be traced either in the latter part of the 19th century or the early part of the 20th century (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). As a genre, jazz emerged at the same time as blues and pop, and these three would sometimes be intertwined (Porter, 2008).
Jazz is founded on the diverse musical traditions of the African Americans (Porter, 2008). It was a mix of the harmonic Western language, as well as the melodies and rhythms of Africa (Ivey, 1992). Jazz consisted of components of various musical types. Those types include music from West Africa, folk music as created by African Americans, popular music as created by composers of African American descent, even classical music from Europe that date back from the 18th to 19th centuries (Porter, 2008).
One of the key elements of jazz is improvisation (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). This tradition originated from the vocal styles inherent in African music, that which allows freedom in terms of vocal color (Porter, 2008). Jazz performers have the freedom to improvise according to any style they choose. More often than not, improvisation comes with a chord progression that is repetitive, that which is derived either from a known song or an original piece. The vocal style of the African Americans is imitated by instrumentalists using different techniques. One of those techniques is the glissandi or the movements which easily adjusts the pitch. Another technique involves pitch nuances, which feature blue notes that are performed “lower than the major scale” (Porter, 2008, p.1). Lastly, there are the wails and growls which compose the tonal effects (Porter, 2008).
Jazz improvisation allows several patterns to be used, but there are two patterns that are often used in jazz songs (Porter, 2008). The first one is the AABA form: it begins with section A, a repetition of the same section, section B (or the bridge) and again a repetition of A. In this form, in every 1 meter, there are 32 measures. This form is found in choruses of popular songs. The other form is called the 12-bar blues. It is characterized by a chord progression which is normal (Porter, 2008).
Jazz is also marked by syncopation (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). It is the placing of rhythmic stress in the weaker beats of a musical measure (Ivey, 1992). Syncopation plays a part in the complexity of rhythms, as the latter is achieved when the former is applied to the melody of individual lines (Porter, 2008).
When it just started, jazz was recognized as a performance style rather than genre (Ivey, 1992). Jazz can trace its early beginnings in New Orleans, Louisiana where African American marching bands performed it (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). These bands usually play in funeral processions (Ivey, 1992). When these bands proceed to the cemetery, they will perform slow tracks. On their way back to town, the band will perform the jazz versions of the same tracks. It can either be ragtime tunes or jazz versions of known marches. Ragtime is a genre that appeared in late 19th century, and is characterized by rhythms of syncopation from banjos and other instruments (Porter, 2008).
In a marching band, there are several instruments used in creating jazz music (Ivey, 1992). It starts with the trumpet, which carries the melody. A cornet or violin may be a substitute to the trumpet (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). Then, the trombone and clarinet are next used (Ivey, 1992). The clarinet will provide elaborate countermelodies, while the trombone provides the simple chords or harmonies (Porter, 2008). The last to be added are either a string bass or a drum section (Ivey, 1992). The string bass, or sometimes the tuba, supplies the bass line (Porter, 2008). The drum section provides the rhythm in the band. All these aforementioned instruments compose the core of the early jazz bands (Ivey, 1992). If any additional instruments were added, it would either be a banjo, guitar or a piano (Ivey, 1992).
Tracks which exhibited influences of jazz had been included in many phonograph recordings (Porter, 2008). However, it was only in 1917 when a recognized jazz record was created in New York (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). This record was created by a group from New Orleans who called themselves The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Led by Nick La Rocca, these Caucasian musicians performed a form of music that they had learned from African Americans (Ivey, 1992). The band gained fame and popularity inside and outside the United States (Porter, 2008).
Despite the fact that jazz records were being made, jazz band music was only made available throughout the country through record company distribution when the bands traveled to Chicago and New York (Ivey, 1992). Jazz became very popular in the 1920s, and the decade became known as the Jazz Age. The early part of the decade saw the emergence of two groups which followed The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (Porter, 2008). These were the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the Creole Jazz Band. The Creole Jazz Band was lead by King Oliver, a stylist who played the cornet (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). This band consisted of all African American members, and recorded the very first jazz tracks by black musicians in 1923 (Ivey, 1992). Many great jazz musicians came from New Orleans (Porter, 2008). The list includes Johnny and Warren “Baby” Dodds (drums), Sidney Bechet (clarinet and saxophone) and Freddie Keppard and Bunk Johnson (trumpet) (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). However, the greatest jazz musician from New Orleans came from the Creole Jazz Band as a trumpeter; his name is Louis Armstrong (Porter, 2008).
Armstrong brought improvisation in jazz to a whole other level (Porter, 2008). He had both the techniques and talent to revolutionize improvisation. He altered the jazz structure by allowing soloists to take center stage in performances. He became a member of groups such as the Hot Five and the Hot Seven; as part of these groups, he showed how improvisation can also make new melodies instead of just adorning them. Armstrong even changed jazz singing as well. He applied improvisation in vocals, eventually introducing scat singing (Porter, 2008).
There are two places which have been crucial in the development of jazz music: Chicago and New York (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008). In Chicago, the group lead by Bix Beiderbecke called the Wolverines was rather influential (Ivey, 1992). Musicians from New Orleans, such as Armstrong, left for Chicago (Porter, 2008). This resulted in the creation of what was referred to as “Chicago style” (Porter, 2008, p.2). Chicago-based jazz musicians which were influenced by the said style include Gene Krupa (drums) and Benny Goodman (clarinet) (Porter, 2008). The jazz musicians in Chicago eventually moved to New York. As opposed to the Chicago trend which focused on soloists, the New York emphasis was placed on the bigger groups (Ivey, 1992; Porter, 2008).
My favorite jazz tracks come from the likes of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, guitarists Joe Pass and Django Reinhardt. Gillespie’s track entitled A Night in Tunisia reminds me of old movies. It seems like an appropriate soundtrack for black and white films. It also brings the listener to the simpler times of the earlier decades. It is a happy track, one you can tap your feet to, but it is not too loud or energetic. Meanwhile, Lil’ Darlin’ by Joe Pass is another feel good track. It makes you just sit back, relax with your eyes closed and just enjoy the sounds.
Django Reinhardt is my favorite jazz musician. The song I Can’t Give You Anything But Love also reminds me of old movies, but this time of romantic classic films. It brings to mind the movie The Aviator which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, in which the song was included. It also brings to mind couples sharing wine.
Another favorite jazz track from Reinhardt is called Djangology. It is a very simple tune, but one that exhibits both happiness in sadness in a single track. The melody is joyful, but there are times when the tune shifts to a sadder melody. Despite the track’s simplicity, Reinhardt’s guitar talent shines through. Sweet Georgia Brown is another great track from Reinhardt. I love how this track starts, it almost sounds like rock. But as tune progresses, it goes back to good old jazz. It again brings to mind old movies and happier times of the yesteryears. Reinhardt’s music is very laid back, one you can listen to while relaxing. However, it does not take a genius to recognize the undeniable talent of the musician behind the tracks. He plays the guitar like no other musician; his style is distinctly his own.
There are several tracks Reinhardt performed, in which vocalists were featured. The vocals only enhanced the track, but never did they overshadow the guitar genius that is Reinhardt. In a track entitled Shine, Reinhardt exhibits his talent in swing. I am not familiar with the violinist and vocalist of this particular track, but regardless, it is still an amazing jazz track.
My favorite jazz track is Belleville, again by Reinhardt. The track sounds like that which is played in classic cartoons. It reminds me of my childhood days, of playing with kids from the neighborhood, laughing and dancing in the rain, and other great things about being a young kid.
At present, the music scene may be more about looks and image than actual musicality, but jazz will never fall trap to such dilemma. Jazz music is about real undeniable talent, something which cannot be packaged to cater to a particular market. Hence, that is why I prefer the old jazz classics. Years may pass by, but the testament of real musical talent never gets old.
Ivey, D. (1992). Jazz. Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia, 387-390.
Porter, L. (2008). Jazz. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 2, 2008, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761560708/Jazz.html