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Origins Of Jazz Music Essay, Research Paper

Title: The origin and growth of Jazz music

The Jazz music of the twenties, comparable to the rock of the sixties and the disco of the seventies, was the sound of a new revolution. It was something that America had never heard before. The time came to be known the Jazz Age . F. Scott Fitzgerald named the era, Louis Armstrong dominated it, and the 1929 crash of the stock market ended it. This new music created a style filled with strong rhythms and syncopation, a sound that was a memory of the slaves that could not have been taken away from them when they stepped onto American soil. The Jazz music, even the word Jazz, and its first beginnings in America still remain unclear. However, its growth and innovators are clearer. Cities such as New Orleans and Chicago were some of the major cities in which Jazz music filled the air. And without artists like Louis Armstrong and Bix Biderbecke the music would not have been performed. Much more then just the music characterized the roaring twenties. However, the music, as one author puts it, survived the neglect of the age to which it gave the name and became America s one triumphant contribution to the worlds music. (56)

Jazz s origins, the music and even the word, has puzzled and raised many questions among historians. What does the word Jazz mean? When did it first become a term for the music? When it was first used, the word Jazz was spelt Jass. One author attributes this to the Creole patios of New Orleans, [Jas] meant to speed up. (Abels 199) This author also makes another connection. The word could have possibly originated from the French word jacer meaning to prattle. (Abels 199) Or it is possible that the word simply may have had African roots. (Abels 199)

The word Jazz, however, has been attributed to more derogatory meanings according to other historians. The music that it named

Would be called many names, most of them defamatory-slave songs, nigger music, minstrel, cakewalk, ragtime, coonsong, lowdown music, sportin-house music, barrelhouse, honky-tonk, gutbucket, hot-before it got the name that would stick, and eventually supply the name for an entire epoch of American History. (Berton 22)

So it seemed only fitting to give the music a name which was originally an insult- a low slang synonym for fuck (what could be worse?) (Berton 22) It is also possible to find another connection. This one connects the word to a specific event that took place in Chicago in 1917. An advertisement was placed in a local newspaper calling Tom Brown s Band from Dixieland as nothing but cheap, shameless, Jass music. (Berton 22) Days later, the restaurant, in which this local band was playing at, posted their own advertisement and thoughtfully changed their billing to Brown s Jass Band from Dixieland . It was the first known public use of the phrase. (Berton 23) Although this incident cannot be proven as the source for the word Jazz , it caught people s attention. The term Jass was turned into Jazz and used by the musicians of the era.

Before determining the origins of Jazz music, a definition should be given to the sound that later named a decade. Its most significant characteristic is its fascinating rhythm: a rhythmic complexity both syncopation of individual melodic lines and conflicting rhythms played by different members of an ensemble. (Encarta Encyclopedia) Improvisation is also a key aspect in the music. The musician improvises new melodies that fit the chord progression, which is repeated again and again as each soloist is featured, for as many choruses as desired. (Encarta Encyclopedia)

The beginning of Jazz music is a little clearer then the term itself. Although Jazz existed years before the Jazz Age , it did not become known to the public as a form of music until then. Before, it was music known amongst the slaves and blacks in the south. The public first got sight of it when it appeared in New Orleans, Louisiana. This distinctive style played in New Orleans came to be known as Dixieland Jazz.

In this style the cornet or trumpet carried the melody, the clarinet played florid countermelody, and the trombone played rhythmic slides and sounded the root notes of chords or simple harmony. Below this basic trio the tuba or string bass provided a bass line and drums the rhythmic accompaniment. (Encarta Encyclopedia)

New Orleans also housed some of history s greatest artists. Louis Armstrong, a cornet player, joined King Oliver s Creole Jazz Band, a group of the best Jazz musicians in the area. Armstrong s influence was superior; His great soaring solos and his magnificent trumpet tone remade jazz. (60)

After New Orleans, Jazz musicians moved to other cities. Chicago became home of a new style of Jazz music and many New Orleans Jazz musicians, Chicago became, within a ten-year period, 1917-1927, the Mecca for various types of jazzmen, black and white, the crucible in which jazz was annealed into the form of things to come. (Berton 72) Although it was closely related to its New Orleans predecessor, Chicago s Jazz style was different. Its jazz emphasized soloists, often adding saxophone to the instrumentation, and usually producing tenser rhythms and more complicated textures. (Encarta Encyclopedia) Although Louis Armstrong made his new home in Chicago, another dominant trumpet player won the respect of many Jazz musicians in the city, Bix Beiderbecke. This trumpeter was a silent saint of the Jazz Age. (Berton 402)

There was a time in history, the 1920 s that made F. Scott Fitzgerald state, I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again. (Shaw 1920) It is possible that this was reflected in the music of the times, Jazz. The music could easily have been called Jass, a word whose origin still remains unclear. Jazz was a style of music characterized by amazing, carefree rhythms. In Each city the music took hold in, a different style of Jazz was adapted. New Orleans was characterized by each individual instruments part in the music. Chicago Jazz, however, focused more on individual performers. The Jazz Age was a time when talented artist such as Louis Armstrong and Biz Beiderbecke could shine. In a retrospective look, there are questions raised about this era, this Jazz Music . What after all is this new thing, that, condemned in certain quarters, enthusiastically welcomed in others Jazz isn t music merely, it Is spirit that can express itself in almost anything. (Hanson 91)

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