Genre wise, Jazz was born from its weeping mother, the Blues. Geography wise, it was born in New Orleans. This was about a hundred years ago. Jazz music was heavily influenced by not only African-American music but also
by European music. It borrowed the sadness of the blues and combined it with the rhythm of Africa. To this it added harmony taken from European classical music. It also, apart from its Arican instrument set, leant heavily
on the use of saxophones, pianos and trumpets, all of which have their origin in Europe. It was an improvisation, that was on the other hand, completely unique, with a personality of its own. A genre that took the world
by storm, and is still one of the most-listened-to genres of today. This is because jazz music about the way a person felt. And feelings have been with us forever.
What was it about New Orleans?
New Orleans, a port city, was a melting pot of people of various ethnicities who found a common ground in their nightlife which has always gone hand in hand with music. These people listened, performed and blended their
respective musics and created new genres and expressions, of which Jazz was one. It was also the place where Africans were experiencing first hand the culture and with it the culture shock of America. The then-slaves
expressed their experiences, their feelings and their spirituality through music which manifested itself as Jazz, a genre by its own right. February 26, 1917, was a momentous day when the first official Jazz recording
took place. The song was Livery Stable Blues. It was performed by the Original Dixieland Jass Band.
Racism and Jazz
Given the origin of Jazz among the African-Americans singing about their lifestyles and spiritual beliefs when slavery was the calling of the day, racism is as intertwined with the music as is its rhythm. Racism, in fact,
was not even recognized as an issue until people saw it through music. Through Jazz. The differences of the races, though very much there, became increasingly obvious. Jazz spoke about the slaves’ hardships. Jazz spoke
about how music could alleviate some of this. Jazz became a voice of revolution. At the same time, as Jazz spread towards the North, it started incorporating within it the styles of music from the white American middle
class. Till everyone was listening to it. And becoming more and more aware of racism. And taking sides. As a result there was soon racism within Jazz itself. There were no longer musicians. There were either black musicians
or white musicians. And what was predominantly music of the blacks, became that of the whites because of their easier access to publicity and bigger audiences. Black Jazz music stayed restricted to night clubs with
Some Jazz legends Who Changed the World of Music
Thelonious Monk was a great Jazz composer as well as pianist. He contributed in a big way to bebop music. What he was also known for was his eccentricities which made his music even more popular amongst
his fans. Apart from his eccentricities in his behavior were the eccentricities in how he dressed. As well as in how he played the piano. He peppered his piano playing with abrupt pauses as well as percussive
attacks, often abandoning the piano altogether for an impromptu dance. He improvised and improvised and improvised and fathered a range of jazz standards such as the Blue Monk, I Mean You, Epistrophy
and many more.
Louis Armstrong was a Jazz musician who rendered the world speechless with his trumpet and his songs. Hailing from New Orleans, he was another huge influncer of the Jazz movement. He was one of the greatest
exponents of what we call Modern Jazz. Before him, the trumpet was just an accompanying instrument. He gave it its place as a solo instrument in Jazz. And how. As a singer he was almost solely responsible
for the popularisation of scat music. He won awards, honours, and is still winning countless hearts.
Charlie Parker, also known as Bird, made a huge impact on Jazz with his alto saxophone, bebop music as well as his original compositions. His rhythm was fast, his tone was clean, and his impromptu improvisations
set a trend. The songs he wrote he composed to complex chord progressions with a never-before-way-of-using harmony. He changed the misconception that Jazz was just a form of entertainment. He helped
people recognise it for what it was. An art.
Miles Davis brought Jazz into the twentieth century and vice versa by fathering a plethora of styles like techno, funk, fusion, hard bop, free jazz, cool jazz and more. He was prolific in inventing different
styles, different band line ups and spearheaded a multitude of other Jazz musicians to fame. He was recognised not only through a huge fan base but also eight Grammys along with a Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame induction.
Art Tatum, an almost blind Jazz pianist, set the place for the piano in Jazz. He borrowed the stride piano style and gave it a unique signature of his own. Improvisations and a swinging pulse were his hallmark
styles. He took existing melodies, changed the harmonies and chord structures, added chord extensions along with dissonance and was playing what only ten years later would have a name on a record. Bebop.
What he was also known for was how he barely appeared to be moving his hands while the most complex and fast bits of music flowed under them on the piano.
Art Blakey revolutionised the way drums were played in Jazz and hence, since rhythm is so integral to the genre, the way Jazz itself sounded. He did this by incorporating the best of the blues, the swing,
the hard bop and the funk. He had his own band, The Jazz Messengers, which not only rolled out great music, but a generation of great musicians as well.
Lady Day was not known for her number of songs, but for the way she sang. Her deep into nations mimicked the passion of Jazz instruments and to this she added her signature style of manipulating tempo and
phrase. Her song Strange Fruit was her greatest gift to the history of Jazz, and she received multiple Grammys in return, albeit posthumously.