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    Origins I - Beginnings

A clear and precise narrative of the origins of jazz remains elusive. However musicologists do seem to agree about several points. In the late 1800's music was for the most part written and performed in what we today call the classical method. Strict adherence to sheet music was observed in study and performance. Personal interpretation, which was part of the process, was considered less important than the intentions of the composer. Even ragtime, which many point to as the inception of the 'swing feel', was notated as it was to be played, although the rhythms were more difficult to accurately represent.

The enslavement of Africans in America was the main factor in the development of jazz. African music had a long-history of being rhythmically complex, with fairly repetitive melodies and little or no harmonic changes. Much of the Christian church music of that era was based on simple harmonic changes, making it singable for congregations who had no musical training.

Adaptations of the Africans, the blues, gospel and Dixieland styles were the result of the interaction between the African and European / Christian cultures. The blues scale, which was a principal element of African melodies, inspired the evolution of rock and roll, funk, bluegrass, R & B, jazz and the overall sound of American music.

After the era of slavery and until the discovery of radio, much of the growth of jazz became regional. Examples of this are New Orleans Dixieland style, Chicago blues, Kansas City blues, and the southern minstrels who spread many eclectic versions of the blues and gospel. The music of this period was tied to social functions, which greatly influenced the rhythms and instrumentation. Boogie-woogie, stomp and stride piano styles were created for dance crowds in community centers and churches. Horn and woodwind use in Dixieland evolved because the music was used in funerals and celebrations that were outdoors and on the move.

Unlike classical music, improvisation was the key element of these styles and most of the musical ideas were passed on by direct contact instead of written music. Only musicians traveling from region to region could spread the sound. Jazz might have grown in isolated areas or disappeared all together, but the commercial process of making records, and the coming popularity and access of music on the newly invented radio changed everything.    [top]    
- article by Frank Singer 2002




Jazz Origins
I - Beginnings 
II - Jazz and Technology
III - Radio and the Industrial Beat    
The Swing Era
I - Precursors
II - The Decade of Swing
III - The BeBop Strain
A First Look Back
New Orleans Revival

Jazz Forms

The Blues
The 32 bar Song Form
The Latin Influence
Hard Bop
Evolution 1 - A New Dialogue
Evolution 2 - Into The Seventies
Evolution Of The Jam Session
Post Modernism




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