Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Jazz Yesterday and Today: So Much Music for One Small Word

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Jazz Yesterday and Today: So Much Music for One Small Word

Article excerpt

Jazz refers to a diverse music with a rich history. The music we know as jazz began its development in black American music around the turn of the twentieth century, combining elements of African and European music. Improvisation, or simultaneous composition and performance, is a defining element of jazz for many. At one time jazz was associated with music played in a swing feel, which meant both a particular way of interpreting a musical line and a specific accompanying rhythmic figure. Although much of jazz is still played in a swing feel, a sizable segment is made up of music influenced by rock, funk, and the music of Latin America.



In its early days, the first twenty or thirty years of the twentieth century, jazz referred to music played by relatively small groups. Typically with five to seven members, the groups used much improvisation with little planning. Collective improvisation, in which numerous performers contributed concurrent improvised lines, was commonly featured. New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz, although similar music was undoubtedly being performed in other cities. Louis Armstrong, the first great jazz soloist, was born in New Orleans. Cornetist Buddy Bolden, another New Orleans native, is considered by many to have been the leader of the first jazz band. Unfortunately, no known recordings of Buddy Bolden exist. The earliest surviving instrumental jazz recording is from 1917 and was recorded by a white group, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), in New York.

Chicago was the center of jazz in the early 1920s. Numerous black New Orleans jazz musicians relocated to Chicago around this time, including Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong. These transplanted musicians continued developing the music that they had pioneered. A new style, often referred to as Chicago jazz or Chicago Dixieland, evolved with important contributions from a group of young white musicians. The new music had a smoother feel and often employed a string bass rather than a tuba, and a guitar rather than a banjo. The saxophone was more commonly added to the instrumentation. Saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke are notable musicians of this style. These first two periods of jazz are often referred to collectively as "early jazz."

Swing Era

The swing era of the 1930s and early 1940s was the next major development in jazz. This period is often referred to as the "big band era" because of its association with big bands, although small groups and solo styles continued to evolve. Jazz enjoyed its greatest popularity in the swing era. The big bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, and Jimmy Lunceford are associated more with the jazz tradition than those of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Jimmy Dorsey. The latter bands were more closely associated with dance music. The big band format proved to be very restrictive in terms of improvisation, even in bands steeped in the jazz tradition. The combination of World War II and a recording ban severely affected the big bands. By the late 1940s, many had disappeared. While a few played on, the 1940s heralded a new small-group-oriented jazz called bebop.

Bebop, Cool, and More

Bebop, also known as bop, is generally considered the beginning of modern jazz. Bop began in after-hours clubs in New York where some of the most important bop innovators, such as alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and pianist Thelonious Monk, played a more complex, solo-driven form of jazz. Bop was the first style of jazz that had no association with dancing. Instead, the focus was on improvisation and music for musicians rather than for the general public. Consequently, bebop groups did not enjoy great financial success.

Two different styles of jazz existed concurrently in the 1950s. The beginning of cool jazz was essentially announced by innovator Miles Davis's 1949/1950 recording, The Birth of the Cool. …

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