Jazz music traces its origin to a mixture of West Africa and European musical elements (Hoiberg, 2002, p. 641). It is said that slaves from West Africa took with them their music when they came to North America (p. 641). There, their music was exposed to European music. Thus, it is believed that jazz evolved from a fusion of these two elements- West Africa with its rhythm and structure and from Europe, harmony and the use of other instruments such as trumpet, trombone, saxophone and piano (p. 641).
The fact that its roots were in the United States and not from South America or Caribbean where there were also African Blacks is rather interesting. However, African Blacks in those regions were emancipated and thus, had the chance to practice and promote their African music tradition (p. 642). In the United States, however, there was slavery. Slaves were not able to retain their music tradition and had to rely to whatever was available to them at that time to make music. While it is unfortunate to think that such practice existed, had it not been for slave trade, we probably would not enjoy jazz music now.
Jazz music was heard in various occasions, from funeral processions and parades, hymns and religious events, even for work songs (p. 642). When classically-trained black musicians could not find work, they turned to jazz and played in clubs. New Orleans was the place where jazz music evolved (Hoiberg, 2002, p. 642). At that time, musicians were limited to seven instruments- cornet, clarinet, trombone, bass or tuba, piano, banjo and drums (p. 642). Saxophone made its way into jazz music only after ten years (p. 642). In 1915, the place was teeming with jazz musicians.
Among those who were well known were Buddy Bolden, Buddy Petit, and Bunk Johnson (p. 643). At this time, jazz has spilled over other places such as Kansas City, Colorado and had reached Los Angeles and New York City (p. 643). Jazz groups and orchestras had started to perform. Fate Marable’s orchestra, for instance, produced the great Louis Armstrong (p. 643). Armstrong invented swing but perhaps his greatest contribution to jazz music was introducing jazz to the entire world with his jazz recordings (p. 643). He was the “first superstar of jazz” (p. 643). He also introduced what is now known as “scat” or singing without words or texts (p. 643).
Other jazz standouts were Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and King Oliver (pp. 643-644). Jazz at the end of the twentieth- century is changing. Others say that some elements of jazz have been chucked in favor of new styles (Hoiberg, 2002, p. 648) In the past, jazz had a distinct sound but it has now been replaced by “stylistic flexibility” (p. 648). Also, music schools have exposed jazz students and musicians to all aspect of music now whereas before, jazz musicians were mostly self-taught. Today, we study about music theory and styles, among other things
At a time when the country was experiencing depression, jazz became an outlet of many people to release pent-up emotion. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the importance of jazz music during the opening of the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964 (Winkel, 2002). He exclaimed that jazz talks about life, that jazz deals with putting into music all the troubles in the world only to come up with something that evokes hope and triumph (2002). For King, music is “triumphant” (2002). He added that jazz contributed to the freedom movement in the United States, with rhythms and harmonies serving as encouragement and composure to the despondent (2002).
Jazz was popularized by American Negroes in a time when they were struggling, when they were hopeless. Listening to jazz music soothed their tired spirits, uplifted their souls. King even compared the struggle of the American Negroes to that of the modern man. While their problems may be different, they all longed for the same thing- to find their own identities and meaning in life (2002). Music is about life and when a musician creates one, it is akin to creating life, bringing hope to anyone who can hear it. Jazz music, specifically has an undeniable magic that draws people to it.
It evokes a sense of calm that sometimes you need not have to be in the presence of others to appreciate it. Unlike say rock music where listening with others make it sounds better, you appreciate rock music better when you’re in a crowded concert hall where people are in high spirits. Listening to jazz does the same effect but in the opposite way. One only needs to sit back, relax and absorb the music. While classical music can also unwind a person, the effect of jazz on the listener is more personal, more emotion. Classical music is pleasant to the ears but jazz targets one’s soul. Perhaps, it’s the way the instruments are played.
In classical music, various instruments are played simultaneously to produce one distinct sound that is meant to be heard. But when one listens to jazz, one does not only hear the melody and harmony, but something more, something deeper. It’s like you can see and listen to the mood of the musician. Truly, jazz has more emotional depth. Perhaps, that is also one reason why jazz is more accessible to listeners that classical music. Also, unlike classical music, one does not need to go to opera hall to hear jazz music. Jazz can easily be heard in clubs and restaurants. Lately, jazz elements have been infused with other music forms.
For instance, American pop artists like Norah Jones, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse have incorporated jazz into their music. Rhythm and blues (R & B) is an offshoot of jazz music that evinces funk and soul. Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, even Justin Timberlake are just some of the popular artists who use this style and judging by the sales of their albums, concerts, and the number of times their songs have been played over the radio and rocketing sales in music downloads, they have succeeded. It just goes to show that jazz music is really evolving. And when people continue to listen to it, jazz music will live on.