Jazz Heritage/The Roots of Jazz

Category: Heritage, Jazz, Music, Slavery, Sound
Last Updated: 27 Jul 2020
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Africa is the home of jazz, which spread to Europe and all throughout America. Today’s jazz music is influenced by the different countries mentioned. There are musical traditions and cultural traditions coming from Africa, Europe and America which contributed to the sound of jazz today. As jazz developed, it was centered in New Orleans (Yurochko 3). To better understand why jazz sounds the way it does today, it is best to examine its roots one by one, country by country. Africa The life in Africa is centered around the tribe.

All its members participate in Every activity, function and ritual in the tribe. African tribes were highly interactive and participatory because all of its members always found a way to contribute and cooperate and common gatherings and functions (Yurochko 3). From this, it can be inferred that the musical activities of the tribe were also interactive and participatory. Because of these characteristics, the music they created was full of dynamics. No single member of the African tribe just sat down. No one just listened. All of them were tied to everything that was happening in the tribe.

As a result, music was functional as it was properly suited to all the activities and events in the tribe (Bjorn and Gallert 178). What was unique in Africa was how people listened to music. In this country, one cannot find a single concert hall. Everybody gathered themselves in just one area to listen to music. Listening to music was a significant part of the tribe’s lives. In Africa, there were different types of sounds fit for different types of occasions. There was music for marriage, death and births. There was music even for chopping down a tree, or clearing out a path.

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What music was to Africans was a social glue that united all members of the tribe together (Yurochko 3). Meanwhile, the characteristics of African music can explain why jazz music rooted from Africa. African music makes the body perform. It means that the music alone involves the body by making it dance, sway to the beat, clap, and pound a rod on the ground. Apart from the musicians themselves, all members of the audience were also joining the fun. Africa music makes everyone sing, too (Bjorn and Gallert 178). Africans used different musical instruments like aerophones, idiophones and cordophones.

The bass sound of the music was mainly acquired from the drum. African music was full of drums which came in different shapes and sizes. The drum was their main instrument which Africans produced from hollowed out logs and gourds. Across the opening of the drum was a stretched animal skin (Bjorn and Gallert 178). What makes jazz so “African” is its rhythm, since African music is highly characterized by the emphasis on rhythm. Cross rhythms and polyrhythms were made by African drummers, both of which were major contributors to the driving force of jazz or African music (Bjorn and Gallert 178).

The beat of jazz and the beat of African music can be demonstrated by creating a single beat, and dividing it into two. The other half should be given two claps to a single beat. The other hand will be given three claps to a single beat. This is a simple polyrhythm compared to how much jazz has developed through time. The basic principle behind jazz beats is two beats against one (Bjorn and Gallert 179). African sound seems unorganized, and this is what jazz is all about. It is because of the more complex polyrhythm found in African music. Each beat of the drum has an already set rhythm.

Then again, once this beat is combined with other drums which also have their own set rhythms, then that is where the complicated sound is produced (Bjorn and Gallert 180). Another characteristic of African sound which can be found in jazz music is the pentatonic scale. A pentatonic scale can best be seen in a piano. The scale is defined by five notes, thus the term “penta”-tonic, with the chords C, D, E, G and A. This musical scale can also be found in the music of Peru, Mexico, Scotland and Japan (Salzman and the American Studies Association 961). In Africa, singers sing and the members of the audience respond.

African musicians can also chant a melody, and the rest of the people in the venue react with the type of response already established in the society. In Africa, this is called “call and response”, which is also highly used in jazz. In jazz, though, the way people respond is different. This can be seen in many churches with people singing jazz praise songs (Salzman and the American Studies Association 961). The characteristics of jazz can be traced back to the African music’s characteristics, too, in which bending tones, falsetto, buzzes in the voice, raspy tones and vocal manipulation can be found.

No vocal sound is ever produced. Letting out their feelings and expressing themselves by belting out what and how they were feeling an emotion contributed to the very distinct characteristics of jazz music. The tones were also not organized. As a listener listens to a jazz music, he will mostly find the singer reciting words spontaneously (Henson 48). Europe Europe influenced jazz music through harmony and instrumentation. The harmonies in jazz music are characterized by diatonic scale. Jazz music is highly diatonic, and diatonic, in this case, is an expanded version of the pentatonic scale coming from Africa.

Chord progressions from the European or Western sound influenced today’s jazz music. Europe contributed a big part of the instrumentation of jazz. Instruments from Europe used in jazz music are clarinets, trombones and trumpets. Most of the European instruments used gave jazz music its symphonic nature (Henson 48). The birthplace of jazz music is mainly in New Orleans. The people of the city made use of what they were hearing from Africa and Europe, combined the different techniques and various musical styles to technically call the new genre “jazz” (Henson 48).

New Orleans: New Orleans was undeniably successful in giving birth to jazz because of various components. One of these factors is its location. Since New Orleans is located at the tip of the Mississippi River, it was easy for people to bring in jazz to the area. The river made it easy for New Orleans to export music to different parts of the globe, too, which made the music genre jazz, became popular in a very short period of time upon its conception (Brown 74). The Mississippi River was a very important factor in making jazz a popular genre because it has touched various states in America.

Several states which were considered areas for slaves contributed in New Orleans’ highly diverse population. Since the city became a busy seaport, it also developed into becoming the gateway to the islands of the Caribbean (Henson 48). It is also important to study the demographics of the people in New Orleans as this is related to the development of jazz. The city is a very unique one because even before it was a state of America, it has been under the flags of France and Spain. When one would visit New Orleans, one would see how diverse the population is because of the different ethnic groups found in the city.

Because of the diverse population, there was also a diverse culture. Cultural diversity helped in improving the quality of jazz music (Brown 74). The races inhabiting the city defined jazz music. The different cultures taking place made jazz what it sounds today. Since French people were among those who were occupying New Orleans, the tradition where they allowed males to have their mistresses was a big influence to the music. Several men chose women who were light skinned, and they went for those who had mixed blood. Most of these women were found in the southern part of New Orleans.

Because of this, the group of lower class blacks grew and became known to the city (Henson 48). The black creoles were widely accepted in New Orleans, especially by the white society. However, it didn't stay this way for too long. They received the same privileges and rights from the government. In 1984, a law was passed by the Louisiana Legislature which suggested that people with African blood were labeled as “Negros”. Because of this, the black creoles were driven away from New Orleans. They had no choice but to join the black culture (Henson 48).

The joining of the pure blacks and the black creoles (cross between black and light-skinned) gave birth to the full development of a new music which is now referred to as jazz. Slaves from different parts of the globe who were pushed to the United States possessed nothing but their clothing. Then again, they brought not only clothes in the United States, but music, too. They brought their heritage and culture. They shared their musical practices in the United States, specifically in New Orleans (Brown 74). Because of the struggle of the black culture, New Orleans slowly became identified as the city of refuge for blacks.

All freed slaves and escaped slaves fled to New Orleans. They all gathered in Congo Square during Sundays because this was their only chance to be together and celebrate their culture. During these days, they all participated in the African culture where they played drums, sang and danced (Henson 48). New Orleans is then the breeding ground of musical activity. Numerous musical ensembles can be found here, like brass bands, musicales, opera companies and orchestras. Up to this day, there are still musical parties being held in the city.

What made jazz sound disorganized and highly syncopated today is the merging of the musical influences of black slave culture and the black creoles. Their different cultures and distinct musical style made jazz sound like it does today. How jazz is being played is merely a result of the amalgamation of different tempos, beats and styles through time. Examples of African musical activities that highly influenced today's jazz music are rhythmic emphasis, African field holler, interactive music and the call and response ritual. All of these found a space into the style of jazz (Brown 74).

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Jazz Heritage/The Roots of Jazz. (2017, May 10). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/jazz-heritagethe-roots-jazz/

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