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Where did Jazz originate?

Jazz is one genre of music that is hard to define. That is because it is constantly changing and passing through several distinct phases of development and styles from big band, swing to bebop. The easiest way to define jazz is its chief characteristic, which is improvisation. Although composition, arrangement, and ensemble are also instrumental in the development of jazz. But how did jazz originate as a form of music?

Originally known as Jass

No one really knows where the term ‘jazz’ comes from. Back in 1860, there had been an African-American slang termed ‘jass’, which means ‘energy’. The word could have come from the word ‘jasm’. It could have originated from the jasmine perfume wore by prostitutes in New Orleans’ Storyville. Jazz had developed, in part as music played in brothels. Early jazz pioneer developed his own style of playing piano in these places and would play to the rhythm of the revels taking place in the brothel. Jazz was then originally spelled as ‘jass’ and due to its relation to the brothels, it wasn’t a word spoken in front of the ladies. Musicians might have also become tired of pranksters scratching off the ‘J’ from their posters. The Original Dixieland Jass Band changed the word ‘jass’ to ‘jazz’ for good after a successful recording of their album ‘Livery Stable Blues’ a few months later.

West African influence

A distinctive feature of jazz is its sound derived from West African musical scores taken to North America by slaves. The slaves persevered their music styles against all odds in the plantation culture of the American South. Although it is hard to properly identify these elements in jazz as records were not documented until the mid to late 19th century.

The West African musical sensibilities soon encountered European musical elements prevalent in North America during that time. The music eventually known as jazz was gradually assimilated from a mixture of black and white folk music and popular styles. The West African influence of jazz can be heard in the use of banjo, guitar, and percussion while the European style is heard in the harmonic language of jazz and its conventional use of instruments such as trumpet, trombone, saxophone, string bass, and piano.

Construction of jazz music

Jazz is identified with its syncopations and it struck non-black listeners as fascinating and novel as it's not present in European classical music. The syncopations in ragtime and jazz were a result of reducing and simplifying the complex, multi-layered and polymetric designs indigenous to all types of West African ritual dance and ensemble music.

Jazz melody probably evolved out of a simplified residue and mixture of African and European vocal materials developed by slaves in the United States in the 1700s to 1800s. Such as their unaccompanied field hollers and work songs associated with the social conditions of the Blacks. The diatonic and later more chromatic melodic tunes most likely grew from late 19th and early 20th-century European antecedents. The harmony found in European music is probably the last to be absorbed by Blacks.

New Orleans

By 195, New Orleans had produced remarkable musicians such as Buddy Bolden, Buddy Petit, Keppard, Johnson, and Bechet. Scores of these New Orleans musicians, mostly pianists, found employment in the entertainment places of Storyville. Despite the strong black influence in jazz music, it was ironic that the first jazz recordings were made in New York City in 1917 by a second-rate group of musicians from New Orleans, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Their entertaining but substance-less barnyard sound effects presented a misleading picture of true New Orleans jazz.

When Storyville was closed in 1917, most jazz musicians moved to Chicago, which became the next jazz capital. One of the famous jazz musicians of the age who moved was the young Louis Armstrong, who later moved to New York City and matured into a major soloist. Armstrong single-handedly invented the swing. He taught another jazz musical icon, Coleman Hawkins, how to swing.

Although we do not offer jazz as a program, our instructors are versatile musicians also keen on jazz. Find out about our music programmes here.

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