History of Jazz

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Louisiana Delta Origins:

Jazz in the Delta developed about 100 years ago, in the early 20th century. It arose out of a rich mix of cultures: French, African-Americans living in close proximity in New Orleans. African dance and drumming was heard, as slaves gathered socially in markets on Sundays—this tradition influenced jazz; the call and response chanting of West African and Caribbean music.

Later, Mardi Gras celebrations and processions influenced Louis Armstrong and Lee Collins as well as Jelly Roll Morton. A national trend towards brass marching bands of late 1880s, with some syncopated rhythms, again, was rhythmically derived from African American tradition.

In the 1890’s: Syncopated piano compositions (ragtime) emerged in popular music and brass band popularity expanded to rest of county.

Papa Jack Laine’s Reliance Brass Band was integrated until segregation pressure developed. Brass bands joined benevolent societies to aid post-Civil War emancipated African Americans, expressing themselves in funeral processions and parades with a “second line” dancing procession following.

At turn of century, the central business district of New Orleans employed musicians in vaudeville and theater and music publishing. Dance was an integral part of the music. Bands played at many public events: store openings, festivals, weddings, political rallies, lawn parties, funerals. Jazz music spread through social aid groups and clubs, through vaudeville and riverboats and tours. New York and Chicago embraced New Orleans jazz.

Bibliography: Jazz Origins in New Orleans, National Historical Park, Louisiana


Other Influences:


During the first two thirds of the 1900’s, factory workers from the South migrated to Chicago, providing a sizable youthful audience for jazz in the city.

The Great Migration of African Americans increased demand for cafes, cabarets, dance halls, on Chicago’s South Side. Influential performers, band leaders, or composers were: Tony Jackson, Ferd La Menthe, Jelly Roll Morton, Manuel Perez, and King Oliver.

The World Columbian Exposition of 1893 drew ragtime pianists, prompting development of popular music styles associated with Chicago

From 1917 to 1928: Chicago and Richmond Indiana became hot recording spots for King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, including Louis Armstrong—Chicago because a center for authentic jazz and blues recording. However there was some departure of jazz musicians for New York in the Roaring Twenties.

Later, white jazz groups began to form: Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan. Benny Goodman was noted as the King of Swing in the 1930s and 1940s. In some ways, media publicized jazz as Big Band Swing in the mid 1930’s.

During World War II, urban style influenced jazz and blues in Chicago, with emphasis on a solitary male vocalist; this movement later influenced the creation of the Motown label by Berry Gordy Jr in Detroit, in 1959.

Post World War II, Chicago’s South Side and Sun Ra, an avant-garde pianist, transformed jazz in an experimental way. In homage to African culture, they formed the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians which advocated free, atonal music.

Chicago is considered an important hub of jazz, including iconic clubs such as the Green Mill; and featuring Chicago Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend.

Bibliography: Encyclopedia of Chicago: Jazz


Kansas City:

Kansas City African American musicians, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, influenced by blues and ragtime, developed a particular style of jazz, attributed largely to Count Basie, and later Charlie Parker. In the 1940’s, Parker transitioned this style to bebop. Bebop was characterized by fast tempo, complex chord progressions, rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity and improvisation.

Several railroads intersected in Kansas City and new airlines included the city in their routes. Prohibition was somewhat overlooked in the city, and clubs and bars stayed open all night; there were more than 100 night clubs; and around 12th street, nearly 50 jazz clubs. 18th and Vine became a famous crossroads for jazz. Jazz artists would remain up all night, jamming.

Other famous jazz musicians hailing from Kansas City were: Andy Kirk, Joe Turner, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams and Jay McShann.


East Coast:

New York’s Tin Pan Alley dominated music publishing in early 1900’s. An east coast piano tradition emerged from New Jersey pianist James P Johnson, and was also expressed by Fats Waller, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Count Basie. Waller was a renowned stride pianist (technique, lightness, swing, bounciness). Basie, Art Tatum, and Dave Brubeck were influenced by Waller.

New Orleans jazz bands came to New York as jugglers or as part of vaudeville acts, sometimes, to escape discrimination. Freddie Keppard brought New Orleans jazz to the city in 1915 to a lukewarm reception. However the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917 recorded with the Victor label and achieved instant success. In 1926 Mayor Jimmy Walker lifted restrictions on speakeasies, which helped open venues for jazz music. High energy piano: “Harlem stride” developed as a New York style. Duke Ellington moved to New York in the 1920’s, impacting the jazz scene significantly. Ben Pollack, Benny Goodman, and Fletcher Henderson bands located in New York; Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker later relocated there. Manhattan became a place to prove oneself, in part because of the support of live music in New York.


West Coast:

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, West Coast, or “cool” jazz emerged, from musicians in California. The style was more subdued and lyrical, with a lighter tone and relaxed tempo, emphasizing composition as opposed to bop’s emphasis on improvisation. Jazz ensembles varied in size, and included a variety of unexpected instruments.

Some artists influenced by this style were: Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and Stan Getz. While the West Coast description sometimes is perceived to be about white musicians, there were significant black musicians in Los Angeles; bop saxophonist Dexter Gordon for example, and later, in the 1960’s, avant-garde bassist Charles Mingus.




Sometimes called Afro-Cuban jazz, this music emphasizes rhythm and percussion; blending Spanish Caribbean, European and African traditions.

In the early 1900’s, some American musicians incorporated Cuban habanera rhythm (syncopated, four beat pattern). In the following decades there was interchange between American music and Afro-Cuban music. In the 1940’s in New York City, a trumpeter, Mario Bauza, and the Machito orchestra, popularized a tune called “Tanga”, one of the early examples of Latin Jazz.

Band leader Stan Kenton began to experiment with Afro Cuban percussion. Dizzy Gillespie, a pioneer of bebop, introduced Afro Cuban dance rhythms into his music, with composer Chano Pozo. “Manteca”, a jazz standard, was born. Later, Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich played with the Machito (Cuban influenced) orchestra.

Cuban Pianist Ramon “Bebo” Valdes, in 1952, recorded “Con Poco Coco”, the first improvised Afro Cuban jam session. Bebo’s son, Chucho Valdes, from the 1970’s on, and the Cuban orchestra, Irakere, fused virtuoso pianists, flautists and horn players with Cuban and Puerto Rican influence, and melody became as important as percussion.

Other jazz musicians spun their take on this music, sometimes calling it “Latin Jazz”, for example, pianist George Shearing and percussionist Cal Tjader. Bandleader Tito Puente added vibraphone and timbales to the genre.



In the 1960’s, Brazil’s music spread to the United States, called bossa nova, which combined samba with American jazz tradition. Typically including classical guitar, piano, electronic organ, acoustic bass and drums, the music reflected optimism, and interestingly, included silence—pauses between notes—as a part of the relaxing nature of the music.

Musicians and composers such as Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Luz Bonfa represent the genre well. Jobim recorded The Girl From Ipanema which was later recorded with Frank Sinatra. Other famous bossa nova songs are: Desafinado, Corcovado, Chega de saudade, and Mas Que Nada.



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