Perhaps one of the most fascinating histories in the world of music is the history of jazz. Sometimes upbeat – Braggin’ in Brass – and sometimes somber – You Must Believe in Spring – jazz music has a rich and diverse history.
Nearly two hundred years after the first African slaves were sold into American slavery, New Orleans established its first official space for “slave music” in 1817. The large music-filled space was called “Congo Square,” and has been considered the birthplace of jazz music.
Jazz music is comprised a combination of ragtime, blues, and gospel music. This combination of sounds would not become the jazz we know today until at least the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, no jazz sound was recorded until 1917, so it is difficult to know the exact date of the birth of jazz. Interestingly, the first jazz recording was by a group of white musicians who included barnyard sound effects, painting a rather confusing picture of the true colors of jazz.
Amusingly, in 1902, Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have invented jazz. An inspired pianist, Morton likely did introduce improvisational ideas and scat singing into the genre; however, his claim to have single handedly invented jazz is absurd! Entire cultures and different musical evolution created the jazz we know today.
By around the year 1915, New Orleans become host to a remarkable set of musicians including Buddy Bolden, Buddy Petit, Bechet, Keppard, and Johnson. These, and many other artists, found steady work playing for establishments in the red-light district in New Orleans until 1917 when it essentially closed down. At that time, the secretary of the navy decreed those in armed forces should not be exposed to this form of vice.
On August 4, 1901 Jazz received a new voice in Louis Armstrong. Possibly one of the greatest and most influential artists in the history of not only jazz, but also music, Louis Armstrong shaped jazz into what it is today. Armstrong created his own style, and perfected improvised solos. Armstrong was nicknamed “Satchmo,” and “Pops.” His name is known and admired worldwide.
Shortly before World War II, jazz music began a musical transition into Swing. Swing music is basic jazz rhythm. This style of music was the birthplace to great orchestras and performers including “Duke Ellington.” This amazing pianist started studying piano at age seven, and playing jazz by his teen years. His unique and phenomenal sound is one of the key contributing elements that made swing so successful. His years playing the jazz sound helped define the music of this era.
Hundreds of years and voices came together to create the sound we know as jazz. The remarkable history of this genre still inspires and entices listeners hundreds of years since its inception.