Jazz Music Essay

Jazz Music Essay

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What is Jazz? According to the dictionary, jazz is defined as, “A kind of syncopated, highly rhythmic music originated by Southern blacks in the late 19th century” (“Jazz” 232). But, everyone should at least agree that jazz is the mother of all music, and is referred to as the only art form originating in the United States (“History 101” 2). America was home to immigrants from all over Europe and beyond who wished to build a new life, or just needed to escape from the old. These people, often thought of as second-class, brought their culture with them to America, expressed it musically, and changed the music world as we know it today. Most early jazz was played in small marching bands or by solo pianists. Besides ragtime and marches, the repertoire included hymns, spirituals, and blues. The bands played this music at picnics, weddings, parades, and funerals. Characteristically, the bands played hymns on the way to funerals and lively marches on the way back. Although blues and ragtime had arisen independently of jazz, and continued to exist alongside it, these genres influenced the style and forms of jazz and provided important vehicles for jazz improvisation. Around the turn of the 20th century, the earliest fully documented jazz style emerged, centered in New Orleans, Louisiana. This city is often called the “cradle of jazz” (“History 101” 3). In this style, the trumpet carried the melody, the clarinet played showy countermelodies, and the trombone played rhythmic slides and sounded the root notes of chords or simple harmony. Below this basic trio, the tuba or string bass provided a bass line and drums the rhythmic accompaniment. New Orleans jazz was just the beginning of an entire sweep across the county. The first true virtuoso soloist of jazz was Louis Armstrong. He was a dazzling improviser, technically, emotionally, and intellectually. He changed the format of jazz by bringing the soloist to the forefront, and in his recording groups, the “Hot Five” and the “Hot Seven” (Porter 2), demonstrated that jazz improvisation could go far beyond simply ornamenting the melody. He became the first well known male jazz singer, and also set standards for all later jazz singers, by creating scat singing: singing meaningless syllables instead of words, not unlike instrumental improvisation. During the 1920s, large groups of jazz musicians began to play together, forming the big bands that became so popular in the 1930s and early 1940s, (the swing era). The development of the big band can be majorly credited to the achievement of Duke Ellington and his revolutionary song, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” (“Jazz Music” 54). This soon became the new word for music played with a happy, relaxed beat. A new style also started in the early 1940’s when a group of musicians started experimenting with more complicated chord patterns and melodic ideas. This group included trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, and pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. This new approach became known as bebop, or bop. Most bop musicians had exceptional techniques that enabled them to play long, dazzling phrases with many notes. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, jazz began to lose its reputation as a “lowdown” music, and gained acceptance among intellectuals and college students. Jazz concerts became popular. Duke Ellington and other big band leaders gave many concerts, and a group of improvising musicians made a series of nationwide tours called “Jazz at the Philharmonic” (“Jazz Music” 56). Jazz music was revolutionary and is still changing and improving, even today. The music world today would not be the same without the influence of these amazing and breathtaking musicians.

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