THE HISTORY OF JAZZ
(This article was a winner in the Black History Month essay contest in Greenwood Lake, NY in 2015. Sponsered by Black History Club
by Jacqueline Kennick
Jazz is truly an
American art form that was created and raised in America by all jazz
musicians but by black jazz musicians in particular.
In the 1940s jazz was at an all time high. As with any living art form
it has since created offshoots and constantly merged with other
influences such as Latin American, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, blues, klezmer
etc. (ed) The rhythms of Jazz were influenced
from roots in Africa, and the islands of the Caribbean and the harmonies
are derived from European music. You had swing, which is
considered the most popular form of jazz to date and in response to
swing bebop; fast, complex music that was fairly presented as the music
of musicians for it was highly intricate.
Bebop was associated with Charlie Parker (alto sax), Dizzy
Gillespie (trumpet), and Bud Powell (piano). Charlie Parker was a
largely self-invented musician who after attempts to solo at Kansas City
jam sessions then disappeared off the face of the earth in the summer
of 1937 to return to the murmurs of people saying that “Cat’s been
shedding.” This refers to the practice of woodshedding, which is when a
musician takes time to dissect the intricate workings of jazz and to
immerse yourself in the art of jazz and your instrument. To bebop goers
such as Charlie Parker woodshedding was the very necessary practice of
mastering the mechanics and gaining technique through the journey of
learning to hone your instrument; but to people who are not masters of
music we simply consider it practice. The term woodshedding comes from
the fact that for privacy people would go and practice in their woodshed
so as not to be overheard.
At the same time a song by Thelonious Monk (pianist) came out,
called round midnight. It is still the most recorded jazz standard by a
jazz musician. In England Pannonica de Koenigswarter, heard the song.
She was a Rothschild, which was a prominent Jewish family, which had
lots of wealth. She then married a baron and she had 5 children. However
when she heard the song she decided to come to America to meet
Thelonious Monk. She became known as the jazz baroness, a patron of jazz
musicians. She became good friends with Thelonious Monk, Charlie
Parker, and Miles Davis.
She gave them authenticity an often gave them a place of refuge
when they needed a place to stay. When Charlie Parker was sick he came
to Pannonica and later died at her house. When the doctor performed an
autopsy he reported that Parker had the body of and 80 year old ; Parker
died at the age of 36.
Out of bebop came cool jazz, which arose, in the late 1940s following
World War 2. As the names suggests this form of jazz had more relaxed
tempos and a lighter tone compared bebop; it also incorporates elements
of classical music.
The big jazz giant in cool jazz was Miles Davis, a trumpet player, who
while vaguely involved in the bebop scene was ultimately unable to
technically keep up with the fast workings of bebop; however he was
undoubtedly an artist as he was the father of cool jazz and went on to
prosper in music all the way until his death in 1991, involved in many
types of jazz. In the 1950s music starts to incorporate some gospel
elements. The most popular form of jazz was hard bop sometimes referred
to as funky hard bop, an extension of bebop, which was influenced by
rhythm and blues, and gospel music. Hard bop and soul jazz are often
closely associated but there are some identifiable differences. Soul
jazz as said by Mark C. Gridley more specifically refers to music with
"an earthy, bluesy melodic concept and repetitive, dance-like rhythms;
where as hard bop has a rollicking, rhythmic feeling. Miles Davis was
also very much apart of hard bop writing songs and albums such as dig,
blue haze, and walkin.
Towards the end of the 1950s you start to see jazz musicians writing
their pieces using modal scales. Modal music meant that the music had
fewer chords so you had to create interest using other techniques such
as: melody, rhythm, timbre, and emotion. It was composer and bandleader
George Russell who began to experiment with modal music; and Miles
Davis, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock then went on to distinguish Modal
Jazz. Also. Blues was also very popular during the 1950s and it was
during this period that you start to see rock and roll originate from
blues. Later in the 1960s when rock and roll became popular blues, the
form of music rock was derived from, also had a big boom
In the 1960s the spiritual side of jazz emerges and you start to see
several musicians discover religion through music. Several musicians try
to spread humanity through their music like Cecil Taylor while other
seek god through their music such as John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.
A big part of the 1960s is also civil rights..
A revolutionary statement in the 60s was a song by Charles Mingus called
Fables of Faubus. It made fun of Arkansas governor Faubus for being
racist. In 1957 he sent the National Guard to prevent black children
from attending high school In Little Rock. Also in the 1960s you began
to see Black jazz musicians finding their own voice instead of
performing for white people. Charles Mingus (bass player) straddled
bebop one foot in radical jazz; but he carried the torch throughout the
1960s, changing the status quo with his radical song fables of Faubus.
One offshoot of radical jazz was the AACM (Association for the
Advancement of Creative Musicians) noted for their experimentation. They
tried to find new ways to use instruments and tried to sever their ties
to European roots of jazz music. In the 1960s jazz musicians were
considered renaissance men in a sense for they not only studied music
but also religion, mysticism, politics, philosophy, literature, dance,
physhics, metaphysics, and other forms of science in addition to other
arts such as poetry and painting.
Leading into the 1970s other countries started to influence jazz music.
Abshalom Ben Shlomo is a black Jewish jazz musician who went to Israel to get in
touch with his roots. He introduced jazz to Israel and then incorporated
Middle Eastern influences into his music. He still performs at the Red
Sea Jazz Festival today. Not only Abshalom Ben Shlomo’s music was
influenced by non-western music; Chick Corea incorporated Latin elements
into his music.
In the 1970s the Beatles and Motown as much as jazz influenced new
artists such as Chick Corea and George Benson. Miles Davis was involved
in Jazz Rock also known as fusion or jazz-fusion. This form of music was
made by mixing funk, rhythm, and blues and rhythm. It used the
electronic effects and instruments of rock, as well as jazz instruments,
and derived complex time signatures from Middle Eastern music. Jazz and
rock mixed in the late 1960s – 1970s. Though in the 1970s a few
well-established blues names flourished for the most part blues music
struggled to prosper.
Different influences continued to contribute to jazz in the 1980s
and still continue to do so. Many different forms of music came out such
as acid jazz and jazz rap in the 1980s and the bugaloo from Puerto
Rico. The dispersal of jazz throughout the world truly happened under
the influence of American blacks and still lives on to this day.
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