The Origins of Jazz: A Historical Overview

Jazz is a musical form, often involving improvisation, that developed in the United States in the early 20th century. It is a fusion of African rhythms, European harmonic structure, and other musical influences. New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, played a key role in the development of jazz. The city's diverse population of African Americans, French, Caribbean, Italian, German, Mexican, American Indian, and English ancestry interacted with each other and created a unique musical environment.

African American musical traditions mixed with others and jazz gradually emerged from a mix of ragtime, marches, blues and other types of music. Initially, jazz was mostly for dancing. Later on, people began to sit and listen to jazz performances. The evolution of jazz was led by a series of brilliant musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

Jazz developed a number of different styles including traditional jazz, swing, bebop, fresh jazz and jazz rock. Where did jazz originate from? Jazz originated in New Orleans in the second half of the 19th century. The city was a port city with people coming from all over the world who socialized and shared their music. African slaves were even allowed to own drums which added to the mix of musical influences. Jazz is characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensembles, varying degrees of improvisation, often deliberate deviations in tone and the use of original timbres. In 2001, the documentary Jazz by Ken Burns premiered on PBS with Wynton Marsalis and other experts reviewing the entire history of American jazz up to that point.

Jazz musicians like to play their songs in their own different styles so you can listen to a dozen different jazz recordings of the same song but each one will sound different. The most prominent in the beginning of the sacred jazz-movement were pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams known for her jazz masses in the 1950s and Duke Ellington. At this point jazz from the 20s and 30s was already beginning to give way to the Big Band era although musicians such as Ellington and Armstrong would continue to develop jazzy until their death. Acid jazz often contains several types of electronic composition but it is just as likely to be played live by musicians who often show the interpretation of jazz as part of their performance. Since only a limited number of American jazz records were released in Europe European jazz has many of its roots in American artists such as James Reese Europe Paul Whiteman and Lonnie Johnson who visited Europe during and after the First World War. In the early 1980s a commercial form of jazz fusion called smooth jazz succeeded garnering significant radio coverage. In the 1980s in addition to Wynton and Branford Marsalis pianists such as Donald Brown Mulgrew Miller and later Benny Green bassists such as Charles Fambrough Lonnie Plaxico (and later Peter Washington and Essiet Essiet) trumpeters such as Bill Pierce Donald Harrison and later Javon Jackson and Terence Blanchard emerged as talented jazz musicians all of whom made important contributions in the 1990s and 2000s. Contemporaries of the young Jazz Messengers including Roy Hargrove Marcus Roberts Wallace Roney and Mark Whitfield were also influenced by Wynton Marsalis' emphasis on jazz tradition.

But critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt argues that his terms of reference and definition should be broader defining jazz as a form of artistic music that originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music. The jazz era culminated with the historic Benny Goodman concert of 1938 at Carnegie Hall which brought together musicians of various ethnicities to play jazz inside this sacred hall. It ranges from the combination of live instrumentation with the rhythms of house jazz (as exemplified by St Germain Jazzanova and Fila Brazillia) to improvised jazz more based on bands with electronic elements (for example The Cinematic Orchestra Kobol and the future Norwegian jazzstyle initiated by Bugge Wesseltoft Jaga Jazzist and Nils Petter Molvær). Pianist Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus have explored contemporary rock music in the context of the traditional jazz acoustic piano trio recording instrumental jazz versions of songs by rock musicians. Others say it happened in 1917 when Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first jazz album Livery Stable Blues. Handy's musical career began in the pre-jazz era and contributed to the codification of jazz through the publication of some of the first jazz scores.

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