Jazz music originated from African-America musicians in the late 19th Century and was influenced by African culture and some elements of European music like blues. Ragtime music also had a significant influence on jazz. Africans were enslaved in America between the 16th Century and 19th Centuries bringing the African culture with them to America. African culture thrives in villages, allowing everyone to take part in songs and dances. Ceremonies are common in the villages, enabling everyone to learn the songs and dances. Just like in African traditional songs, jazz songs have a soloist and rhythm. Slave songs that were sung while working in the fields in America laid the foundations for the creation of jazz music. At the time, their masters thought of those songs as work songs and the slaves were not restricted from singing them. The songs created a sense of belonging and familiarity between the slaves. Eventually, in the late 19th Century the different styles blended to form jazz music.
Jazz music is a unique genre formed by swing notes as well as call and response rhythms. First jazz songs can be traced in New Orleans where musicians blended different styles to come up with jazz music. Brass bands that were formed by communities in New Orleans to accompany funeral and holiday processions were the first ones to play jazz music (Verity). The period after the abolition of slavery provided the right conditions for jazz to develop. African-American families stayed together and combined their musical styles with other common styles at the time like ragtime to form jazz music. The emergence of hot jazz incorporated the fast rhythms of swing and the use of instruments like banjo, trumpets, and saxophones. Later, the stride piano style emerged mainly after World War I. Stride piano bands from New Orleans toured the country helping the spread of jazz music to other areas.
The musical elements that jazz has are also common in other genres. The uniqueness of jazz music lies in the way the melody begins the song then every musician takes their turn to improvise on the melody. The notes played range from low to gravely and long ones. Harmony is also a characteristic of jazz music. The songs have harmony to make them livelier and the melody fuller. Another aspect of jazz songs is the rhythm. The songs follow a particular pattern to establish the rhythm. Both the soloist and the back performers follow this rhythm. The performers further improvise the notes to make them longer or shorter. Towards the end of the jazz songs, there is the return of the melody. The uniqueness of jazz songs is that they allow for improvisation hence a song may sound different on every occasion, unlike other songs where the rhythms don’t change (McLaughlin).
Over time jazz music has seen the recording of popular songs spanning generations. “High Society” was a 1901 composition by Porter Steele. The song was popular among the New Orleans jazz bands at the time of its release. The song was originally recorded as a ragtime song; improvements were made to make it a jazz standard. Robert Recker made a counterpoint to the song’s melody for the piccolo. Later, Alphonse Picou made the song famous by adopting the piccolo into a clarinet. New Orleans bands widely used the clarinet variation. The composition had a slow temple even though later recordings used as lightly faster tempo. The rhythm of the composition is considered being regular. The song is famed for the orchestrating the evolution of early jazz music. Although it was Steele’s composition, Picou’s improvement and performance of “High Society” made it famous. Picou’s part was used to test clarinettists on their abilities and potential. Clarinetists would not be considered proficient without performing Picou’s part of the composition.
“So What” by Miles Davis is another instrumental jazz song. Bills Evans recorded the song in 1959 for Miles’ album “Kind of Blue” album. The song talks about the Davis himself leaving the stage and his audience certainly not amused probably because he only performed a solo. The audience also feels that the performance was not up to standard and there is a suggestion that he needs to rehearse despite the fact that he is a master. The song falls under the category of modal jazz which uses musical modes as opposed to code progression to produce harmony. The song is made up of 16 bars of the D Dorian and another eight bars of the E Dorian (Ward). The original song has a moderate tempo to it, but future recording has upped the tempo. The rhythmic style itself is free enabling it to have variations at every performance. The song is one of the most listened to jazz songs and has influenced many modern jazz musicians.
“Seven Minute Mind” by The Bad Plus band has the qualities of a 21st Century jazz song. Recorded in 2012, the son was the first by the group to use electronic instruments. The song is known for its striking rhythm use and repeating notes (Fordham). Its tempo is high when compared to other jazz songs from early periods and the middle 20th Century. The song is a practical example of modern day jazz music. The high tempo and use of electric instruments is a characteristic of contemporary jazz.
Comparing the three songs, “High Society” by Porter Steele, “So What” by Miles Davis and “Seven Minute Mind” by The Bad Plus a clear picture of how jazz music has evolved is evident. Early jazz music had a slow tempo with the use of less sophisticated musical instruments. In the middle of the 20th Century, jazz developed its roots and style to add flavour to it. Towards the end of the end of the 20th Century, retro swing emerged. Other types of music profoundly influenced modern jazz. Jazz has also evolved from a predominantly African-American music genre to a commonly accepted form of music. As evidenced by the songs reviewed, the number of people listening to jazz music is rapidly rising.
The growth of jazz music has had a profound effect on other music genres. In the early 20th Century, jazz was seen as an expression of rebellion and going against the established white culture. Over time, musicians from other genres started seeing music as a tool for expressing their opinion on certain issues that are unacceptable in society. Musicians, therefore, found inspiration in jazz music to go against the expected norm. In the 1960s, some elements of jazz music started appearing in pop. The use of sophisticated rhythms which were not uncommon in early pop songs was as a result of the interaction of the two genres. The mentality of the musicians also changed, they started avoiding clichés and standards forms that pop was used to (Hasted).
Hip-hop music is known to have been brought about by the interaction between jazz and reggae music. The topics and message in hip-hop songs embrace the hardships that early jazz musicians sang about. Rock and roll is also an outgrowth of jazz. The fact that it developed later in the 1950s provides evidence that Rock and roll may have been created from jazz music. Rhythm and blues are also genres that draw inspiration from jazz. The heavy use of rhythms in these two genres shows their closeness and similarity. It’s therefore clear that jazz has influenced almost all the genres present today in the US and other countries.
Jazz music was first brought to France by black settlers after World War I. although the French thought that jazz was more of American culture because from did not suffer much from discrimination, the emergence of other smaller genres at the time made jazz to be widely accepted. Jean “Django” Reinhardt was one of the pioneers of Jazz music in France. Reinhardt moved to France as a settler and established himself as a jazz musician (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). He was a talented guitarist, and his skills with the guitar influenced the acceptability of the French people towards a foreign kind of music. Reinhardt formed a group that featured the guitar as its lead instrument. Combined with tours with jazz musicians from the US, Reinhardt helped in popularizing jazz music in France. Brazil, on the other hand, accepted jazz music in early 20th Century. The culture of Brazilians and their social life may have played a hand on the acceptability of jazz in the country. However, musician Tom Jobim was crucial in making jazz a popular genre in Brazil. Jobim worked with American musicians to merge bossa nova, favorite Brazilian style at the time, with jazz (Fléchet 13). The merger was more appealing to the Brazilian people, and more people started listening to jazz. Jobim produced several jazz albums during his career. His stature among Brazils was crucial in making jazz music popular. His songs have been performed by other Brazilian artists hence making jazz widely accepted in the country.
In conclusion, the evolution of jazz music from its early years to present has seen the genre rise steadily. Though it was initially thought to be African-American kind of music, over time, it has been accepted worldwide. Comparing famous jazz songs from different periods in the history of jazz, the music itself has improved. The rise in fame of jazz music has had a profound effect on other music genres. The impact of jazz is being felt in almost all music genres. From its roots in New Orleans, jazz has grown to different countries like Brazil and France. However, the uniqueness of jazz music sets it apart from other genres.
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Fléchet, Anaïs. “Jazz in Brazil: An Early History (1920S-1950s).” Jazz Research Journal 10.1/2 (2016): 12.
Fordham, John. “The Bad Plus: Made Possible – A Review.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. 20 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.
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Hasted, Nick. “How Jazz Secretly Invaded Pop Music.” Independent. The Independent. 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2017.
Ward, Thomas JazzSampler. ” Song Review by Thomas Ward.” AllMusic. AllMusic, Member of the RhythmOne Group. 2017. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.
McLaughlin, Moira E. “All about Jazz, Uniquely American Music.” 12 May 2012. Washington Post. The Washington Post. 24 Ma. 2012. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.
National Historical Park. “Jazz Origins in New Orleans.”National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Apr. 2015,
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