The Early Days of Jazz

Jazz music has been described in many ways in its relatively short history. The genre has only been around for hundred years or so and surely many of the earliest jazz songs have been lost to an era with very little recording technology. The jazz movement was poised to explode at the beginning of the twentieth century, coming up as it did with electric technology and industrialization.

Since then jazz has become a rather broad umbrella term that can cover all sorts of sub-genres and fusions. A couple of the traits that make jazz what it is are improvisation and offbeat rhythms, things that have little to do with any particular scales or instruments. They combine quite nicely with many different instruments and techniques.

Like many new musical trends, in its early days jazz was sometimes disdained by the established guard who deemed it decadent or sinful. This was partly due to its association with gin joints and dance clubs during Prohibition in the twenties and thirties. It also happened because jazz was a whole new thing to the ears of the time, a melding of European musical theories with those of African-Americans. It is often said to be the a uniquely American music genre with roots that could only grow in such a hodgepodge mix of nationalities.

Self employed and work from home? You may need direct line home business insurance. Run a hairdresser's salon? You'll need hairdresser insurance. Got an office at home? Yep, you've guessed it, you probably need to look at home office insurance. Have you ever thought to yourself "i need car insurance"? You may need no deposit car insurance or monthly car insurance then.

The west African slaves of the new world brought with them their own music, which was more dependent on complex drum rhythms and interactive group singing than it was on the harmony and written composition seen in the music of Western Europe. Symphonic pieces often stuck to more standard time signatures as a base for more complicated melodies and harmonies.

The first jazz musicians combined all of these aspects. New Orleans is called the birthplace of jazz because its position as an important center of the slave trade made it a place where these traits came together early and often. After emancipation, as blacks slowly began to integrate they also started using instruments and musical theory of European origin more and more.

Jazz music spread rather quickly through the United States. Many black people worked as entertainers, no doubt because employment options for African-Americans of the time were, to say the least, limited. Some of them worked on the riverboats that brought the new sound up the Mississippi. When New Orleans's famed Storyville district closed in 1917 a good portion of the demand for musical entertainment in the city went with it. This caused more performers to depart in search of greener pastures, bringing jazz to New York, Chicago and other cities.

One of the stars of early jazz was Buddy Bolden, a cornet player who was quite popular from about 1900 to 1907. He left no recordings, unfortunately. Bolden departed from the common written ragtime compositions and improvised quite frequently to make a potent mix of ragtime, hymn, blues, and marching band music. His band relegated stringed instruments to the rhythm section and put woodwinds and brass at the forefront.

Another important early jazzman was Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton. This Afro-Creole piano player also got his start in Storyville, but he enjoyed a much longer career than Buddy Bolden. He penned an extensive collection of jazz standards like "King Porter Stomp" and "Jelly Roll Blues." He left town with a traveling troupe around 1904 and wound up traveling extensively throughout the United States.

The very first jazz recording was not made by either of these fellows, however. That distinction belongs to The Original Dixieland Jass Band, who released "Livery Stable Blues" in 1917. Other bands followed suit and jazz was on its way to the top.

Copyright reserved worldwide Gordon Parry 2008