Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Musicby Bob Blumenthal
Explore the essence of jazz from its early roots, to the years of swing and Satchmo, to ragtime and beyond. In Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music, renowned jazz writer Bob Blumenthal offers a perfect introduction to understanding jazz, whether you are approaching the music for the first time or seeking to deepen your/b>… See more details below
Explore the essence of jazz from its early roots, to the years of swing and Satchmo, to ragtime and beyond. In Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music, renowned jazz writer Bob Blumenthal offers a perfect introduction to understanding jazz, whether you are approaching the music for the first time or seeking to deepen your knowledge. Inside you will find the people who made the music, history, listening suggestions, jazz trivia, and more. Can you dig it?
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An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America�s Music
Blues and roots
(jazz before 1920)
The spread of jazz in the first two decades of the twentieth century is astounding, given the technological limits of the time. On the basis of a few phonograph recordings, some piano rolls, and the wanderlust of early jazz musicians, a style of music that was spawned primarily in black communities of the American South had spread across the country and begun to make inroads around the world. Jazz was already starting to signify freedom and forward thinking, and it would soon lend its name to a euphoric period that saw other musical styles redefined by its feeling and beat.
Roots and routes
There were no audio recordings of jazz before 1917, so we have to turn to other forms of evidence to discover how jazz took shape before 1920—what we could call the music's prehistoric period.
Even after the startling success of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues" and "Dixieland One-Step"—the first jazz 78 rpm recording and a million-seller upon its release in 1917—recording companies remained more interested in classical artists and more polite dance orchestras.
The rolls of paper cut by seminal figures like Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton for use in player pianos also provide only limited insight; they fail to capture nuances of touch and accent. Also, in a precursor to the overdubbing of later decades, piano rolls often contained added parts that made the resulting music almost impossible to play by a single pianist.
Morton and Joseph"King" Oliver began to record in 1923, but jazz developed at such a rapid pace in this period that the music did not necessarily reflect what these and other artists sounded like lo or 20 years earlier. Many witnesses who lived in New Orleans and were familiar with the music played there during the 1897-1917 heyday of the city's infamous Storyville district insisted that the first recordings by Oliver's Creole Jazz Band represent a significant evolution from his earlier style. Some even swore that the real sounds of Storyville were never captured on recordings.
In the soundbite version of jazz's origins, rhythmic African music and harmonic European composition merge in the black and Creole neighborhoods of New Orleans, taking root there and then migrating north and east by riverboat just prior to the lg2os. But this capsule creation myth glosses over a far more complex and widespread history. When Morton, Oliver, and their peers began to develop what the world came to know as jazz, they were able to draw upon nearly a century of African-influenced musical styles developed all over America and the Caribbean. And many of these innovators didn't wait for the shutdown of New Orleans's red light district, or the next paddle wheeler leaving from the local port, to take what they had learned on the road.
Africa was an essential source point for jazz music, inspiring such key jazz elements as rhythmic expression, improvisation, call-and-response and narrative techniques, and interactive spirituality.
In Africa, unlike Europe, rhythm served as the primary element of musical expression, and ensembles composed entirely of percussion instruments created extended polyrhythmic works. African music was not committed to paper; it was an oral (or more accurately an aural) tradition, learned by ear and therefore more naturally subject to spontaneous variation. Techniques such as call-and-response patterns, where a lead voice is answered by the surrounding ensemble, and narrative forms such as the insult-laden songs of allusion from West Africa would reappear as central components of the jazz style.
The power of African musical ideas was felt in the Western Hemisphere long before 1900, and far beyond the confines of a single community. Africa influenced evolving styles of religious music, at first through the survival of vodun (voodoo) societies in Catholic portions of the New World, where European religious practices were less likely to be imposed upon the slaves than in the Protestant American South. This gave African religious music a foothold in New Orleans, where the slaves were allowed to dance and play instruments in Congo Square beginning in 1817, as well as in Cuba and Haiti.
Traces of African influence were also entering Christian religious practice. Camp meetings and revivals, popular in rural and frontier America during much of the nineteenth century, frequently featured black preachers who sermonized in a florid, interactive style that was at times similar to the trancelike states of the vodun societies and anticipated the congregational fervor of later gospel services.
A more formal merger of African and European musical influences led to circle dances or "ring shouts," which were first described in the Civil War period. In these musical expressions, improvised variations on short, rhythmic melodies (later called "blue notes") were created through call-and-response patterns. Concert performances of Negro spirituals, which became popular after the first tour of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1871, are another example of the African/European synthesis.
American secular music was also showing the influence of Africa in a variety of ways. During the last half of the nineteenth century, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment throughout the country. They presented a caricature of Negro life that lingered until the civil rights era of the 196os. Minstrel shows mixed dramatic vignettes and vaudeville acts performed by Caucasians in blackface like the popular Thomas D. "Daddy Jim Crow" Rice. They featured stylizations of black music by white composers like Stephen Foster. The shows were a two-edged sword, stereotyping and stigmatizing the manners of the former slaves while also spreading their culture and subtly mocking the mainstream.Jazz
An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America�s Music. Copyright � by Bob Blumenthal. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>
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Meet the Author
Former Boston Globe columnist Bob Blumenthal has been writing jazz criticism since 1969 and has contributed to numerous publications. He has received Grammy Awards for Best Album Notes and the Jazz Journalists Association's Excellence in Newspaper, Magazine, or Online Feature or Review Writing Award and Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award.
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