Nothing can characterize American spirit, soul, and musical culture of the first half of the twentieth century better than jazz music. Jazz has become a symbol of the Unite States, the reflection of its diversity, mood, and inner nature. There are a lot of theories, thoughts, and researches about the origin, definitions, and influence of jazz music. Nevertheless, it still remains almost impossible to identify all source of this music or to define it precisely. Having appeared at the end of the nineteenth century, jazz united the country, made the revolution in the music world, and turned into one of the most distinctive features of the American nation. The analysis and research of the mechanisms of jazz development, investigation of its characteristics and essence provide an insight into the life of the United States in the first half of twentieth century and allow understanding nature of jazz itself.
Although no common definition of jazz music can be found, its history appears to be mysterious and complicated. Jazz was neglected in its homeland, but always sought survival and proved to be worth it.The combination of melody, rhythm, and harmony turned to be the nucleus of a new music style. As a rule, the melody and chords could be altered in jazz while the beat remained the same. The roots of new music have their traces in several nations and cultures pointing out the multicultural origin of jazz. Thus, the jazz music appeared from the fusion of the European, African, and Latino-American cultures. New music style came from Africa in slave ships, but it was not the jazz music which we can hear today.At first, American Negro brought their native jungle chants, secular and spiritual songs. Those were work songs which African slaves usually sang on the plantations about their pains and aches. At the same time, the Puritan people brought their versions of European music and introduced classical compositions to the African population of the United States. Former African slaves were fashioning their motives and borrowing elements from European newcomers while the awareness of African folk music was growing among the white people.Thus, the African motive was highly influenced by the Western tradition and this fusion created a new unique style jazz.
New Orleans was the starting point in the history of a new musical direction, and its cultural diversity only contributed to the development of jazz music. The unique multicultural environment of the city laid the basis of jazz and formed its prominent features. Thus, the citizens of New Orleans, who had both French and Spanish roots, worked and lived side by side with former African slaves and immigrants from Europe. The city hosted a variety of different musical events: from formal balls with European dances to shows with exotic sounds of Latin America.The cultural diversity of New Orleans served as a background and fundament of the new music. Jazz absorbed the cultural heritage of African people and borrowed some elements from the European classical music tradition. New Orleans became one of the first cities where segregation was abolished and African people were allowed to maintain their culture. Congo Square, the place where African slaves gathered, danced and sang their chants, became a symbol of a tolerant attitude of the city towards the people of all races. Thus, this place was turned into one big melting pot full of various cultures which fused together and created its unique history and music.
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Another peculiarity of New Orleans, which prompted the development of jazz music, was Storyville district. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the city authority legalized prostitution and made the district of Storyville sanctuary of joy, pleasure, and entertainment. The first jazz performance took place exactly in the red-light district. For two decades, white people and African Americans worked, sang, and created music side by side. Storyville attracted a lot of tourists, hence making jazz music popular far away outside the city, and even country. At the beginning of the twentieth century, jazz was played in maisons, palaces, and clubs not only of New Orleans but also other cities throughout the United States.
Despite its liberal policies and cultural diversity, Storyville was always a place jazzmen preferred to escape from. The district of legalized prostitution, beer pubs, and frivolous reputation was not the best environment for the jazz music which praised integrity, dignity, and other virtues. Nevertheless, it was Storyville where jazz was born. It was the first place, where the new music flourished from the end of the nineteenth to the beginning of twentieth century. Numerous talented musicians of that time gathered in that place and tried to play new music. New Orleans was home for numerous jazz musicians and bands which later became legends and made jazz sound all over the world. One of the most famous and successful jazz bands, Buddy Boldens Ragtime Band, was formed in the city in 1895.Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson, Joseph Oliver, Edward Ory, Jimmy Noone, Louis Armstrong and a lot of other world famous jazzmen started their career in this city and made their first steps into the world of jazz music there.
When Storyville was closed in 1917, a number of jazz musicians left New Orleans and searched for work in other cities. One of their destination points became New York with its cultural and social diversity. The period of jazz history which is connected with its development in the biggest city of the United States is sometimes called Harlem Renaissance.The most part of newcomers was from Chicago, and they brought their particular and unique spirit of jazz music. They introduced the phenomenon of syncopated orchestra that underwent some changes in the big city. Thus, under the economic and social influence, the classic jazz orchestra acquired some features of pop orchestra, became more sophisticated but still left room for individual improvisation.
The introduction of the new style to the audience in New York had influenced and changed the style itself. A new standard of big band, as well as new sound of jazz, were developed. In 1922, the first big Black Band was organized. The Band with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins as its leader raised a new standard of musical style and made saxophone a distinctive feature of jazz. Another innovation of jazz music of that period was the introduction of embellishing melody that was a dominant feature of the music pieces by Louis Armstrong. In New York, the epochal change of jazz format took place and was realized through the coexistence of written scores and improvised solos.The replacement of tuba with the double bass, and adaptation of more vibrant rhythm called swing were also the characteristic features of jazz in New York.
New York introduced a great number of jazzmen to the world whose names became popular round the globe and whose music turned into the best examples of jazz. Radio broadcasts presented the world Edward Ellingtons Orchestra which moved from Washington to New York in 1923. The exotic element of jazz music was contributed by Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol. Cab Calloways orchestra was considered to be virtuoso of singing and added more powerful vocal range to jazz. Other famous jazz musicians of that time were Bert Williams, Florence Mills, and Ethel Waters.These and hundreds of other talented people developed the jazz industry in New York, made it unique, and more sophisticated.
New York jazz developed in the 1940-50s and turned into progressive jazz movement. One of the most prominent characteristics of that newly emerged style was improvisation and experimentation. What is more, the economic development of the city led to the appearance of big music industries which replaced the previous audience. The regional nature of jazz music was lost and was substituted by business.Thus, New York presented a new sophisticated form of jazz music that combined both pop and classical characteristics, some features of which were dictated by the laws of industry economy.
Some figures of the jazz history in the United States deserve to be discussed more precisely due to their contributions to the development of that music style. One of the greatest jazz musicians is deservedly considered to be Louis Armstrong. The contribution of this man to jazz music cannot be overestimated. Louis Armstrong started his music career in New Orleans absorbing and enjoying the mastery of local jazzmen, after that he worked in Chicago, and, finally, came to the big apple. Jazz genie Joy Oliver inspired Louis and became his teacher and close friend for the rest of the life. The musician wandered from band to band, was a member of such famous and successful bands as Joy Olivers Band, Orys Band, Pops Fosters Band, and Fletcher Hendersons Band. The man recorded a great number of singles and sided some of which were performed in collaboration with other talented jazz musicians: Sugar Food Stomps, Money Blues, and others. Louis Armstrong created also his own recording band called Hot five, went on tour around Europe, and even featured in several movies.Louis Armstrong was known as a talented musician of extraordinary skill and taste with gravel-throating singing style and gentle melodic variation.
Buddy Boldens Ragtime Band holds a prominent place in the jazz history, too. It was one of the first jazz bands which successfully converted Congo Square blasts, minstrelsy, and work songs into the jazz music. Original Creole Band, organized by Bill Johnson, was also successful among the jazzmen and public. Joseph Oliver was one of the jazz pioneers, inspired dozens of future jazz musicians, and brought jazz music to Chicago. Edward Ory was quite famous among New Orleans trombonists, played in Buddy Boldens Band, and made several records together with Louis Armstrong.
During its history, the jazz music has greatly developed stylistically loosing and acquiring some new, unique features. Thus, the earliest form of the jazz performance was minstrelsy, imitation of Negro music by the white performers, which was popular in New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century. The warmth of melody and rhythmic pattern led to the appearance of a new form of jazz music blues which followed a simple chord pattern. Storyville was a starting point for another newly developed style of jazz ragtime music. Ragtime, which was essentially piano music, included also series of syncopations. New York period contributed to a number of stylistic developments. The introduction of pop orchestra and adaptation of new standard of a big band were among them. In addition, in that time saxophone became a distinctive feature of jazz. Finally, New York musicians adopted more vibrant rhythm called swing, introduced 3-section dogma of jazz, and made this style more sophisticated.
In conclusion, the history of jazz in the United States of America is a complicated and multifaceted phenomenon which represents the cultural heritage of the nation and reflects its development and formation. The starting point of jazz music was New Orleans with its cultural and social diversity. New York, the center of business and pop culture, made jazz more sophisticated and adjusted to the tendencies of that time. There are a number of talented representatives of jazz music including Louis Armstrong, Bunk Johnson, Joseph Oliver, and others. Although jazz music has greatly changed over the first half of the twentieth century, it will always remain a symbol of the American culture and spirit.