April is our favorite month of the year – why? It’s Jazz Appreciation Month! This year, we’d like to mark this month with a look back at key moments in jazz history. To be fair, there are hundreds of artists, and many memorable eras in jazz, so this is only the tip of the iceberg. But if you’d like the sky-high view, we’ll share a few highlights from its beginning to now. These tidbits are courtesy of Dr. Kelsey Klotz’s Jazz 101 Workshop, JazzArts Spring Adult Workshop offering.
This is all being shared on social media so feel free to watch the evolution unfold there as well.
19th CENTURY, PREJAZZ: African work songs, field hollers, and spirituals are widely considered a folk origin of jazz. They are marked with lose rhythm and syncopation, individually expressive, and spirituals often add harmonic elements plus call and response. “The Buzzard Lope” Georgia Sea Island Singers: a spiritual dance with African origins.
EARLY 1900s, THE BLUES: Blues is a prominent influence on jazz, and we’ll see its importance continue throughout jazz history (in musical approach, blue notes, blues form, and emphasis on improvisation) “Reckless Blues”, features prominent artist Bessie Smith singing the typical 12 bar blues formula and call and response.
EARLY 1900s, NEW ORLEANS: As a port city, there was more flexibility for cultures to intertwine and share their musical traditions. The downtown Creole population had more access to education and classical genres, while African Americans in Uptown emphasized more improvisation. “Livery Stable Blues”, Original Dixieland Jazz Band: This all white band is the first recording of New Orleans style jazz, Dixieland, codifying the music. You can hear the mixing of musical styles in this polyphonic genre.
1920s, THE GREAT MIGRATION: The African American culture and this new music spreads to NY, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit- now known as jazz cities. Chicago style jazz established the blues scale, and shifted from a polyphonic sound to individual instruments taking turns with virtuosic solos. “West End Blues”, 1928, originally by Joe King Oliver, then recorded by Louis Armstrong.
1920s, PAUL WHITEMAN: Becomes known as “king of jazz”. This white musician was seen by white audiences and critics as putting respectability to the music, by creating more formal arrangements. This evolution resulted in this version being the most broadly circulated of the time, both in the US and abroad. “An Experiment in Modern Music”, Paul Whiteman Orchestra & George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue 1924.
1930s, GREAT DEPRESSION: Record sales plummeted. To fill a need for something uplifting, swing jazz with big bands was born and developed into the popular live music of the day, played in dance halls. “King Porter Stomp”, arranged by Fletcher Henderson, composer Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Goodman Orchestra, 1935.
1930s, TERRITORY BANDS: The shift to live dance music in the 1930s gave rise to Territory Bands that took the music beyond the major cities. Prevalent in the West and Midwest, these bands would eke out a living as local musicians who toured within driving distance. “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”, Andy Kirk and The Twelve Clouds of Joy, 1936. – #1 on pop charts, arranged by Mary Lou Williams.
1940s, BEBOP: With the onset of WWII, black musicians were tired of the hypocrisy of segregation at home in the swing scene, and so evolved their music away from “popular” and toward a more personal sense of expression and accomplishment. This bebop era is marked with fast dense tempos and highly complicated melodies and harmonies. “Ko Ko”, 1945, with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
1940s, SCAT: Vocalists of the 1940s bebop era demonstrated those same instrumental elements of bebop – improvisation through scat, plus rhythmic and melodic speed and complexity. “Blue Skies”, Ella Fitzgerald.
1950s, COOL JAZZ AND MUCH MORE: The popularity of cool jazz and hard bop seemed to magnify musical, regional, and racial differences between musicians. Cool jazz musicians favored moderate tempos, dynamics, and melodic ranges, while hard bop musicians leaned into rhythmic intensity, heavier timbres, and assertive accents. Compare Modern Jazz Quartet, “Vendôme” and Clifford Brown, “Joy Spring”.
1950s, JAZZING THE CLASSICS: Though sometimes dismissed by jazz musicians as too commercial, musicians who combined jazz and classical music were typically highly proficient in both genres. “Black & White are beautiful”, Hazel Scott from the 1943 film, The Heat’s On.
1960s, CIVIL RIGHTS: This year the National Museum of American History’s Jazz Appreciation Month is officially recognizing Nina Simone as representative of women and jazz’s contribution to civil rights. 1964’s Nina Simone in Concert famously addressed racial inequality and her 1964 performance of “Mississippi Goddam” was selected as culturally and historically significant by the Library of Congress.
The Jazz 101 class hasn’t gotten here yet… so come back or visit our social media pages later in the month to catch the final decades of jazz. Meanwhile, you can explore more during Jazz Appreciation Month at the National Museum of American History website, or by searching #jazzappreciationmonth on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.