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Where Did Jazz Come From?




1. While most all classical music performed today is written, improvisation is an integral component of classical music history. Indeed, besides being great composers, such important figures as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were virtuoso keyboardists and excellent improvisers. For more on classical music improvisation, click here.

2. For information on ordering The Instrumental History of Jazz 2-CD set, click here.

I. Where Did Jazz Come From?

jazz images 1

Armstrong & Teagarden

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Armstrong Hot Five

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Jelly Roll Morton

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Louis Armstrong

A. New Orleans via Africa and Europe


Jazz was born in New Orleans about 100 years ago (early 20th century), but its roots can be found in the musical traditions of both Africa and Europe; in fact, some people say that jazz is a union of African and European music. 



From African music, jazz got its: 



rhythm and “feel” 



“blues” quality 



sensibility of playing an instrument in your own expressive way, making it an “extension” of your own human voice 



From European music (classical music), jazz got its: 



harmony, that is, the chords that accompany the tunes (the chords played on the piano); jazz harmony is similar to classical music's harmony 



instruments -- most of the instruments used in jazz originated in Europe (saxophone, trumpet, piano, etc.) 



Musical improvisation came from both African and European musical traditions1

B. Why New Orleans?


New Orleans was the perfect city for all of these elements to come together, as it was a port city (with people arriving from all parts of the world), a meeting place for people of different ethnic groups, and a city with a nightlife in which musicians had the opportunity to play together, learn from each other, and blend all of these elements. 

C. African American Experience


Jazz was born out of and evolved through the African American experience in the U.S. 



Jazz evolved from slave songs and spirituals (religious African American folk songs). 



Jazz’s originators and most important innovators were primarily African Americans. 

D. Louis Armstrong


The most important jazz originator and first truly great jazz soloist (improviser) was trumpet player Louis Armstrong. Listen to “Dippermouth Blues” on The Instrumental History of Jazz2 or "Working Man's Blues" by clicking below: 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Working Man Blues - Louis Armstrong

E. Jazz is always evolving


Jazz is always incorporating what came before with what’s coming next; some like to say that the best jazz musicians have one foot in the past and the other in the future (see the accompanying booklet to The Instrumental History of Jazz for the names and brief descriptions of the main styles of jazz that have evolved to date). 

F. Jazz All Over the World


Today, jazz is played and listened to by people of all ages, cultures, and ethnicities and includes musical elements and styles from all over the world; jazz has gone from being America’s music to being the world’s music. 

the thelonious monk institute of jazz
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