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Jazz’s Beginnings


6. Certain slave owners feared that the slaves’ music could be used to cause a rebellion. For instance, the Slave code of South Carolina in the 1700s banned African drumming fearing it might be used to communicate the particulars about a slave revolt.

I. Jazz's African Roots

A. A functional role


From 1619 to well into the 1800s, slaves were brought to the Americas from Africa where music played a functional (not artistic) role: work songs, spiritual songs, healing songs, fertility songs, etc.  

B. “a singing slave was a happy slave”


While those involved in the slave trade strived to strip everything away from their victims (freedom, names, possessions, family members, etc.), they, for the most part6, allowed them to keep their music out of the belief that "a singing slave, was a happy slave" and, therefore, would be less likely to cause an uprising. 

C. traits found in jazz that are of primarily African origin include:



rhythm, especially polyrhythms (i.e., one rhythmic pattern superimposed upon another)  



expressive (i.e., “vocal”) quality when playing or singing 

D. Blues



evolved from slave field hollers and African American folk songs 



usually characterized by plaintiveness and melancholy, a slow tempo, lyrics in the form of paired couplets in iambic pentameter, and intensity and passion 



utilizes extremely expressive and emotional “vocal” quality even when played instrumentally, e.g., pitch bending, portamento (a musical term that represents a singer or instrumentalist “gliding” from note to note rather than articulating each note separately), whining, etc. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Blue Notes - Mark Gridley
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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