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What is Jazz?





IX. Where Did Jazz Come From?

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.

  1. From African music, jazz got its:
    1. rhythm and "feel"
    2. "blues" quality
    3. tradition of playing an instrument in your own expressive way, making it an "extension" of your own human voice
  2. From European music, jazz got its:
    1. harmony -- that is, the chords that accompany the tunes (the chords played on the piano); jazz harmony is similar to classical music's harmony
    2. instruments -- most of the instruments used in jazz originated in Europe (saxophone, trumpet, piano, etc.)
  3. Musical improvisation came from both traditions.

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 where 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.

  1. Jazz evolved from slave songs and spirituals (religious African American folk songs).
  2. 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 Jazz or "Working Man's Blues" by clicking below. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Working Man Blues - Louis Armstrong

E. Jazz is all over the world.


Today, jazz is played and listened to by people of all 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 Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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