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Early Jazz


1. All styles of jazz from Dixieland to contemporary are still being performed and recorded today. All style dates given are approximations of when each respective style came to the forefront of jazz and experienced its most concentrated development; of course, styles and dates overlap.

I. Early Jazz

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Louis Armstrong

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Jelly Roll Morton

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Armstrong Hot Five

A. The Music


Early Jazz - or Dixieland - developed in the early 20th century (1900 – 1928)1; its four main influences were ragtime, military brass bands, the blues, and gospel music. 

B. Instrumentation


The usual instrumentation of a Dixieland band was (and still is) trumpet (or cornet), clarinet, trombone, piano, string bass (or tuba), drums, and banjo (or guitar).  

C. Collective Improvisation


The primary feature of Dixieland jazz is "collective improvisation;" that is, rather than each musician taking a solo in turn (as in most styles of jazz today), Dixieland jazz musicians all improvise at the same time.  

D. Roles of Each Instrument


Each instrument has its own specific role:

  1. trumpet or cornet: plays the melody (jazzed up)
  2. clarinet: adds to (embellishes) the melody
  3. trombone: usually embellishes the bass line but sometimes plays the melody, "afterbeats" (adding to the rhythm), and sound effects such as "smears" and "slides"
  4. piano and banjo (or guitar): play chords
  5. string bass or tuba: plays the bass line
  6. drums: keeps the beat steady and swinging

E. Marching Bands


Dixieland bands (excluding piano and using tuba rather than string bass) were originally small marching bands.  

F. Funeral Processions


Besides playing for dances and parties, in the early 1900's Dixieland bands would also play for funerals (marching along with the procession) in celebration of the life of the departed.  

G. Louis Armstrong


There were few long solos in Dixieland jazz until the appearance of trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

  1. Louis Armstrong was the first great jazz soloist (improviser) and one of the most important figures in jazz history.
  2. There are those who say that without Louis Armstrong, there would be no jazz today.

H. Musicians


Almost all early Dixieland jazz musicians were African American. 

I. Listening Examples


Listen to recordings of early jazz:

  1. King Oliver and Louis Armstrong’s "Dippermouth Blues" and the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s "Dixie Jazz Band One-Step" on The Instrumental History of Jazz
  2. Louis Armstrong’s "Workingman Blues," the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s "Livery Stable Blues," Jelly Roll Morton’s "Jelly Roll Blues," and Bix Beiderbecke’s "Singin’ the Blues" (click below)

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Working Man Blues - Louis Armstrong
speakerspacer Livery Stable Blues - Original Dixieland Jazz Band
speakerspacer Jelly-Roll Blues - Jelly-Roll Morton
speakerspacer Singin' The Blues - Bix Beiderbecke

Video Clips

videospacer Louis Armstrong - When the Saints Go Marching In
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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