We Publish Jazz Is Not Just Music

Topics: Jazz

A the way a life, it’s a way of being, it’s a way of thinking”, Nina Simone. Throughout US history, there has only been one genre of music that has distinctly been tied to the American identity, Jazz music. From its birth in the deep south, has echoed through American culture from Dixieland to blues to ragtime to big band to Latin, and all the way to the today’s smooth jazz, this genre of music has seemed to have echoed in popularity in one form to another since its fruition.

With each era, came a different influence on American society it had. Jazz Music has had the greatest influence on American culture and society than any other music due to its influences over the 1920’s, the Harlem Renaissance, modern music, and the Civil Rights Movement.

The origin of jazz music is an anomaly as it had combined several different cultures and styles of music from the past. It has had many influences, including African Folk Song, Southern Dixie, Christian music, and Latin Music.

The birth, however, can be traced to slavery in the south. Many jazz elements took aspects from African folk music which can be seen today in the form of call and response, singing and chanting, field hollers, foot stomping, and handclapping between slaves, originating from plantation life. Due to jazz originating from slave culture, is also took aspects from religion, particularly Christian music or hymns. While these seedlings began to sprout throughout the south, most notably with the blues in New Orleans, the beginnings of jazz would not reach the popular culture until after the great migration at the start of the 1900’s, in which the many families of former slaves moved to the north for economic opportunities, and with them they took the music what would eventually become jazz with them.

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By far the greatest influence on American culture is during the 1920’s, more commonly known as the “Roaring 20’s”. The during this time, America saw an economic and cultural boom. During this era, jazz emerged to its dominant golden age, ruling not just music, but also theater and film became reflections of the dominant swinging sound. Jazz greatly tributes to the moral revolution of the era, in which the moral standards which can even be seen today with our minds associating the 1920’s to the promiscuous flappers and shady speakeasies. Besides the surge of women’s rights and economic boom prior to World War One, the great migration and thus jazz music had brought a great amount of moral influence. Jazz had always been associated with a lack of morals, down to its name which possibly comes from as “it may have African or Arabic origins as a slang term describing the sex act”.

Additionally “The sexual frankness and suggestiveness, its recognition of suffering and hardship of all kinds, and the slow insinuating melodies soon had an impact on popular music”. This shows how the roots of the roaring 20’s can be attributed to jazz. Jazz was also dominant in also shaping the everyday lives of people throughout the 1920’s. “ In New York City and other big cities, musicians revealed in the newfound popularity among whites of jazz and the blues”(American Journal). Besides in the underground speakeasies, the other main catalyst for jazz was the transition of the radio becoming a mainstay in everyday life. “In 1921, before the boom began, only $9 million worth of radio equipment was sold. In 1923 that figure had increased to some $46 million, and in 1926 the total national expenditure on radio equipment was $400 million” and allowed the relatively unknown genre to enter the general public’s eye.

Another major influence that jazz music had during the early 20th century would be the famed Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was primarily a literary arts movement with visual arts taking secondary status that included many famous authors including Langston Huges. Jazz music was an adjunct to the Harlem Renaissance, most effectively expressed in musical theater. Figures like James Reece Europe, Noble Sissle, and Eubie Blake were far more central to the Harlem Renaissance than Satch. The Harlem Renaissance paralleled the Jazz Age which saw the flowering of new social patterns after the horror of World War One. The jazz that marked that era saw the rise of the big band pioneered by Paul Whiteman. It was the black bands of the era that carried the music forward in the hands of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, etc. since they were not trying to turn jazz into a lady (Whiteman’s band featured a large string section and took on the air of respectability).

Another major movement that was influenced by jazz was the civil rights era of the 1960’s. The 1960s began with a sense among many Americans that they were on the threshold of a bright new era. On January 20, 1961, a youthful John F. Kennedy took the presidential oath of office, promising to lead the country toward a ‘new frontier’—one in which Americans would unite to achieve seemingly distant goals. One of these goals included equal rights for African Americans. Segregation was being challenged at lunch counters and schoolhouses across the South. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious authorities, and women. Against this political backdrop, a new social phenomenon was growing out of the literary and musical bohemianism of the 1950s. Hippies became the cultural icons of the era;

They adopted a lifestyle that emphasized a rejection of conventional politics, religion, and lifestyles and embraced a loose interpretation of non-Western religions and spiritual systems.Though the hippie movement came to be associated almost exclusively with rock music, its sense of freedom and mysticism could be felt in some of the jazz being made around this time. Spirituality of one sort or another had always been an undercurrent in jazz, but in the 1960s John Coltrane, one of the most influential and adventurous saxophonists of the era, put forward the belief that music actually had the power to heal, and he brought an almost religious intensity to everything he played. Coltrane explored the harmonic freedom of modal jazz and the tones and textures of various world musics, and he tested the very limits of his instrument—all in search of a more profound musical meaning.

Supported by an equally innovative and turbulent rhythm section, Coltrane developed one of the most powerful and explosive styles in jazz, known as ‘sheets of sound,’ for the torrents of notes that streamed from his horn. Spiritual though he was, Coltrane was hardly detached from the world around him. In 1963, when he learned that the bombing of an African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama, had killed four young girls, he drew on all his expressive resources to create a haunting musical elegy titled simply ‘Alabama.’ This potent combination of seriousness and spirituality became a signature trait of this powerful performer. By 1964, when his landmark album ‘A Love Supreme’ was released, John Coltrane had already achieved the status of idol among many fans and fellow musicians. ‘My music,’ John Coltrane said, ‘…is the spiritual expression of what I am—my faith, my knowledge, my being…’ Singer, pianist, composer, and civil rights activist, Nina Simone was born in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933.

She began playing music at an early age, learning to play piano at the age of 4, and singing in her church’s choir. After finishing high school, Simone won a scholarship to New York City’s Julliard School of Music to train as a classical pianist. She taught piano and worked as an accompanist for other performers while at Julliard, but eventually left school after running out of funds. Turning away from classical music, she started playing American standards, jazz and blues in clubs in the 1950s. Before long, she also started singing along with her music. Simone’s music defied standard genres. Her classical training showed through, no matter what style of song she played, and she drew from many sources including jazz, gospel, pop and folk. By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as a major voice of the Civil Rights Movement. She wrote “Mississippi Goddam” in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls.

After the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Simone composed “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)”. She also wrote “Young, Gifted and Black,” borrowing the title of a play by Lorraine Hansberry, which became a popular Civil Rights Era anthem az Music had many references to Civil Rights from as early as 1941s “Strange Fruit “ by Billie Holiday about a southern lynching to 1963s “Alabama” by jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s again about the horrific church burning in Birmingham. Max Roach has African Americans sitting at a “white” diner counter on the cover of his 1961 “We insist freedom now” Album, indeed the whole “free jazz” movement started by Ornette Coleman in 1959 is as much a comment on the lack of freedom as it is on unstructured or free jazz music.

The final major influence of jazz is its influence on the major groups of music of succeed it in America, including Rock and Pop Music. Jazz and blues came from similar roots. Early ‘classic blues’ often sung by women such as Bessie Smith and with large bands often sounded relatively close to jazz of the same era. And the blues form is often a standard part of a jazz musician’s repertoire. Rock derives more directly from the ‘country blues’ which was available on records later than classic blues. It was more often sung by men accompanying themselves on guitar although there are many exceptions to that. It was from the country blues that the electrified blues of Chicago derives. The bass, guitar, drums instrumentation were common both to blues and later rock.

The other antecedent to rock was country music. All this is, of course, a vast oversimplification. The blues and country music interacted in many ways. Many blues musicians also played jazz. Some country music such as the Texas Swing of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys was not so dissimilar to contemporaneous swing music which was a form of jazz. What is true is that by the 1950’s much of jazz, blues and country had was played by small groups with similar instrumentation. (Another vast simplification.) Most groups had drums, bass (initially stand up bass which was soon supplanted by the electric bass) and guitar. This was less true of jazz but the drums and the bass combo was still very common. Country music often featured pedal steel guitar which was rarely used in other genres. Country and rock usually featured vocalists and while this was sometimes true of jazz often a wind instrument such as saxophone or trumpet took the lead.

Rock of the 1960’s and 70’s started to incorporate improvisation which is a hallmark of jazz. There were many jazz/rock fusion groups which, in my opinion, were playing jazz albeit with elements of rock. All the proceeding begs more questions than it answers. There were common economic reasons for small groups, and similar instrumentation may have more to do with what were the most practical instruments for such groups to cover the sonic landscape, rather than direct influences.

As jazz moved away from its early iterations, it became the most popular music in the US in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Dance bands would pack ballrooms all across the United States. It was the dance music of the time and could be looked at as the “golden age” of jazz in terms of popularity. This is where we are in hip-hop right now. If you go to the club, the dance music is hip-hop, or hip-hop influenced. Hip-hop is everywhere. There are even parallels with who was popular. Band Leader Benny Goodman was the most popular musician of the big band era, and he was a white man who played music invented by black people. The same could be said for Macklemore winning the Grammy this year.

Well, after WWII, jazz moved away from dance music and toward a higher form of the music known as bebop, which expanded on jazz harmony and stretched jazz to its limits at the time. Is this what is next for hip hop? When the next big cultural musical thing happens that’s not hip-hop, will hip-hop move to places we can’t even imagine? We already see people like Kendrick being successful and managing to do new, exciting things with rap while reaching a wide audience.

The first 40 years of jazz, the music is rapidly evolving and what it will sound like in 10 years is almost unknown. Obviously, many parallels involve generalizations, as many different types of hip-hop, have gone on during this time and it does not go in a linear direction. But what is linear is the line from jazz to hip-hop. Musically, they are similar, involving featured soloists over a predetermined set of chords/grooves (Palmer 1530). Hip-hop just might be the next great black American music. To Summarize, Jazz has been able to create a unique phenomenon and influence in american culture and society. This is due to its slavery and civil rights origins and single handedly defined the roaring 20’s and also shape its musical successors for generations to come.

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We Publish Jazz Is Not Just Music. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/we-publish-jazz-is-not-just-music/

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