Jazz is a musical art form, commonly characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms and improvisation. It has been called the first original art form to develop in the United States of America.
Jazz is rooted in West African cultural and musical expression and in African American music traditions, in folk blues and ragtime. Originating in African American communities near the beginning of the 20th century, by the 1920s it had gained international popularity. Since then, jazz has had a profoundly pervasive influence on other musical styles worldwide.
Rather than being a single, narrowly definable style, in the early 21st century jazz is an ever-growing family of musical styles, many of which continue to develop.
World-renowned African-American composer, trumpeter and jazz historian Wynton Marsalis has called jazz "the musical expression of the nobility of the race."
King Oliver was "jazz king" of Chicago in the early 1920s, when Chicago was the national hub of jazz. His band was the epitome of the New Orleans hot ensemble jazz style. Unfortunately, his band's recordings were little heard outside of Chicago and New Orleans, but the ensemble was a powerful influence on younger musicians, both black and white.
Sidney Bechet was the first master jazz musician to take up what previously often had been dismissed as a novelty instrument, the saxophone. Bechet helped propel jazz in more individualistic personality- and solo- driven directions.
In this last point, Bechet was joined by a young protege of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, who was to become one of the major forces in the development of jazz. Armstrong was an extraordinary improviser, capable of creating endless variations on a single melody. Armstrong also popularized scat singing, an improvisational vocal technique in which nonsensical syllables or words are sung or otherwise vocalized, often as part of a call-and-response interaction with other musicians onstage. His unique, gravely voice and innate sense of swing made scat an instant hit.
Arguably, Bix Beiderbecke was both the first white and the first non-New Orleanian to make major original contributions to the development of jazz with his legato phrasing, bringing the influence of classical romanticism to jazz.
Paul Whiteman was the most commercially sucessful bandleader of the 1920s, billing himself as "The King of Jazz." Sacrificing spontaneous improvisation for the sake of elaborate written arrangements, Whiteman claimed to be "making a lady out of jazz." Despite his hiring Bix and many of the other best white jazz musicians of the era, later generations of jazz lovers have often judged Whiteman's music to have little to do with real jazz. Nonetheless, his notion of combining jazz with elaborate orchestrations has been returned to repeatedly by composers and arrangers of later decades. It was Whiteman who commissioned Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which was debuted by Whiteman's Orchestra.
Fletcher Henderson led the top African American band in New York City. At first he wished to follow the lead of Paul Whiteman, but after hiring Louis Armstrong to play in his band, Henderson realized the importance of the improvising soloist in developing jazz bands. Henderson's arrangements would play a significant role in the development of the Big Band era in the following decade.
Young pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington first came to national attention in the late 1920s with his tight band making many recordings and radio broadcasts. Ellington's importance would grow in the comming decades.
While the solo became more important in jazz, popular bands became larger in size. The Big band became the popular provider of music for the era. Big bands varied in their jazz content; some (such as Benny Goodman's Orchestra) were highly jazz oriented, while others (such as Glenn Miller's) left little space for improvisation. Most were somewhere inbetween, having some musicians adept at jazz solos playing with section men who kept the rhythm and arrangements going. However even bands without jazz soloists adopted a sound owing much to the jazz vocabularity, for example sax sections playing what sounded like an improvised variation on a melody (and may have originated as a transcription of one).
Key figures in developing the big jazz band were arrangers and bandleaders Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman and the man sometimes deemed the most prolific composer in American history, Duke Ellington.
The influence of Louis Armstrong continued to grow. Musicians and bandleaders like Cab Calloway — and, later, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, jumped on the scat bandwagon. Pop vocalists from Bing Crosby embraced his style of improvising on the melody, and U.S. pop singers would seldom ever again be heard to render a tune "straight" in the pre-jazz style.
In the early 1920s, popular music was still a mixture of things—current dance numbers, novelty songs, show tunes. "Businessman's bounce music," as one horn player put it. But musicians with steady jobs, playing with the same companions, were able to go far beyond that. The Ellington band at the Cotton Club and the various Kansas City groups that became the Count Basie band date from this period.
Over time, social strictures regarding racial segregation began to relax in entertainment. White bandleaders, who tended to mold the music more to orthodox rhythms and harmony, began to recruit black musicians. In the mid-1930s, Benny Goodman hired pianist Teddy Wilson, vibraharpist Lionel Hampton, and guitarist Charlie Christian to join small groups. During this period, the popularity of swing (genre) and big band music was at its height, making stars of such men as Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. Swing, the popular music of its time, covered a broad spectrum from "sweet" to "hot" bands, with the jazz content varying across the range.
A development of swing known as "jumping the blues" anticipated rhythm and blues and rock and roll in some respects. It involved the use of small combos instead of big bands and a concentration on up-tempo music using the familiar blues chord progressions. One brief variation, known as boogie-woogie, used a doubled rhythm—that is, the rhythm section played "eight to the bar," eight beats per measure instead of four. Big Joe Turner, a Kansas City singer who worked in the 1930s with Swing bands like Count Basie's, became a boogie-woogie star in the 1940s and then in the 1950s was one of the first innovators of rock and roll, notably with his song "Shake, Rattle and Roll". Another jazz founder of rock and roll was saxophonist Louis Jordan.
The next major stylistic turn came with bebop in the 1940s, led by such distinctive stylists as the saxophonist Charlie Parker (known as "Yardbird" or "Bird") and Dizzy Gillespie. This marked a major shift from music for dancing towards a complex art form of the first rank. Bop valued complex improvisations based on chord progressions rather than melody. Hard bop was a move away from cool jazz, an attempt to make bop more appealing to audiences by incorporating influences from soul music, gospel music, and the blues. Later, bebop and hard bop musicians, such as trumpeter Miles Davis, made more stylistic advances with modal jazz, where the harmonic structure of pieces was much more free than previously and frequently only implied by skeletal piano chords and bass parts. The instrumentalists then would improvise around a given mode of the scale. Soul jazz was a development of hard bop which centred on the Hammond organ.
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