Jazz (originally Jas or Jass) Evolution

Beginnings: (1700’s)The spirit of Jazz was formed in the crucible of oppression and extreme hardship. The roots of which can be traced back to New Orleans, La. Before the Civil War, people from the Caribbean, Africa and South America were brought to North America to work as slaves. In 1724 the Louisiana Code Noir was implemented giving slaves a day off. Nearly a century later because of that law slaves would gather at Congo Square in New Orleans (located in what is now Louis Armstrong Park) on Sundays in the years 1817 to 1843 to sing, dance and play music from their respective cultures. Congo Square became a melting pot of different music cultures. The creation of the Blues form which preceded Jazz can be directly traced back to these gatherings.

During the Civil war, New Orleans was flooded with soldiers and marching band instruments such as clarinets, snare drums and brass instruments. Jim Crow laws of 1890 classified New Orleans Creoles of color (a mix of African and white Western European), as black and consequently they were only allowed to play with other black musicians. Creoles tended to identify with their European culture over their African culture and were largely well educated and classically trained on their instruments. They elevated jazz musicianship with their greater technical skill and knowledge of Western European harmony. This mixing of Creole and black culture in Congo square is where jazz was born.

Jazz music stylistic evolution:

Street Beat Brass Band (1800’s)

New Orleans Brass Band music emerged from the mixing of European military marches and African rhythms and folk songs. The drum set had not been created yet and the snare, bass drum and cymbals were played by separate musicians. This music is characterized by the heavy use of brass, blues form and no modern drum set.

Ragtime (late 1800’s-early 1900), invented by black artists, came from the blues and directly preceded jazz. It features the piano. Dances associated with ragtime are the Shimmy, Cakewalk, Slow Drag, Two-step, Foxtrot , Black Bottom and Tap dance.

Dixieland (early1900) music or traditional jazz, features the trumpet. New Orleans musician, Louis Armstrong, played a major role in evolving jazz from Dixieland into the Swing era. Dances that corresponds with this style are the Charleston, Jitterbug, and Boogie Woogie, Lindy Bout, the Lindy Hop

Swing and Big Band Swing 1920′-30’s The invention of the drum set further contributed to the stylistic evolution of jazz. The big band swing era featured the drum set and big brass sound. Dances that correspond to this styleare theLindy Hop and Swing Dance, jitterbug, Twist

Bebop In the 1940’s Bebop jazz style emerged. It’s characterized by complex chord progressions, poly-rhythms and fast tempos. Freestyle Dance is associated with this style.

Theatrical jazz and Broadway: cabaret is a popular style of dance from this era

Birth of the Cool (1950’s) Characterized by slow to medium tempos and modal chord progressions.

Contemporary Jazz1975-2020

Jazz influence in Literature

Jazz influence in American literature is both conceptual and spiritual. Jazz literature, like the music and dance, serve to give a voice to the voiceless and emphasize certain narratives such as self expression, free improvisation, struggle against oppression and promoting multi multiculturalism. The Beat Poet movement, born in San Francisco in the 1950’s, was a counter culture revolution that utilized “free verse” borrowed directly from Jazz improvisation. Writers of the Beat Generation were heavily influenced by jazz artists like Billie Holiday and the stories told through Jazz music. They used their pieces to discuss feelings, people, and objects they associate with Jazz music, as well as life experiences that reminded them of this style of music. Kaufman’s pieces “were intended to be freely improvisational when read with Jazz accompaniment”. He and other writers found inspiration in this genre and allowed it to help fuel the Beat movement. This same phenomenon can be heard in the development of Hip Hop culture and Break Dancingin the 1970’s from the Bronx in NYC, a combination of free verse improv with themes of struggles against oppression.

Jazz influence on Dance: Heightened sense of individuality, free flowing movement and a high degree of improvisational skills. Influenced by a rhythmic based African movement. Jazz influence in Dance can be seen in pop icon stars like Michael Jackson.

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