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.

Sources:https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/louisianas-code-noir-1724/embed/#?secret=Rq1FI0sktBhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_hophttp://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/542/jazz-writing-identity-and-multiculturalism-in-jazz-literaturehttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/305737153_Jazz_Music_Its_Influence_on_Literaturehttps://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/beat-poetshttp://www.dancefacts.net/dance-list/jazz-dance/https://www.udemy.com/blog/history-of-jazz-dance/https://www.britannica.com/art/jazz-dancehttps://www.decidedlyjazz.com/in-schools/jazz-dance-history/embed/#?secret=wRpuEOOudVhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_dancehttps://dance.lovetoknow.com/History_of_Jazz_Dancehttp://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170224-the-mysetrious-origins-of-jazzhttp://theconversation.com/explainer-the-history-of-jazz-51729https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/history_early.htmhttp://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/history_of_jazz.htmhttps://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/first/g/gioia-jazz.htmlhttps://www.britannica.com/art/jazzhttps://americanhistory.si.edu/smithsonian-jazz/education/what-jazzhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JazzLEAVE A COMMENT

The Anatomy of Groove

The word, “groove”, by its very definition describes something deep and earthy, like a trench.   When jazz or rock musicians talk about a rhythm section they will use the word, “pocket” to describe the groove; that drummer has a deep “pocket”.   Once again, it refers to something deeply rooted, something that has a timeless quality of inevitability about it; time that is timeless, a being in time.   Thyme. Wait, that’s a spice…

Time is like a Watermelon

A groove is partly a cycle that repeats with variations but it’s not just a cycle;  it’s the placement of the cycle in time within a relational context to other notes played by other beings in time.  Let us imagine time is like a watermelon: picture the oval shape of a watermelon and divide it up into a bottom, middle and top parts.   Now imagine that we have a metronome set at 100 bpm, which represents the middle of the watermelon. Let’s place a percussionist playing eighth notes a little behind the metronome on the bottom of the melon and a bassist playing eighth notes a little ahead of the metronome on the top of the melon.  Let’s add a pianist playing 8th notes right with the metronome down the middle. They are all feeling the time at 100 bpm but the percussionist is placing them slightly behind the metronome because that is where it feels right. The bassist is placing the notes a little ahead of the click because that’s where it feels right.  The pianist is placing his notes precisely at 100 bpm because that’s what feels right. By placing their individual notes in different places on the watermelon, they’ve created tension, a groove that is wide and alive. If the percussionist were to shift his placement to the top of the melon, the tension would change. The groove might become top heavy and rush forward creating frantic energy.  If the all musicians decided to shift their placement to the middle, the groove would lose its tension and width, becoming thin and flat or “stiff”. If they all decide to shift their placement to the bottom of the melon, the groove would lose both its tension and width resulting in low energy and the tempo would slow down or drag. If they were to all switch to the top of the melon, the tempo would rush.  The listener would perceive this splintering of the finite and infinite as frantic. The illusion of inevitability, lost.

Time vs Tempo

Time is a continuum, an infinite series of events without end; it’s also a tool used to measure physical space and help our finite minds make sense of the infinite.  Tempo is a tool used to divide aural space, dealing with the infinite in measured quantities rooted in our bodies. The modern concept of a groove is rooted in the mechanical industrial revolution.  Perhaps the notable beat in pop history is the rhythm of the Steam engine locomotive; Bernard Purdie, one of the most famous groove drummers of our time, grew up listening to the sound of trains and based his grooves off of them. One could infer that groove is repetitive muscle memory. The Groove happens where the finite meets the infinite, a tension of two worlds colliding and creating something altogether new. If you think tempo and groove are the same, there is a vast industry out there dedicated to quantifying groove that thinks otherwise.  With the advent of midi recording, anyone can quantize their performance and create perfect time. The only problem is that perfect time doesn’t groove. Every professional audio software manufacturer puts a “humanization” script into the quantize function code to attempt to simulate groove–and it doesn’t work. Why?   Because groove, like time, is a continuum. Imagine the beats of a metronome frozen in space; they would create a line reaching toward infinity. Imagine within this line we place a repeating cycle of eighth notes between each frozen beat. Can you see the vast space there is to play with? An infinite amount of variations with the place of these notes between these frozen beats and the placements all feel different.  The variation of one placement has a rippling effect on all the others before and after. Infinite and yet finite. Ephemeral. This continuum as a whole is Time.

Cycles, cyclic motion, circles are the human answer to infinity: a bite-sized measure of infinity, something without beginning, without end and yet made comprehensible in a cycle.  A groove is an infinity, a cycle, a river: the water is never the same water twice, the beat cycle is never exactly the same.  

How to practice: the metronome is not your enemy.

Before one can learn to bend time, one must learn where it is.  We practice with a metronome to understand our tendencies as performers and to become familiar with where the middle of the beat is.  Part of our practice should be to learn to relax our minds and bodies. If our minds are fragmented and our thoughts not present to the moment, our bodies will be tense; we will not be able to comprehend the whole.  Instead, we will be lost in the parts, only able to see beats as a fragment of a cycle and not the cycle as a whole.

In a relaxed manner with the mind fully present, play up and down the tree of subdivisions at slow, medium and fast tempos.  Eventually, the degrees between tempo can be subtle shifts. We are attempting to train our muscles, minds and nerves to react and feel subdivisions at varying degrees.  Tempo is muscle memory but it is not just muscle memory. We must train our nerves and muscles to respond in a relaxed manner at varying tempos. Next, practice putting the subdivisions in the middle of the beat as close to the metronome as possible.  When we can subdivide at varying tempos in a relaxed manner, we can move on to resolution points which will help us think in terms of longer phrasing and whole cycles.

Next, in 4 4 time, thinking in 8th notes and phrasing in a two measure cycle, create a resolution point with which to resolve a musical idea.  Start with beat 1 as the resolution point, then move to 1& then 2 and so on and so forth. We can use 16ths and triplets as well. Every resolution point will have a different feel. Learn about and memorize them. Get your body to understand them without having to think about them. The two measures can be increased to a 4 measure cycle and then to 8.  The longer the phrasing the more we can bend time. Once we have mastered this we can move on bending and warping time in a musical way.  

It does not help to play with a metronome and continuously chase the click.  We feel that, if we are not exactly with the metronome, we are wrong.   It’s not about being wrong or right, it’s about understanding our tendencies, feeling tension and learning to being ok with it and understanding how our tempo feel is affecting the whole.  The rest is about choice. Put the metronome on at 72 bpm. Improve at this tempo and try to groove with it. If you’re not feeling the 72 bpm let yourself go towards your natural tendency.  You will cycle through the metrome time and the world won’t explode or disappear. How about that? Keep the tension going and slowly you will start to hear the metronome as a part in a whole that you can choose to play with or against.  At this point your body will have relaxed and your mind will be at ease. If you’re tense you will never reach this point; instead you will think in terms of correct or incorrect; this is the death of groove.


Any tendency to tense up while playing a passage alters the continuum, causing the player to unintentionally move the position on the melon of time.  We can mitigate this by proper breathing and correct relaxed technique; practice must always be geared towards relaxing into the groove. Often a player will shorten their breath or even stop breathing altogether when they feel technically overwhelmed.  This anxiety results in a disruption of the time continuum, which, in musical terms, affects the feel. Additionally, if a player is overtired, they will have a tendency to rush the time to make up for a perceived lack of energy. When we become proficient at the groove, we will realize that, regardless of tempo, Time does not change;  it is our perception that changes. Time is independent of tempo. We move through time differently at different tempos because we have physical bodies but time never changes. Our training must be geared towards freeing our bodies of tension in order to play tempo in the time continuum.