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JazzWorks ... Pass It On

Jazz Heritage: Origins

From Shirley Judkins, Originator of Jazz Works….Pass it On!

Jazz is an American Art Form whose Basic Elements are Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony and represents Eras and a merging of many different peoples and their heritages.   During the 1800s, in America’s South,  music was an integral part of life of plantation slaves of African descent.  Songs, spirituals, and field hollers were a part of everyday life….to celebrate, to mourn, to entertain, to commemorate, to worship, and to accompany the drudgery of work.  This plantation music moved from musician to musician  and blended with a combination of European-American musical traditions, to create the basis for blues, ragtime, marching band music  and other musical forms from which Jazz evolved.  


It was passed on and handed down mainly from listening , sharing, interacting and improvisation…often by more than one player improvising at a time.  In a Jazz piece, the melody is often just a starting point of reference for the musicians to improvise.    The song might have been a popular ditty or blues, but by the time the players were finished with it they had composed a new piece that often displayed little resemblance to the original song…except for the chord progression.


The first Jazz was played by African-American and Creole musicians in New Orleans.  Buddy Bolden was considered to be the first real Jazz musician.  His and others’ ideas are still being elaborated on to this day.  


The second wave of New Orleans Jazz musicians, like Joe “King” Oliver, Kid Ory and Jelly Roll Morton formed small bands with increased musical complexity and dynamics and gained greater commercial success.  The music known as Hot Jazz because of the often breakneck speeds and amazing improvised polyphony, spread up the rivers from New Orleans to Kansas City, St Louis, Chicago, the Mid West to California and New York.


A young virtuoso cornet player named Louis Armstrong was discovered in New Orleans by King Oliver.   Armstrong soon grew to become the greatest Jazz musician of his era and eventually one of the biggest jazz stars in the world. The impact of Armstrong and other Jazz musicians altered the course of both popular and Classical music.  African-American musical styles became the dominant force in 20th century music.  (Indiana Connection, first recordings at Gennett Studios in Richmond .Indiana)  


DID YOU KNOW? Jazz first appeared in print in the Chicago Herald on May 1, 1916, and was then spelled “Jass” but within a year changed to “Jazz”.   

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