Jazz is a form of music that originated in the early 1910s, in New Orleans, mostly performed by African Americans who had their new found freedom due to slavery being recently abolished. Unfortunately it was a while till jazz was recognized in the main stream, as African Americas were struggling to find jobs and could only really find them as entertainers in small bars and such.
Jazz was thought to have come from African tribal music that evolved by the performers using foreign instruments instead of the commonly used ones. Jazz hit the mains stream in the 1920s and stayed there until the 60s.
New Orleans is a city in Louisiana that had a very large African American population for at least 100 years until the city received new Irish and Italian immigrants returning the majority of the population to white. Apparently in the 20th century two fourths of the population in New Orleans could understand French while another forth used the language daily, this showing the diversity of the city.
The first piece of music that we can link to mainstream jazz is a piece called Mississippi rag. Mississippi rag is a piano piece we can link to ragtime, a variation on jazz which appeared in the very early 1900s. Mississippi rag was published by a white man named William Krell, however the first ragtime piano piece to be published by an African American was Harlem rag, composed by Tom Turpin. Many other popular ragtime pieces followed, but hardly any by an African American. Ragtime opened the door for jazz to become noticed by some composers and then started the popularity of jazz in the main stream.
Jazz started to become more known in the 1920s but was being shot down by the older generation. Many saw jazz a threatening and it wasn’t just mums and dads, it was even the media, claiming that jazz caused the death of a composer when he in actuality died of a heart attack. Never the less jazz still seemed to be popular.
Swing is a form of jazz which appeared in the 30’s and is much more up beat when compared to its predecessor, the blues. Due to swing;s much more up beat tempo it was used as dance music by a younger crowd and always put on the radio live due to the fact that it’s common in jazz to improvise as you go rather than write it down as notes. Jazz gained more popularity in America, as less and less people were worried about it originating from African Americans. One of the most notable musicians from this time period is Louis Armstrong; if you haven’t heard of him you have probably seen someone do an impression of him while he plays in his band.
The Jazz music sensation began to rub off on other parts of the world which encourages the experimentation of melding their familiar sounds with the essence of Jazz. In Europe’s country in the Region of France came the Quintette Du Hot Club de France who was responsible for the making of the early “Gypsy Jazz”.
The Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt created gypsy jazz by mixing the style of French Musette which was used in the dance halls, eastern European Folk known as Jazz Manouche, and American swing of the 1930’s. The sound was developed by instruments from the string family which are a steel string guitar, violin, and an upright bass. The atmosphere of the Jazz music is seductive with sudden unpredictable twists, and accelerating rhythms. The French artist Bireli Lagrene plays this unique music with old elements of the past.
Another style of Jazz music that allowed the musicians to express themselves freely was the invention of Avant-garde or free Jazz music. Both of these styles stemmed from the Bebop era, yet produced a relaxed form of harmonic and rhythmic music in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The musicians John Coltrane, Dewey Redman, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Sam Rivers, Ornette Coleman and many more were the creators of the free Jazz music. Between the 1960’s and 1970’s the Latin musicians created the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian Jazz Music styles after Bebop musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Taylor cultivated it.
New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz and the New Orleans Style is one of the oldest forms of Jazz. At the time of the birth of Jazz in the late 1800s black people were oppressed and segregated. This led them to have a music of their own that was deeply rooted in music and rhythm. After the civil war there were a lot of extra instruments available and many blacks purchased them and began playing music. These blacks may not have played their instruments very well, but they did use rhythm very distinctly and this lead to the first jazz music. White Jazz was the white community’s response to the new music of the blacks. At first white musicians played songs written by blacks, but eventually they developed their own style which lost some of the edgy feel and in my opinion does now swing as much as black music from that time. Harlem Stride is the eastern piano style of playing jazz, it is played by using the left hand alternating between bass notes and midrange notes. This creates an oom-pah feeling to the song, and while the left hand is kept busy with the stride the right hand is free to play complex melodies.
As mentioned earlier Jazz is rooted in rhythm; it has that feeling to it that cannot be explained in words, but is instantly recognizable when heard. When listening to the songs “Potato Head Blues” and “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” it is easy to find similarities in the rhythm that they employ. Both of them are written in 4/4 time and employ very low notes played on brass instruments to keep the tempo. On the other hand in the song “Charleston” there is only one instrument used and that is the piano, but there are still single notes played very low on the piano to keep the rhythm. All three of these songs are played at an upbeat tempo but “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” somehow seems to be played at a much slower pace. This is accomplished in the song by having the musicians play their instruments in an almost lackadaisical fashion.
Many people do not consider notated jazz music true Jazz because it is impossible to capture the feeling of Jazz with notation. Paul Whitman used notated music in his song “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” because it was played by a large orchestra and it otherwise would have been impossible to play with that large of a group. Both “Potato “Head Blues” and “Charleston” were not notated when they were recorded, and that allowed for some spontaneity in the recording which is a large part of the Jazz feeling. Sometimes the melody of a piece can be lost to the untrained ear because of the way the song is interpreted in a Jazz style. These three songs were all designed to be played as Jazz and they are considered to be Jazz songs and in “Charleston” and “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” it is easy to pick out the melody, but when I listen to “Potato Head Blues” the melody is hard for me at the beginning because so much is going on.
“Potato Head Blues” immediately starts off with polyphony style and this is mainly the reason why I can’t seem to find the melody as well at the beginning. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” has a small intro that shortly breaks into a homophony and although there is still a lot going on in the song all of the instruments revolve around one melody. When listening to these songs I hear crisp harmonies throughout and this consonance of harmony used in the songs makes them very enjoyable to listen to. “Charleston” is a fun and happy song to listen to but because it only involves one instrument, the piano, it does not have as much depth to it as the other songs. In “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” a full orchestra is used including brass, woodwinds and stringed instruments. Using that many pieces in a song creates a fullness to the music and a complexity that is not easily replicated. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” uses the trumpet for the melody and also the voice. “Potato Head Blues” also uses trumpet as the primary melody carrier but many other instruments are used including the cornet and even a guitar.
The overall tone and feelings of the songs are vastly different from each other; “Charleston” is a very upbeat song that has a playful side to it, I would describe the song as having a warm and cold tone at the same time. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” has a distant feeling to it while the instruments are playing the intro but even after the singing begins there is still a distant feeling mixed in with the lyrics. For the most part “Charleston” just has one volume throughout the song but it still uses the dynamics of hard and soft to emphasize different parts of the song. “Potato Head Blues” and “There Ain’t No Sweet Man” use a wide variety of volume levels and dynamics to get the feeling of the songs across. This is partly possible because of the different instruments used; when they use softer instruments such as the guitar, during a bridge in the song it can be particularly effective as a transfer into another part of the song.