The history of jazz.. a knowledge neccesity

The type of music that you like is in first instance often determined by what your parents like. Later on you get influenced by friends and at some stage your musical knowledge is wide enough to extract your own preferences.

While growing up I experienced the same phases as any kid from the 80’s. I’ve been jumping around on gabber hardcore, headbanging on Nirvana, made complex dance moves on early Techno and smoked way too much pot on Bone Thugs & Harmony, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

But somehow there is one music style that has been running through my life as a common thread, Jazz music. And where I got my own preferences within Jazz of styles I love or don’t like, the simple beauty of Jazz is its diversity and the connecting spirit. Young and old can get just as crazy on Louis Prima, BB King or Ella Fitzgerald as emotional and carried away on Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller or Nat King Cole.

So for all of you who did not find their Jazz yet. Here’s the history of Jazz in a nutshell (click on each title for Youtube links):

The beginning

In the 1800’s Africans were shipped from all over Africa to the deep south of America to work as slaves. Since they often spoke different languages their communication and cry out for their bad situations was often done by song (the Blues). The African rhythms of many different heritages combined with western instruments developed into a new sound. White musicians soon took over the rhythms and started forming brassbands, making use of a similar musical patterns, but in a more upbeat tempo and higher complexity.


It is often referred to as the founding style of jazz. Emancipation of slaves led to new opportunities for education of freed African-Americans, but strict segregation meant limited employment opportunities. Black musicians provided “low-class” entertainment at dances, minstrel shows, and in vaudeville, and many marching bands formed. Black pianists played in bars, clubs and brothels. Ragtime music is characterized by the vibrant and enthusiastic rhythms often associate with African dance. In 1899, pianist Scott Joplin published the first of many ragtime compositions.

Classic Jazz

At the beginning of the 1900’s, Jazz styles took the form of small band music and its origin credited to New Orleans. This musical style is sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Dixieland” but is less solo-oriented. Though traditional New Orleans Jazz was performed by blacks, whites and African-American creoles, “Dixieland” is a term for white performer’s revival of this style.

New Orleans style, or “Classic Jazz” originated with brass bands that performed for parties and dances in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many of the musical instruments had been salvaged from the Confederate War which included the clarinet, saxophone, cornet, trombone, tuba, banjo, bass, guitar, drums and occasionally a piano. Musical arrangements varied considerably from performance to performance and many of the solos embellished the melody with ornaments of Jazz improvisation. This lively new music combined syncopations of ragtime with adaptations of popular melodies, hymns, marches, work songs and the Blues. The mid 1990’s saw a strong resurgence in the Classic form.

Hot Jazz

In 1925 Louis Armstrong recorded the first of his Hot Five band records. The records made by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven bands are considered to be absolute Jazz classics. The music was characterized by collective improvised solos, around melodic structure, that ideally built up to an emotional and “Hot” climax. The rhythm section, usually drums, bass, banjo or guitar supported this crescendo, many times in the style of march tempo. Soon, larger bands and orchestras began to emulate that energy, especially with the advance of record technology, that spread the “Hot” new sound across the country.

Chicago Jazz

 Chicago was the breeding ground for many young, inventive players. Characterized by harmonic, inovative arrangements and a high technical ability of the players, Chicago Style Jazz significantly furthered the improvised music of it’s day. Contributions from dynamic players like Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman and Eddie Condon along with the creative grooves of Gene Krupa, helped to pioneer Jazz music from it’s infancy and inspire those who followed.


The 1930s belonged to Swing. During that classic era, most of the Jazz groups were Big Bands. Derived from New Orleans Jazz style, Swing was robust and invigorating. Swing was also dance music, which served as it’s immediate connection to the people. Although it was a collective sound, Swing also offered individual musicians a chance to improvise melodic, thematic solos which could at times be very complex. Today swing is still one of the most popular styles among new generations of musicians and dance-loving audiences.


This style of jazz emerged in the 1940s, following the popularity of big band. Bebop was very different to the style of its predecessor, however, seeing as it consisted of a small group of players (usually 4 to 6 musicians). Bebop was characterized by complex melodies and chord progressions, and was unsuitable for dancing. It also developed a style of singing called “scat,” where nonsense syllables are sung to an improvised melody. It’s main innovators were alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and ironically, what was once thought of as a radical Jazz style, Bebop has become the basis for all the innovations that followed.

Cool Jazz

Cool jazz emerged in the late 1940s in New York City, as a result of the mixture of the styles of predominantly white jazz musicians and black bebop musicians. Cool jazz recordings by Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Stan Getz and the Modern Jazz Quartet usually have a “lighter” sound which avoided the aggressive tempos and harmonic abstraction of bebop. Often nicknamed “West Coast Jazz” because of the many innovations coming from Los Angeles.

Hard bop

Hard bop is an extension of bebop (or “bop”) music that incorporates influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues, especially in the saxophone and piano playing. Hard bop was developed in the mid-1950s, partly in response to the vogue for cool jazz in the early 1950s. The hard bop style coalesced in 1953 and 1954, paralleling the rise of rhythm and blues. Miles Davis’ performance of “Walkin’,” the title track of his album of the same year, at the very first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, announced the style to the jazz world.

..from there many other styles rose like Free Jazz, Latin Jazz, Bossa Nova, Soul Jazz, Jazz Fusion. And you might guess it, these styles were the basis for most of the instrumental music styles we know today. So think of Hip-Hop, R&B, Funk, Afro-Cuban, Soul.. it all derived from that thing called Jazz.



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