[JPL] Jazz For Dummies
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Wed Nov 1 12:57:39 EST 2006
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Digging the Roots of Jazz
For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Although jazz is performed by musicians of many colors and mixes elements
of many kinds of music, it's essentially African-American music. Interwoven
with jazz's history is the history of the black experience in America.
However, European music and blues also influenced jazz.
Adapting West African traditions
Essential elements of jazz arrived in America in 1619 with the first
Africans brought as "cargo" by Dutch sailors who landed in Jamestown,
Virginia. Various African musical elements that eventually surfaced in jazz
came from areas where slaves were taken along the West African coast, known
as the Ivory Coast or Gold Coast, stretching from Dakar in the north to
Congo in the south, and including Senegal, Ghana, Guinea, Dahomey (now part
of Benin), and the Niger delta. Many of the Africans sold into slavery
weren't commoners but, instead, were kings and priests who led tribal
rituals and musical performances. Among the tribes raided for slaves were
the Yoruba, Ibo, Fanti, Ashanti, Susu, and Ewe; many of these musicians
eventually became leading performers in both black and white cultures in
the New World.
Various traders preferred slaves from particular regions and tribes, and
the traditions of those slaves influenced the music in the traders' home
regions. For example, the French acquired Dahomeans. Thus, Dahomeans who
worshipped vodun (spirit) and the snake god, Damballa, brought rituals to
New Orleans that became known as voodoo elements of which appeared in
early blues and jazz. Various bluesmen referenced mojo hands and black
cats, and jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton blamed a voodoo curse for ill
health and a declining career.
In Africa, music was a vital part of daily life and members of a community
all participated. African musicians played a variety of string, percussion,
and wind instruments, but after these musicians landed in America, they
adapted to a new array of drums, fiddles, trumpets, French horns, and other
instruments. Musicians found themselves relocated within a musical culture
partially based on formal notation instead of the unwritten and improvised
traditions of Africa, where griots resident tribal poet-historians sang
and told tales that preserved tribal history, arts, philosophy, and mythology.
Much of the adaptation to the new musical setting occurred in white
churches, where slaves were taught to read music from hymnals and song
books and where they often performed alongside white people at services.
The harsh change was difficult for African musicians who found their music
restrained or redirected along Euro-American lines, yet the blending of
African rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and improvisation, with more formal
Euro-American music, was at the heart of the invention of jazz.
Even in the early stages, the impact of African musicians on American music
began to emerge. Here are key elements:
* Call and response: like when a preacher or dance leader shouts a
statement, and his audience shouts back; when instrumentalists have a
"conversation" consisting of traded musical "statements"
* Improvisation: embellishment around a song's primary melody
* Pentatonic scales: five-tone scales later used as primary scales in
* Polyrhythms: the overlapping of different rhythmic patterns
* Swing or forward momentum: a sense of urgency created by relentless
* Syncopation: rhythmic accents around the underlying beat
Borrowing from European classics
European musical traditions also make up a vital part of jazz. Elements
like swing and improvisation found their way into jazz from Africa, but
jazz's major instruments, including the piano, saxophone (invented in
Belgium about 1840 by Adolphe Sax), and assorted horns came to jazz by way
Largely because of the availability, popularity, and portability of
violins, slaves received training in classical music and performed a range
of music that also included dance and folk. In the 1700s, slaves sometimes
accompanied their owners to colleges such as William & Mary for musical
education. This classical training eventually turned up in jazz. Violin
found its way into jazz in the '20s, playing the same sorts of melodies and
solos as saxophonists and trumpeters.
Blacks who worshipped at some churches in East Coast cities often received
training in European music including classical. During the 18th and 19th
centuries, some congregations (and choirs) were interracial.
Contrary to the common belief that jazz was created primarily by uneducated
blacks with roots in blues, folk, and field chants, African Americans had
the ability to read music and to play classical and other styles of music
well before the inception of jazz. Jazz pioneers such as Scott Joplin,
Jelly Roll Morton, and James P. Johnson brought sophisticated musical
knowledge to their music.
While jazz musicians brought classical elements into jazz, classical
composers borrowed from African-American music. This transferring of styles
proves that even before the invention of jazz and before African-American
music was valued by American universities, concert halls, and arts patrons,
the quality and originality of black music had already captivated the
leading artists of classical music.
In turn, classical composers such as Bartok and Debussy inspired jazz
bassist and composer Charles Mingus. These classical composers utilized
folk music in their creations. Mingus, in the '50s and'60s, composed
ambitious suites such as "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" (1963) that,
like pieces by Bartok and Debussy, combined a variety of influences (blues,
jazz, folk, classical) into an elaborate piece that explored various themes
using an 11-piece ensemble.
From Joplin and Johnson, to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Gil Evans,
and, today, Maria Schneider, some jazz composers have brought a knowledge
of classical arranging, composing, and musical theory to their masterful
Adding some blues
Jazz partially builds on the blues, and some jazz directly grows on a blues
foundation, utilizing the structure of the traditional blues known as
The tradition of call and response, and more simply improvisation, is a big
part of jazz. In good blues, jazz, and gospel, players listen intently to
each other's playing, and have an almost intuitive connection an uncanny
sixth sense felt between musicians. Here are some examples:
* In the gospel church, the preacher sings out a line of sermon, and
his congregation tosses it back to him.
* In blues and jazz, one musician plays or sings something, and another
player throws it back in slightly new, altered form, adding a new variation
to the theme and exploring a song further.
* Still another player may take a swing at the musical phrase, even
adding a new melodic run.
Some of the earliest jazz musicians were vocalists who branched into jazz
from roots in blues. Some notable singers give jazz its bluesy beginnings:
* Ida Cox
* Ma Rainey
* Jimmy Rushing
* Bessie Smith
* Mamie Smith
* Jack Teagarden
* Ethel Waters
* Louis Armstrong
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