Early Jazz Musicians

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Early African-American and European-American jazz musicians

American musicians, critics, historians, and listeners alike take pride in jazz music, birthed in the multiracial New Orleans. Many people consider it to be one of the greatest and most unique American exports to the rest of the world. Founded between the 1890s and 1910s, South African-Americans established a new style and music genre known as jazz. The origins of jazz are founded in spirituals, ragtime, work songs, blues and also the military marches.

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As a matter of fact, dance music as well as great musicians and bands existed before the rise of jazz music, where jazz elements were only played sparingly. Though for a specific period of Jazz existence, it was perceived to be dance music, and jazz musicians were perhaps not attracted to this music style. From the earliest days, most people viewed jazz as a music that, in part, the musicians played for themselves as a method to liberate themselves from the inflexibility of standard dance, marching bands, or even other commercial forms and popular music, which they perceived as repetitive and unchallenging to play (Berger and Harris 199-204).

Essentially, there is clear evidence that despite the genre’s humble origins amid the immigrants, lower classes African Americans, Jazz musicians were never viewed as a standard musician but rather a folk artist. The musicians allied to this music genre were seen to have professionalized and standardized themselves fairly quickly, which would later result in becoming a highly classy show as well as being a prominent form of stage music after its preliminary arrival and on sound recording.

As evidently seen, many of the early Jazz musicians and composers such as Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwin Brothers, Vernon Duke, among others who constituted the initial repertoire of jazz were viewed to be more virtuosic and modernistic due to the chord structures they employed (Monson, Ingrid 282-313). They were also seen as exceptional soloists which constituted the major features of the Jazz music. Correspondingly, after World War II, with the instrumentals’ velocity and complexity, jazz musicians turned the genre to be a musical form which was perceived as self-consciously consumed with the impression of virtuosity in its own sake, where the musicians created a rapport with the new music genre so as not to be mistaken by the general public as sheer entertainment.

From the onset, both the Black-Americans and European-Americans in the United States made jazz performances while the audience was diverse and in large measure; the most interesting aspect is that most of the American audience for Jazz music and its musicians is mostly white (Lewis and George 91-122). From history, jazz musicians were mostly viewed as a large creation of the black Americans as they were able to figure an appropriate portion as the major innovators of the respective musical expression.This perception created two kinds of tensions within jazz musicians and the music industry; among the white performers, there was a feeling and perception that the whites were not being given adequate recognition for their contributions to the art which had white contributions since its initial days. Also, between the African-American performers and the European-Americans, the European-Americans were the writers and critics who analyzed, described, promoted, recorded, publicized, and distributed the Jazz music.

However, there existed some opposing viewpoints on the musicians who invented jazz. As seen from a previous text, and contrary to popular belief, jazz music and its musicians do not oblige its existence to any of the races. Because of the perceived western influences and the American band jazz traditions, most people held a view and a belief that it does not purely belong to the African-Americans. In response to this, European Americans believed and indeed acknowledged that African-Americans invented jazz music, but there is no correlation that the whites stole it, even though the whites imitated the several jazz styles fashioned by African American musicians (Baines and Anthony 66).
Correspondingly, the ability of the African American performance arts and musicians who were able to transform the European American composition tradition while integrating some of its elements was viewed as the most striking and influential evolutionary energy in the entire history of the modern music. Other genres that are viewed to genres of music that bear the marks of this influence are legion. In this respect, Jazz musicians are believed to have brought and fashioned a sense of integration between African Americans and the European Americans in the entire music industry.

Equally important, Jazz musicians were viewed to not only create and evoke negative social conditions but also were viewed to be the force behind racial integration, social mobility, and respect. The aspect of social mobility proved to be a very substantial factor since it showcased a resemblance between the African American jazz musicians and European American rap artists on the basis of their accomplishments in procuring affluence and stardom because of the discovery of their music.

Furthermore, European American jazz musicians were viewed to have contributed greatly to the continuous victimization of African American jazz musicians. The European Americans continued the exploitation of African American jazz musicians for their personal benefits attributed to financial gains, and also deaths in the process. For example, John Hammond who was an employee of the Columbian Records, wrote down an article in the Down Beat magazine illustrating that a distinct Bessie Smith commemorative album who had died a month earlier would be releasedand it would be the best buy of the year in the Jazz music (Washburne and Christopher 59-80). Obviously, he was more concerned in endorsing his fame and fortune rather than paying respect and veneration to the dead. Nevertheless, Hammond regularly referred to himself as being the protector of African American artists to intensify and raise his reputation.

In those early days, both European American and African American jazz musicians were inextricably connected to each other. Most people saw jazz musicians as unpleasant and of lower-class, mainly because of their respective racial connections. But this was not to everyone as opposed. European American musicians were eager to study and understand the new music genre and even initiated a seek out to the African American musicians, where jazz began to explode. In addition, jazz musicians were viewed as people who deserved to suffer uncivilized discriminatory practices in the respective music business and, with occasionally experience thrilling hardship in the search of their vocation. Moreover, European American jazz musicians also suffered discrimination from their African American producers in terms of salaries, working conditions, contracts, accessibility of studio session work, the best touring circuits, and media work and were also constantly denied credit for their own composed music (Burnim, Mellonee and Portia 77-89).

While the African American musicians created this music that lauded elsewhere as America’s foremost cultural product, both African American and European American jazz musicians were viewed and treated as a minor entertainment artist and mainly downgraded to taverns in their native land. As recognized, the European Americans commercialized lyrical forms produced by the African Americans musicians who modified it to make it more appealing and acceptable to the white American audience taste and considerable preference for financial success in a social consequence (Appell, Glenn and David Hemphill 65-76).

Moreover, the African American Jazz musicians are believed to have orchestrated the Harlem Renaissance with the ideas that aided as the foundations for this political and cultural movement like the more assertive political idea of racial identity and pride that lead to the amplification of the subsequent critical illustrations of the African-American experience. Also, in that respect, the formation of the New Negro concept occurred, that was invented by the writer and philosopher Alain Locke (Gates, 1988; Gates and Jarrett, 2007), and consequently shaped the numerous Jazz musical works.

In this historic era, numerous African-American and European Jazz artists explored their heritage and thus the ensuing trajectory of the well-known Negro in America, who from slavery under the white American plantations and factories to the liberation and migration to the northern cities created a misconception performed by the whites, particularly in the minstrel shows. For instance, take James P. Johnson-penned Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, a representation of the black American community in Savannah, Georgia. This masterpiece was composed by William Grant Still, who was a leading figure in the famous Harlem Renaissance movement and got a live presentation for the first time in at the Carnegie Hall in 1928 (Hennessey and Thomas 89-93).

Jazz musicians affiliate to both races; African Americans and European Americans are unambiguously attached to strong political and social meanings. Their relationship with the American Civil Rights Movement in the early 1950s and late 1960s; the conceptual ideas behind the free jazz music movement that evolved in the late 1950’s as well as early 1960’s; the usage on non-western musical effects by several Jazz musicians; was viewed as strong patriotism and affiliated to the representation through the art of music as seen in the African-American experience in the Harlem Renaissance period in the 1920s. All these are significant instances ad illustrations of a close connection.

Identically, jazz musicians were viewed as a historiographical discourse that contributed significantly to the implementation of the modernist idea where artists should not get concerned with any other parameters such as political, social and economic aspects other than Jazz music itself with an aim of separating the art of doing jazz from the diverse musical industry, racial imagination, and politics.

Not to mention, it’s a fact that from the entire history, jazz musicians’ achievement of recognition was also viewed as an outcome of the social processes through which great music masters were heard, evaluated and then acknowledged with gaining through those processes and procedures symbolic power within the musical scene (Monson, 2007: pp. 37-45). According to Porter, Eric (2002), Miles’s voice became larger than itself, not simply because he always chose the right notes, but because large numbers of people have wanted to sing along with his most poignant, militant, and uncompromising moments (Porter and Eric 169-171).

All the developments as seen from the jazz musicians were viewed to be symptomatic of another wider change of attitude, a growth in self-confidence as well as ethnic pride within the European Americans and African American community at large. There was a major domestic approach implemented by the President Eisenhower administration to sustain America’s reputation and the self-adopted role which integrated Jazz music into the national military bands to halt desegregation and falling harmony between the races by inspiring optimism and rising expectations.

Lastly, European American and African American musicians were viewed to have evolved almost entirely within an era of mass production and consumption of ethnic culture within advanced American capitalist societies. Subsequently, the development of the musical jazz is perceived to have been molded and cast by twentieth-century conditions of multi-cultural expression besides transmission. Now, even though Jazz music as well shared and continues to share with rock and roll a rapid diffuse experienced as a popular music throughout the progressive industrial world, this characteristic submits that these respective musical forms resonate with the perceptual and emotional experiences engendered by the modern living. Jazz music, then, was embedded in a wider configuration of the social processes which are expected to be expressed in its evolution as much as is the cultural experience of its primary creators who, of course, also shared in the experience of modernism. business and, with very rare exclusions, experienced thrilling hardship in the quest of their vocation.

In conclusion, the fact that African American and European American Jazz musicians steeped into the entire American jazz, in particular, can be sufficiently fortunate to share the spiritual moments with different people from across the world is a proof to the universal plea and potential power of the Jazz music and its artists. I honestly feel that how the jazz musicians were viewed and perceived has in the past decades shifted and the future holds more of international collaborations for the jazz musicians coming together from all the other parts of the world, thus infusing the music genre with a fresh air breath and enthusiasm.

As such, it has throughout the history, jazz musician continues to flourish and cultivate talents and innovations by reinventing and redefining the jazz music. Becoming progressively universal and opening to bigger partaking by women jazz musicians, the genre and its artists continue to stimulate emerging musical styles. Nonetheless, a blend of styles, its involvement in ethnic and racial integration, as well as the creation of an exceptionally American musical form as a central persuasive musical custom already forms its enduring legacy.

Works Cited

  1. Appell, Glenn, and David Hemphill.American popular music: a multicultural history. Schirmer Books, 2006.
  2. Baines, Anthony.European and American musical instruments. Batsford, 1966.
  3. Berger, Harris M.Metal, rock, and jazz: Perception and the phenomenology of musical experience. Wesleyan University Press, 1999.
  4. Burnim, Mellonee V., and Portia K. Maultsby, eds.African American music: an introduction. Routledge, 2014.
  5. Hennessey, Thomas J.From jazz to swing: African-American jazz musicians and their music, 1890-1935. Wayne State University Press, 1994.
  6. Lewis, George E. “Improvised music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological perspectives.”Black music research journal(1996): 91-122.
  7. Monson, Ingrid. “Doubleness and jazz improvisation: Irony, parody, and ethnomusicology.”Critical Inquiry20.2 (1994): 283-313.
  8. Porter, Eric.What is this thing called jazz?: African American musicians as artists, critics, and activists. Vol. 6. Univ of California Press, 2002.
  9. Washburne, Christopher. “The clave of jazz: A Caribbean contribution to the rhythmic foundation of an African-American music.”Black Music Research Journal(1997): 59-80.
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