History of Jazz

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The room is quiet as the players get on stage. The company is filled with a pianist, horn, drums, upright bass, and saxophone. They start to play, the horn taking the head improvising as the rest of the company played supporting the horn. It then the sax takes over the solo as the rest of players backed them up. This repeats throughout the piece, the musicians putting a little bit of themselves into the solos.

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This is jazz, the style of music where players weave melodies and harmonies. A style where improvising is king and has given birth to man stiles during his reign. This paper will dive into the history of jazz starting with its birth to now, and how it affected the players and events around it.

New Orleans the home to Mardi Gras is the birthplace of jazz. Jazz was created when immigrants from all nations and all stations came to together to form a new sound, an example of this is in the book The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, The dances in Congo Square were a nexus where opposites collided. So much like the city that gave birth to it, jazz was a mixture of all different cultures that came together to make a new sound.

One of the first to make this new sound was Buddy Bolden, who has been thought of as the father of jazz. (Gioia, 2011)His new creation was described as, that he was loud, and second, that his music opened the door to improvisation. “His combination of charisma and playing style is what put it over,” he said. (Cieply, 2007) So like the birthplace of jazz, the creator of jazz mixed his own playing and aptitude to make this new style great.

Jazz at first was dived into two styles, New Orleans Jazz and Dixie land which had their share of bands one of which was the King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. The band would play in the style of Dixie land which meant that the pieces would focus more on ensemble work then the soloists in their pieces. Also, Dixie jazz would have a raw sound to it and a linear style according to the History of Jazz.
Yet like fall when the leaves change so did the jazz when Lewis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens records came out. Instead of a tight-knit artist who played together in a big band, Armstrong called forth artists who were not in a big band and worked together with them to make a new sound for jazz. This sound was different, gone was the idea of playing together as an ensemble as in Dixieland or New Orleans jazz, no now there was a solo line which went over the rest of band and stuck out with its own rhythm and notes. (Gioia, 2011)

In the vein of Armstrong Duke Ellington’s band was created not by people who played together for years, but those who were special in their playing. (Gioia, 2011) In some cases, he considered how an artist would play into writing music his band, an alto solo was not just for any alto, but for the particularly breathless play of Johnny Hodges. (Epstein, 1999). This gives his music a different sound than other jazz bands because of the uniqueness of the sound. In some cases, he was ahead of his time, using people’s different strengths to make something good, almost like some of the songs that are broadcast over the radio today.

Also, during Ellington’s day there was a King of Swing, and his name was Benny Goodman. Goodman rose to power because of his personality and his great ability to play music. Yet his rise of fame came to a head during 1935 where, Goodman’s eventual triumph??” signaled by his breakthrough performance at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. (Gioia, 2011) During this performance, Goodman had given birth to the swing era, an era with very good music to dance too.

After Swing, a new underground movement was taken place. A style that focused on the lower part in the pieces and complex melodies. This style was called bebop and longer solos and faster tempos that its brother swing had. It was so out there during its time that those who played it were called rebels. (Gioia, 2011)

Charlie Parker was one of these rebels who had a comeback story to start off his carrier. The first jam session he played at went very badly and he was laughed out of the rehearsal room. He did come back years later and got a job with Buster Smith’s band as a 2nd alto according to book The History of Jazz. Though after a stent of being in New York he could not function, so he had to move back to his home to help create bebop. (Gioia, 2011)

It was not just the composition and solos in bebop that was different, it was the piano playing too. The piano style was created in the mid-1940s and focused more on a pure tone type sound, instead of the muddled tones of Tatum and Elton used during their hay day. During this time the right hand was the star over the left and was given chromic overtones and rhythmic fumes while the left just played a simple chord or melody underneath it, which caused bebop to have the kick it needs to have the right sound. (Gioia, 2011)

One of the artists who took the bebop piano was Bud Powell, who was described as the soul of bebop movement. His playing reconstructed the way that jazz players would play the piano forever. His influence may have been a whisper, but it still holds today. Yet like many players before him, he got into the drug crazy and his playing became muddy and filled with chaos which was not present in his first works. (Gioia, 2011)

Thelonious Monk was another bebopper whose carrier was the opposite of Powell. Monk started out in the 1940s and ’50s as a forgotten player but found his footing in the 1950s when he became the voice of bebop. (Gioia, 2011) In an article by Sean Spence described the pianist playing as, instantly recognizable, sounding as if the modernist Schoenberg had inherited the jazz tradition of Fats Waller: angular music, jangling with discordant note clusters, set over jerking rhythms which nevertheless seem to “swing. (Spence, 1998) In other words, Thelonious Monk’s playing was a great example of how bebop music was to be played. Bebop was a class of music that should be played with personality.

“Take Five, a record by Paul Desmond was created during this time. It was different from many songs that came before it because it was created with unusual time signatures and blended jazz with classical music. The piece also had thick harmonies and thanks to Desmond’s playing had smooth jazz tones playing over it. Dave Brubeck, on the other hand, had more of a playful tone to his playing and loved experimenting with new sounds. (Gioia, 2011) Both Brubeck and Desmond were working hard to expand the style of jazz from what it was known for.

In this idea of expanding what jazz was known for might have led to the idea of Fragmentation. Fragmentation means separating into different groups, for jazz that meant dividing up into hard bop, West Coast Jazz, Soul Jazz, Modern Jazz, third stream jazz and Free jazz. This idea was brought to the front with the album: Birth of Cool, which explored the style of cool Jazz. This idea of cool jazz was almost like bebop in its rise starting off as an underground movement in jazz but speared headed by the younger generation with artists like Miles Davis, along with many others like Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond and Art Pepper (Gioia, 2011).

During the time when Cool Jazz came out another jazz which combined the Latin beats of samba with cool smooth notes of jazz came into being. (Gioia, 2011)This craze was called bossa nova and it can be described as, It comes from a kind of silence. … It comes from beautiful silence and beautiful meditation. You listen, and you feel like you are watching the sea,” adds Donato… (Reich, 2008) This description is accurate because Bossa Nova had a subdued tone with challenging harmonies and fine solos according to the article by Berry Kernfeld. (Kernfeld, 2008). It was this sound that caused both Charlie Byrd and with Stan Getz to bring the sound over to the United States.

During this time both Miles Davis and John Coltrane were at the height of their popularity in the different playing styles. Coltrane’s style was more improvisation, an example of this would be his recording, Kind of Blue. The recording used scales instead of cords and this gave more freedom to the soloists who had to play difficult solos, according to The History of Jazz. Davis on the other hand when compared to Coltrane played his trumpet with focus and usually went up and down scales like the video, “So What” where both Coltrane and Davis played together. (Davis, 1959)

Speaking of Miles Davis playing, one of his sidemen helped pave the way for both Hard bop and soul jazz and his name was Art Blacky. Blacky started as a piano player but moved into drums when the band he was playing in got a new piano player. His drum playing spurred new sounds for the jazz crazy according to The History of Jazz. Blacky was not the only person who worked to change jazz another was Charles Mingus.

Charles Mingus was a traditional jazz player who would tinker with the legacies of the past and was partly progressive without the freedom principal that had been going on through jazz. According to The History of Jazz Mingus playing was a style without a style. This was because his melody was bent out of shape and his counterpoint was a sassy sound that was different from the pieces during that time.

The change in style was not just in the horns or piano but in guitars as well. From Kenny Burrell and Grant Green who changed how guitar playing was viewed to West Montgomery who combined commercial and street jazz. Montgomery also created new ways of playing the guitar according to The History of Jazz by playing the said instrument with his thumb.

Society along with artist changed Jazz, and a prime example of this is Free Jazz it. In the 1960s the Civil Rights Movement was on the rise, and music like in other times started to reflect it. That is what caused the birth of Free Jazz, the example of music that reflected what was happening in society. (Gioia, 2011) The music also was getting away from harmony and the construction of music that was going on that time. Almost like those who marched for equal rights during the same time going against what society thought was right during that time. One of the ones who did this type of construction was Ornette Coleman, an artist whose sound was described as a hocking shouting ruffing sound which stayed on one note or came out as a guttural howl (Gioia, 2011) This sound seemed to be a good simile for what was happening around during that time, because many had raised their voices to be heard, almost like they were howling.

After free jazz there came Fusion, the exact opposite of Fragmentation. In the case of fusion was when jazz was combined with other styles of music. One of the first recordings that explored fusion was Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. According to The History of Jazz, the recording was a mix of raw and unfiltered music, rattling discursive, and often unfiltered music. This along with this sound the tracks were over 10 minutes which caused sales to drop for the record.

Other artists who worked with fusion according to The History of Jazz were: Herbie Hancock who along with his headhunters combined disco with jazz, while Tony Williams combined rock- in- roll with jazz. Mahavishnu orchestra directed by John Mclaughnm which combined jazz with Indian music. Another group was the weathermen created by Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul used piano and used electric keyboards to created layers in their music and used a compositional -ordinated style (Gioia, 2011)

One thing that stayed constant with most jazz styles was the singer. One of the most famous singers was Billie Holiday whose voice according to The History of Jazz had a very small range, and half octaves and her voice did not project well. What made her great though was her timing and how her voice could connect with the music to make it her own. This changed however when she got addicted to drugs and her voice seemed to become dark and scared and it caused her voice to sound rough and become more somber. (Gioia, 2011)

Ella Fitzgerald was another jazz singer that was popular both now and during her time. Her voice in the example of Summer Time was a mixture of hums and low tones which make the song flow, also the raspy sound in her voice gives the song more meaning. (Du Bose Heyward, 1968). It is one of the few voices that could tell a story that people would want to hear.

Jazz like other music had its own battle between the new and old ways of thinking. This was described as Postmodern vs. Traditional practices. Postmodern artists focused more sound and mixing jazz with other styles according to the History of jazz. Some groups that practiced Postmodern styles were: AACM, Steve Coey, Threadgill, and Guerilla Jazz where old approaches were used to make new music. There was also an artist named Braxton who went farther than the other artist by taking music from both African and European music. (Gioia, 2011)

Wynton Marsalis was another postmodern jazz artist. According to The History of Jazz Wynton rise into fame started when he was a teenager and played with the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic band. (Gioia, 2011) Using this stepping stone, he became a Grammy award-winning artist in both Classic and Jazz styles. He also tried to combine both postmodern and the roots of jazz together. Marsalis even became the artistic director of the Lincoln Center and was named as a jazz ambassador.

Jazz is popular even now even though it has changed a bit, both the United States and Europe still have a heart for it though. Jazz now is sometimes making recordings using software instead of living players to perform, which can be equal to the greats that had come before, according to the History of Jazz. Also, since the rise of technology induvial artist can record records and share them online without the aid of a label. (Gioia, 2011) This means more money for those artists who want to branch out and do their own thing to change jazz. Even though it has gone more into a technology era, jazz is still affected by what happens in society. A recent example of this would be the dark and somber sounds in jazz after the events of 9/11. (Gioia, 2011)

Jazz also has switch popularity in recent years. The History of Jazz comments that once jazz was favored more in America than Europe during the start of jazz. This has changed now jazz is the main form in Europe bosting more fame than it is America now. In the old days those who played jazz in Europe would go over to America to get more pay and recognition, now it is the opposite. (Gioia, 2011) In other words, if a jazz artist wants to make it big, they need to go to the festivals in Europe that celebrate the jazz is the right way to go. It would be either that or go into a time machine back to when Jazz first became popular in the United States.

Jazz, a style of music that changed throughout the years but still has the same heart. It has gone through many styles and has given birth to many great artists in its run. Jazz was created from a mixture of history and styles and moved throughout the world changing with time and what the artist wanted to change it to. Jazz is a wonderful sound, and those who hear will also hear the history that comes with it, which is what music is here for.


  1. Cieply, M. (2007). The elusive man who may have invented jazz. International Herald Tribune, 11. Retrieved from https://proxyeast.uits.iu.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/318821 561?accountid=11648
  2. Davis, M. (1959). So what. New York, New york, USA . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diHFEapOr_E
  3. Du Bose Heyward, G. G. (1968). Summer Time [Recorded by E. Fitzgerald].
  4. Epstein, J. (1999, June 4). Ellington’s century and a century of Duke. Philadelphia Tribune, 16E. Retrieved from https://proxyeast.uits.iu.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/337739
  5. Gioia, T. (2011). History of Jazz (Vol. 2nd edition ). New York, New York : Oxford University Press.
  6. Kernfeld, B. (2008). Bozza Nova (Jazz). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.proxyeast.uits.iu.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-2000990003#omo-9781561592630-e-2000990003-bibliography-1
  7. Reich, H. (2008). 50 years under the spell of bossa nova. Chicago Tribune, 7.1. Retrieved from https://proxyeast.uits.iu.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/420685
  8. Spence, S. A. ( 1998). Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music; Straight,No Chaser. The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk. British Medical Journal, Vol. 317( 7166), 1162. Retrieved from https://proxyeast.uits.iu.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/177758
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History of Jazz. (2019, Nov 28). Retrieved November 29, 2022 , from

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