History and Influence of Jazz – Sample Essay

Contemporary Music History and Influence –  Jazz

Jazz was originally devised by African American musicians in New Orleans between late 1800s and early 1900s. The genre derived inspiration from a range of sources, including blues, marches, funeral music, European classical music, spirituals, slave songs, African dances, waltzes, popular songs, ragtime, European religious music, and overtures, among others. The fact that New Orleans was a three-tier society during the era was a significant factor in the creation of jazz. The society was particularly made up of whites, African Americans, who were mostly slaves, and mixed-descent creoles, who were essentially educated and free. The creoles believed they were more cultured than African Americans. They also owned better instruments and were more conservatory in training than the latter. After the Civil War, the New Orleans society collapsed into two groups, comprising blacks and whites(Hardie). This resulted in the amalgamation of musical skills of the creoles, which incorporated accomplished techniques, and those of the African Americans, which were largely fashioned around improvisation. The result was jazz.

Some of the significant defining characteristics of Jazz include improvisation, typical instrumentation, a swing feel, the ii-v-I chord progression (Koenig 458), and a mixture of European classical harmony and blues melodies. Improvisation is basically the creation music simultaneously as it is performed. In other words, it entails the creation of new melodic solo lines where a singer invents accompaniment parts or lines over the major chord progression of other rhythm instruments(Koenig 200). Jazz instrumentation comprises the trumpet, saxophone, drum kit, double bass, archtop guitar, and the piano. During performances, the genre embodies a swing feel which is more reminiscent of a cohesive rhythmic “feel” in a rock or funk context. It also makes use of a ⅱ–Ⅴ–I chord progression to bring about a mixture of European classical harmony and blues melodies.

My favorite representatives of jazz are Count Basie and Coleman Hawkins. The former was a groundbreaking organist, pianist, bandleader, and composer. He led one of the very proponent bands in history – the Count Basie Orchestra. The band included players like Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, Joe Williams, and Lester Young, and maintained a reputation of one of the most ‘hard-hitting’ and ‘swinging’ bands of the 20th century. On the other hand, Coleman Hawkins was a great innovator in swing and big band music, vital to the establishment of bebop in the 1940s. He was personally accountable for the tenor saxophone, and his contribution to the instrument served as a foundation for the careers of other legendary musicians like Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.

Jazz has not only gained international acclaim, but also influenced other contemporary styles of music such as pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop classics. Rock ‘n’ Roll was particularly an outgrowth of jazz and included elements of the blues. At a certain point in time, it was hard to differentiate Rock and Roll from the blues. Early Rock and Roll applied the same chord progressions as the blues with an “i-II-iii-IV” approach. Freestyle rap also borrowed heavily from jazz as the performers improvise lyrics that parallel instrumental solos used in Jazz. The same case applies to Rhythms and Blues (R&B) which use melisma and bends that are similar to those of Jazz. All told, a majority of professional musicians who perform with contemporary musicians are jazz musicians. For instance, guitarist Tariqh Akoni has performed alongside the Backstreet Boys band and other musicians like Christina Aguilera.


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