Jazz is a uniquely American style of music having both African and European origins. The same musical elements found in jazz can be found in all sorts of later popular musics, including popular ballads (songs), rhythm and blues, rock (and related styles such as soul, Motown, jazz-rock), rap, and even country and western.
When studying the origins of jazz and other popular music consider this: Non-Western (African, Asian) music tends to emphasize rhythm and melody, Western (European) music tends to emphasize melody and harmony (chords).
Briefly the African elements found in jazz and other popular music styles are:
syncopation-emphasizing weak beats in the rhythm
improvisation-making up the music as you go along, but following certain guidelines
blues (or bent) notes-bending the 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes of the scale downward to a flat note
call and response-a soloist/leader sings or calls out a statement, and is answered by the rest of the group
riffs-repeated melodic/rhythmic patterns
Ex. 1 This is the rhythm of the main melody from Eryka Badu's "Didn't Ya Know." Like most popular music and jazz, it contains a lot of syncopations. The syncopations are located at the green "X's." Syncopation means accenting weak beats (the upbeats) in the rhythm, rather than the strong beats (the downbeats). In other words, in syncopation you accent (emphasize) the unexpected.
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Ex. 2 This is a blues scale played twice. In a blues scale, the 3rd, 5th, and 7th tones are bent downwards to a flat note, thus the term "bent notes" or "blues notes." Popular music and jazz frequently use blues notes.
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Ex. 3 This is the bass line to Eryka Badu's "Bag Lady." It is an excellent example of a riff, which is a repeated rhythmic and melodic pattern frequently found in popular music and jazz.
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These elements are found in the work songs and spirituals
(sacred singing) of African-Americans during the 1800s and
found their way into jazz and other popular styles
harmony-the basic chords used, such as the tonic (I), dominant
(V), and subdominant (IV) chords, and other more complex harmonies
are of European origin.
instruments-the instruments used in jazz, such as the trumpet, clarinet, trombone, saxophone, piano, and bass (string bass and tuba) are of European origin. Percussion is a cultural universal, but particularly emphasized in African music
form-the basic forms used in jazz such as theme and variation form, march form, and AABA form are of European origin.
Three main contributing music styles to jazz are:
1. Marches and the American concert/military band tradition, inherited from Europe. Bands made up of brass, woodwinds, and percussion were very popular in the United States a hundred years ago. Playing in a band was a popular means of recreation/social outlet for young men (and sometimes women as well) in an age before radio, television, and automobiles, and bands were a source of community pride. Virtually all towns, even small ones, had one or more amateur bands at some point. There were also "ethnic" bands (made up of Italian-Americans or African-Americans, for instance), in some parts of the country. The style of music played by ethnic wind bands made up of African-Americans around New Orleans, Louisiana is one of the sources for jazz. In addition, there were numerous professional bands which toured the country giving concerts that mixed art music (European classical and romantic style), along side of popular music of the day. One important type of music that bands played was called a march. The original purpose of a march was to get soldiers from place to place in an orderly and enjoyable fashion. Eventually, by the 1880s, more sophisticated marches (having more attractive melodies, more complex textures and harmonies), were being written that could not only be used for this purpose, but could also simply be used as a piece to listen to for enjoyment at a concert. The most famous professional bandmaster in America was John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), and the most famous march he wrote was The Stars and Stripes Forever (1897). It had the following format, which is a common one for marches:
Intro A A B B C D C’ D C’’
Marches are in a meter of two. The introductions are four measures long, and the others sections 16 (or sometimes 32) measures in length. There is one main melody for each section, but also sometimes one or two additional subsidiary melody played at the same time called “counter melodies.” Thus, marches are mainly homophonic (having one main melody accompanied by background chords), but the addition of a counter melody makes them polyphonic at times.
Another common format for marches is:
Intro A A B B C C D D
2. Ragtime: Ragtime was a style of composed piano music developed by African-Americans in the midwest in the 1890s, especially around St. Louis, Missouri. The most important composer of ragtime was Scott Joplin (1868-1917), and his most famous rag was The Maple Leaf (1899). Ragtime was developed when black pianists in the midwest began to syncopate the melody (which was in the players right hand) of a traditional march over the steady “oom-pah” two beat pattern in the left hand. This playing ahead and behind the beat made the music sound “ragged” (thus the term “ragged-time” or simply “ragtime”). Eventually, original compositions such as the Maple Leaf Rag were written, rather than borrowing a pre-existing march. Rags use a similar format and two beat patterns as marches, but with the added African-American element of syncopation. The Maple Leaf has the following format, common in rags:
A A B B A C C D D (each section is 16 measures long like a march)
Although The Maple Leaf (Study Guide CD, track 5) has no four measure introduction like a march, four measure introductions were also common in ragtime.
3. Blues-was a vocal style that developed from the work songs and spirituals of African-Americans in the rural South. The Blues began to develop during the 1890s and by 1910 was in the 12 measure poetic and musical form we know today which is as follows:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
I IV I V IV I
I=tonic chord; IV=subdominant chord; V=dominant chord
This 12 measure chord progression is repeated for each verse of the song. The melody and words for each verse are varied, much like a theme and variation form. The Blues made extensive use of blues (or bent notes) and syncopation, and was not only a source for jazz, but also a style called "rhythm and blues" in the 1940s and 1950s. Rhythm and blues, in turn, is an important source for a style called "rock n’ roll," which originated in the mid 1950s. An early important blues singer was Bessie Smith (nicknamed “Empress of the Blues”). Bessie Smith: Lost Your Head Blues, 1926.
Jazz itself is derived from all of the above styles and originated in New Orleans, Louisiana about 1900. It developed there because of the unique mixture of African-American and European-American cultures that was centered there. The first recorded jazz was in 1917, and it became popular with the general public as a result. This earliest style of jazz is called Dixieland or New Orleans style. This style included the use of basic band instruments (trumpet, clarinet, trombone, tuba, as well as piano and banjo), syncopation, blues notes, blues and march forms, two-beat accompaniment pattern, call and response, and collective improvisation in a polyphonic texture over traditional harmonies (chords).
After 1917 the center of jazz shifted to Chicago due to changes in New Orleans society. Chicago style of jazz tended to use more solo improvisation and less collective improvisation, and included the use of the saxophone.
The most important early jazz artist was the trumpeter Louis Armstrong (nicknamed “Satchmo”). We will hear his band called “Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five” playing Hotter Than Hot (1927) which uses the following format:
Intro (8 measures); Chorus 1 (32); Chorus 2 (32); Chorus 3 (32); Interlude (20); Chorus 4 (32); Coda (4)
In the late 1920s, a new style of jazz developed called Swing. It was popular with the general public from about 1935-45. It was played by what was termed as a “Big Band” of 15-20 members, made up of saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and rhythm section (drums, piano, string bass, guitar). Swing band arrangements were often written out carefully, but did allow for at least some improvisation over the chords of the main melody. Swing style jazz had a swinging feel due to its use of triplet rhythms, and also made use of syncopations, blues notes and repeated rhythm patterns called “riffs.” Probably the most important Swing Band leader was Duke Ellington, and his arranger was Billy Strayhorn. We will hear Ellington’s band playing the famous Take the A Train (1940) which is in the following format:
Intro A A B A AABA AABA Coda(Part A repeated/getting
4 8 8 8 8 32 32
You may recognize the format of the main melody of this piece as 32-bar song form (American popular song form), which was a common form for popular songs for many years.
Bebop jazz, which developed in the 1940s, was a complex improvisational style which was not popular with the general public. It used more complicated harmonies, unpredictable complex rhythms (thus not as easy to listen to and dance to), and was played by smaller groups. This style was partially a reaction against the popularization/commercialization of swing/Big Band jazz. Bebop’s most famous artist was the alto saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. We will hear Parker’s group perform Bloomdido (1950). It features Charlie Parker on alto saxophone and Dizzie Gillespie on trumpet.
Jazz looses it’s popularity with the general public after 1945, and instead popular singers (called “crooners”) singing popular ballads (songs) become increasingly popular, as well as rhythm and blues which leads to rock n’ roll by the mid-1950s. In addition. musical theater, another unique American style developed from European sources (operetta which is sometimes called light opera), is popular after about 1930. It is sometimes known as "Broadway" because it was originally performed in the theater district in Manhattan, New York City, on Broadway Ave. The ballads (songs) often use AABA format, and elements of jazz and later even rock are sometimes incorporated as well. Famous musicals include Oklahoma (1943), The King and I (1951); My Fair Lady (1956), West Side Story (1957), Fiddler on the Roof (1964); and Hair (1967).