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A brief history of jazz

A brief history of jazz based on Ron Ruben’s web article.
Most historians agree that jazz grew up at the end of the 19th century, and moreover in Storyville, which was the red light district of New Orleans.
It was a musical mix, on the one hand, of the Afro-American blues, of the work songs which were sung on the plantations, of gospel music which was sung in the churches, and half-remembered rhythms which were brought back by the slaves from West Africa. Mixed in was this was brass band music, European hymns, and ragtime.
Now this was the end of the American Civil War, so there were a lot of brass band instruments which were available, and available cheaply, to members of the Afro-American ghettos. And they bought these instruments and played it with their own individualistic style, enhancing the melodies, and playing them with the freedom and the syncopated feel that was unique to this community.
So the bands that grew up in that era had a front line, typically three instruments, and a rhythm section, again typically three instruments. So the front line consisted of the trumpet, or cornet, which played the tune, augmented by the trombone and the clarinet. And these three instruments interweaved with each other and created a sort of polyphony, which was very effective. The rhythm section consisted of the tuba, which played the bass line and rooted everything, the banjo, which supplied the chords and rhythmic impulse, and finally the drums, which again was responsible for the rhythmic impulse, the swing. And so we had the front line and the rhythm section.
Now the original New Orleans bands were marching bands, but in the 1920s the piano was added, and often replaced the banjo. Moreover, the string bass was added, played in the pizzicato manner, replacing the tuba and therefore making the groups more static. Principal musicians from this era include King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Jelly Roll Morton, and the young Louis Armstrong. However, growing up at the same time, independently, was a looser style, which was originally called Chicago style, and later Dixieland. What was different about it was that the principal musicians were young white musicians, such as Bix Beiderbecke, Pee Wee Russell, Mugsy Spanier, and Eddie Condon.
Now in the 1930s, New York became the centre of the jazz scene, and it probably has remained so ever since. This was the era of the virtuoso musician, and included the incredible pianistic genius of Art Tatum, the agile clarinet of Benny Goodman, and the masterly tenor saxophone of Coleman Hawkins. The age of swing, as it was called, had arrived, and jazz attained a popularity it never had before, and has never had since. This is the era of the big shouting bands, often with vocalists, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmy Lunsford, and the wonderful bittersweet voice of Billie Holiday.
Early in the 1940s, a small coterie of jazz musicians got together after hours in jam sessions at a place called Minton’s Playhouse in New York to develop a new form of the language of jazz.
It became known as Bebop, or Bop for short, and may be seen as a complete break from the music that had come before. Although looking back on it, it probably was, in some sense, a logical extension, a development of the music of the 1930s. The chief musicians who were involved in these jam sessions were Charlie Christian on guitar, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell on piano, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and trumpet, JJ Johnson on trombone and Kenny Clarke on drums. But above all, the giant figure of Charlie Parker on alto saxophone, surely one of the greatest improvisers in the whole history of this chaotic music called jazz.

I would like you to have some basic knowledge of the history of jazz. If you don’t know much about jazz, then a very brief history of earlier jazz up to the Bebop era can be found in Ron Rubin’s 2008 article or on Sandy Brown’s website.

I cover some of this background in the video, although the video does not cover the history of jazz after the Bebop era, but later on we will discuss briefly probably the most important figure in the subsequent history of jazz, namely the trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles was a key figure is the development of the jazz styles Bebop, Cool Jazz, Hard Bop, Orchestral Jazz, Modal Jazz, Jazz-Rock, Fusion and Disco Jazz (although not everyone agrees on this terminology).

If you are new to the music, then I suggest that you listen to the modern jazz pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett (playing jazz standards), and we will make references to them throughout the program.

Task: If you know of other good resources on the history of jazz, please feel free to share these in the comments on this step.

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