Microblog

Early Jazz

Jazz has its earliest roots not in America, but in West Africa, the birthplace of many of America’s slaves. Out of their suffering and misery was born a rich musical tradition of songs and field chants, with their simple pentatonic (5-note scale) melodies and call and response structures. 

After the American Civil War (1865), the 13th amendment to the American constitution abolished slavery. Many former slaves found themselves looking for work, and some took jobs as musicians, which, when they worked with musicians from other cultures, exposed  them to other musical styles. Their new-found emancipation manifested itself in their music, as a freedom of expression and experimentation, and they eagerly combined the music they knew — negro spirituals, slave songs and hymns  — with music from wider European influences.

Jazz became popular in the 1890s when 'ragtime', a precursor to jazz, started to catch the ear of white Americans. Scott Joplin was the most famous exponent of ragtime, and his music has crossed all barriers to become what we now regard as mainstream.

The Dixieland bands of New Orleans soon spread in popularity over the southern states, and two of the earliest stars of the jazz firmament were the cornet player Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931) and the trumpeter/singer Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong (1901 - 1971) who, as well as improvising on trumpet, also improvised with a form of singing called 'scat'.

A note on the playlist: due to the unavailability of so many recordings from this era we have occasionally selected recordings from a later period, but ones which reflect the style of the period in question.

Key Artists

King Oliver

Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

Bix Beiderbecke

Earl “Fatha” Hines

Jelly Roll Morton

Sidney Bechet

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