When we delve into Jazz History, the precise origins of jazz music are a little unclear. The style likely originated in the music played and performed by slaves in the United States, South America and the Caribbean in the early 19th century.
This music eventually evolved in blues and ragtime, setting the stage for the development of the jazz history we know today. Ragtime developed in the late 19th century, played by primarily African-American performers at dances and vaudeville shows before being noticed and refined by classically-trained musicians. Once ragtime made its way to New Orleans in the early 20th century, it merged with European musical styles such as opera and hymns, as well as blues, traditional African and marching band music to form Dixieland, one of the most popular forms of early jazz. It is during this time that improvisation became a core characteristic of jazz, soon becoming its most important feature, completely changing Jazz History from this point forward.
When African-Americans began moving north to Chicago and New York in the 1920s, jazz reached an unprecedented level of popularity, encouraged by an increased availability of radios and record players. Jazz eventually transformed into an entire cultural movement which gave birth to jazz clubs, dance halls and flappers.
In the 1930s, swing became the dominant form of jazz and remains popular to this day. Its upbeat and optimistic style were especially welcome amidst the economic hardship of the Great Depression. The swing era saw the introduction of some of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, such as Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Bebop – fast tempo and intricate melodies
The birth of bebop in the 1940s set the foundations for the modern jazz many enthusiasts still enjoy today. Eschewing big bands and and simple melodies for intricate rhythms, complex harmonies and small combinations of musicians, bebop was considered to be a more intellectual form of jazz by some of its proponents. Instead of providing popular music for dancing, bebop aimed to provide serious music for listening and analysis.
In the 1950s, musicians from Cuba and Latin American began playing with American jazz artists and created what eventually became known as Afro-Cuban jazz. This style was endorsed and played by such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton.
Although it was played in the 1950s, free jazz was not widely known until the 1960s. This style was introduced by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor and was designed to offer an unprecedented level of freedom to musicians. Free jazz did not necessarily confine itself to a predetermined chord progression, melody or even tempo. Although free jazz often sounds like noise to inexperienced listeners, it contains some of the most complex rhythms and harmonies in all of jazz music.
It is some of the great and original Saxophone players, whose albums are still incredibly popular, that have instilled modern music lovers with a love of Jazz History. While the mainstream popularity of jazz peaked in the 1960s with artists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, the form has continued to evolve, spawning styles like fusion, acid jazz and smooth jazz. In this way, jazz has shown itself to be one of the most persistent and versatile musical styles of all time.