History and Overview of Jazz – Peanuts Jazz
When most people think of jazz, what they think of is the mainstream debut of jazz in the middle of the Roaring 20s. The Jazz Age as it’s called in music history was a time that ran roughly from 1920 to 1933, and it was when jazz became the music of choice for Prohibition era speakeasies, and how the current generation embraced the music over the previous generation’s objections that jazz was decadent and immoral.
This era technically began in the year 1919 in San Francisco. That was when Kid Ory’s Original Creole Jazz Band became the first black jazz musicians to actually play and be received by the public, and in 1922 they were the first band of their kind to make recordings of their songs. As a result most people associate jazz with both L.A. and with New Orleans, but the real hotbed of activity with jazz music, as it was with gin running and organized crime, was the Windy City of Chicago. It was there that “hot jazz” was being refined in the crucible of the underground music scene, with big players like King Oliver and Bill Johnson were setting the standards of the time.
Of course jazz began long before it became the obsession of mainstream music, and some would argue that it began as much as 100 years or more before what we think of as the “Jazz Age” in America. In fact the first elements of what we think of as jazz come from the rhythms of African drums, which Africans that were took as slaves still knew and used. However, while slaves in the Caribbean and in South America were allowed celebrations with the use of more traditional drums, the use of such instruments was banned in North America by law. However, the tradition of the rhythm soon met another tradition; the European hymn.
It was the singing in church, combined with the rhythms of African music that began the first catalysts to create modern jazz. Of course the stew was far from done, and before jazz finished cooking elements of Cuban Habanera music (which was widely and cheaply available as sheet music in the 19th century) were added, and alongside those patterns and rhythms the instruments and style of big band music was stirred in as well. In fact one could argue that the big band was perhaps the last stepping stone to the brassy sound of the Jazz Age, which still survives even today in many jazz musicians’ playing styles.
It wasn’t as if jazz was being purposefully created either; rather jazz was one branch of the musical tree of African American music styles as they evolved and changed. For instance, before there was jazz, there was ragtime. Ragtime developed naturally as African Americans, now freed from slavery, educated themselves and took up the performing arts in vaudeville shows and public houses. The piano music, combined with the improvisation and skills of the musicians, created something new. Blues was a musical style that originated in the Deep South, and it was a more modern tradition built off of the slave work songs that showcased the beauty that could be found in sadness and suffering. Every style of music built off of what came before it to add and mix elements until the slurry eventually bubbled up into a serving of jazz.
Of course the evolution of music didn’t stop with jazz, and no one region created it as a finished product. The Hot Jazz of Chicago, the unique flavor of New Orleans jazz and all of the other regional tastes came together to create a culture and style that ebbed and flowed. And as jazz became more established other styles came to be. Some have argued that rock and roll is one of the many children of jazz, as well as bebop music and a number of other, more modern styles. It’s only with the benefits of hindsight that we can see where jazz began, and all of the factors that lead to it being created the way that it was.