The History of Jazz Music

During the antebellum era, New Orleans played an extensive role in the slave trade and had the largest population of free blacks. It was also home to a large segment of the French population, as well as many Europeans. New Orleans was the only American city that allowed slaves to gather and play native African music; they gathered at Congo Square, which is now part of Louis Armstrong Park.


Because of this cross-section of people, the music that developed throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a mix of European instruments and African drums and rhythms.


Several things influenced the development of Jazz Music:


Marching band music, made famous by John Philip Sousa, is a rhythmic mix of brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments. In the 1890s, marching band music, consisting of brass instruments and dancing, was played by Buddy Bolden’s band. Bolden was the first prominent jazz musician.


Ragtime, the bold piano music of the 1890s, was first composed by Scott Joplin. In1899, he published the most famous piano rag, The Maple Leaf Rag.


Blues originated in the Northern Mississippi Delta, a blend of field hollers (traditional slave songs), church music, and rhythmic dance tunes called jumps-ups. Famous blues artists include Muddy Waters, BB King, and Bessie Smith.


These various forms of music evolved into Dixieland jazz, which included brass instruments, piano, guitar, banjo, bass, and drums. Dixieland jazz was a mixture of solo instruments played together.


Louis Armstrong, affectionately known as Satchmo, was the founding father of jazz. In the 1920s, he developed the modern method of playing jazz, improvised instrument solos featured within the group arrangement. At the age of 13, Armstrong met Joe “King” Oliver, who introduced him to jazz music and became his mentor and teacher. During his life, Armstrong performed an average of three hundred concerts a year, made over thirty films, and wrote two autobiographies and several memoirs.


Several styles of jazz music developed over the next thirty to forty years.


Swing was the first, in the 1930s. Swing music is accented on the second and fourth beats, creating a ‘swinging’ dance rhythm. Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, and Benny Goodman were famous orchestra leaders of the Swing Era.


The faster tempos, melodies, and harmonies of the 1940s fostered the creation of Bebop. Swing music was played by large bands for dance audiences; Bebop was played by smaller bands for listening audiences. Dizzy Gillespie developed Bebop, influenced by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.


In the late 1930s, Dizzy Gillespie met Cuban trumpet/saxophonist Mario Bauza in the Cab Calloway Orchestra. He introduced Gillespie to Chano Pozo, a conga player. Pozo influenced the music Gillespie’s band played, leading to the development of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz in the 1940s and 1950s.