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Jazz Music in American Culture Research Paper


Introduction

Jazz refers to a popular genre of music that originated from New Orleans in 1900 and developed through increasingly complex styles. It also refers to a style of music characterized by dancing and played by large bands (Sutro, 2011, p.12).

The origin of jazz is associated with black communities in the United States whose culture influenced the musical elements of the genre. As the genre gained social acceptance, whites belonging to the middle class in the United States of America also adopted it. Development and spread of jazz music resulted in different styles influenced by cultures around the world (Sutro, 2011, p.21).

Jazz embraces qualities such as dangling, group communication, voice growth and improvisation. Some of the cardinal features from European and African music that influenced the nature of jazz include repetition of responses and improvisation (Sutro, 2011, p.26). This meant that a jazz performer had the independence to interpret an original composition differently every time they performed (Sutro, 2011, p.30).

The ability of a performer to interpret an original composition depended on factors such as individual experiences, modality, the audience and influence from fellow performers. Chords and regular recurrence applied in outlining the arrangement of a song as well as complimenting the performer (Sutro, 2011, p.35). For example in New Orleans, different performers played the melody in turns while the others generated makeshift melodies.

Sway Era

From the onset of the sway era in jazz, high performing bands relied on organized music through writing or memorization. Early forms of modern jazz directed their attention towards small groups that did not rely on arranged music in their performances (Stokes, 1996, p.34). However, other forms of jazz such as modal jazz stopped using chords as applied in the earlier forms, thus according performers more freedom to improvise.

This happened during the jazz age. This was the period when jazz music gained popularity in America and Europe (Stokes, 1996, p.41). The central feature of this period was the acceptance of the genre by middle class whites in America. The white people helped to popularize the genre in America through their own performances.

Apart from the influence by white Americans, radio broadcast played a remarkably crucial role in spread and growth of jazz music (Stokes, 1996, p.46). Introduction of radio presented an alternative avenue for jazz lovers to access the genre apart from attending performances in bars. However, radio had a negative influence on careers of artists such as Louis Armstrong, who received limited airplay from radio stations that preferred music by white artists (Stokes, 1996, p.47).

Jazz influenced a significant fraction of the American population to identifying their identities (Stokes, 1996, p.51). Women began making significant contributions to the growth of the genre by introducing fresh ideas. Women participated in shaping their social life as well as identifying their position in the entertainment industry. The idea of equal opportunities and liberated sexuality was associated with women who in turn became the greatest beneficiaries (Stokes, 1996, p.57).

Women artists started to emerge among the best performers of this genre. One of the renowned female jazz artists was Bessie Smith, who gained popularity for her singing prowess and African American descent (Stokes, 1996, p.62). Bessie Smith along with other female jazz singers received recognition as successful artists for their determination and influence on female artists who came after them (Stokes, 1996, p.63).

Criticism

Over time, jazz music received wide criticism regarding its alteration and transformation. The failure to give a clear definition of the genre by its originators as well as the musicians influenced these criticisms (Townsend, 2000, p.21). However, some arguments stated that jazz could not change as it has the capacity to take up and change effects from other musical genres. Some critics argued that jazz was not unique and free from alteration because of the arrangement and organization of some compositions (Townsend, 2000, p.25).

Other critics described jazz music as an ordinary thing that was prone to any form of alterations and lacked originality. These criticisms heightened from 1970 when the era of jazz fusion was in progress (Townsend, 2000, p.29). This era was responsible for the dilution of jazz music. The era developed a confusing understanding of jazz because it was not clear whether it was an art or a music genre (Townsend, 2000, p.31).

The African American image created by jazz also raised a lot of concern among critics. Critics argued that jazz music applied as an indication of how black Americans influenced on American history as well as supporting their culture. However, jazz musicians of African American descent applied the genre to reflect on their domineering and xenophobic society that blocked their goals in art (Townsend, 2000, p.35).

Cultural Influences

The influence of African and European cultures in jazz music dates back to 1808 during the era of the slave trade (Townsend, 2000, p.92). Slave trade along the Atlantic introduced Africans to culture in America. The cultural beliefs and values of these Africans influenced on development and growth of music in America.

African music applied in events, rituals or at work (Townsend, 2000, p.92). Different genres of African music applied in different occasions. African culture influenced the growth and development of jazz music (Townsend, 2000, p.94). Most African festivals occurred in New Orleans where jazz music originated. Religion among the black slaves also influenced the growth of jazz. Most Africans knew how to sing church hymns that formed the basic concept of jazz (Townsend, 2000, p.100).

Through interactions with their masters, many slaves developed their musical skills by learning how to play European instruments. Demographic variations of North America and the introduction of African culture were not monumental. This meant that the music played across North America was different irrespective of the audience in areas where music festivals like the minstrel show occurred (Townsend, 2000, p.106).

Minstrel was an entertainment show in America that hosted comic skits, dancing, music and variety (Meeder, 2012, p.30). Performances were mainly by white people who impersonated black people. The Minstrel show begun in 1831during a variety show in Bowery district of New York.

This show had powerful connections to musical traditions of black people in America, than it had with spirituality (Meeder, 2012, p.34). However, the show experienced little recognition in 1860s, although the blackface remained relevant in American culture. The black American image created in the show influenced on the genre of music chosen by black Americans because people expected them to make compositions similar to those presented in the show.

This factor led to development and growth of jazz music among African Americans (Meeder, 2012, p.39). Influence of African culture on music in America occurred in northern and southern parts during the civil war. New Orleans acted as the central point of the slave trade in America (Meeder, 2012, p.50). Black people in New Orleans continued to gather at Congo square where they traded their goods, exchanged information and danced to the beats of African drums.

Ragtime

When slavery ended in the United States of America, black Americans got an opportunity to get an education (Meeder, 2012, p.53). However, most African Americans got jobs in the entertainment industry due to limited opportunities in the corporate world (Meeder, 2012, p.56).

Entertainment from African Americans was in the form of dances and minstrel shows that had considerable influence from African cultures. These shows influenced the development of ragtime music. Instruments such as piano and brass bands also applied in the development of ragtime music (Meeder, 2012, p.59). Some of the stylistic origins of ragtime genre included American rally music, African folk music and cakewalk (Meeder, 2012, p.63).

Ragtime development involved African American artists and musicians performing in bars, brothels and other entertainment spots. Ragtime genre of music had enormous recognition between 1897 and 1918. Ragtime music provided a platform for jazz music because many bands incorporated ragtime in their collections (Meeder, 2012, p.70). Jazz identifies as one of the genres of ragtime music.

Some artists organized and performed the two genres when they experienced equal recognition. Ragtime was popular in North America as people from different cultures performed the genre (Meeder, 2012, p.73). The genre was a mix of African and American cultural influences. When jazz developed among African Americans, ragtime slowly lost its recognition among its listeners, despite numerous attempts to revive the genre.

New Orleans Music

Music created in New Orleans influenced creation and development of jazz music. Various venues in the city hosted jazz concerts that promoted the genre among the population living within and outside the city (Meeder, 2012, p113). Bands operating within the city performed in various events and rituals organized by the African American community.

Development of jazz is associated with instruments used in playing the music as well as the established bands (Meeder, 2012, p.116). Originators of jazz music used the available instruments and bands to develop ideas on the best rhythms. Most band members tried solo careers when jazz gained noticeable recognition.

This helped to attract white Americans into liking the genre. Jazz music spread through main cities in the United States with the influence of travelling bands and the wider white American population that had begun listening to jazz (Meeder, 2012, p.121). African American population in New Orleans increased the spread and development of jazz music. The black population in New Orleans took credit for creation, growth and development of earlier forms of jazz music.

During the development of jazz, veterans in the black American communities developed a reputation of explaining the genre as immoral. Their biggest concern was the manner in which the genre that originated from the African communities in America, was threatening to erode their culture (Shaw, 1987, p.60).

This influenced other people into generating negative views about the genre. Some individuals argued that jazz did not qualify as a music genre. This is because negative views and arguments developed against jazz made people believe that it was frustrating (Shaw, 1987, p.61). This was uncharacteristic of music as it was supposed to help the listeners to relax as well as giving them good moments.

The media quickly adopted this negative publication of jazz as they developed headlines portraying a false negative side of the genre (Shaw, 1987, p.64). The headlines picked by various forms of media blamed jazz music for various faulty occurrences, some of which had little connection with music. However, the strong base principles of jazz prevented the genre from any form of alteration despite the numerous accusations and victimization endured by jazz musicians and enthusiasts (Shaw, 1987, p.70).

One of the individuals that made a remarkable contribution to spread and development of jazz music was Duke Ellington. Music by Duke applied art, bridging and swinging (Shaw, 1987, p.73). Duke had his own band although it disintegrated as individual members started on solo careers.

Some of the individuals included in Duke’s band developed their solo careers and emerged as some of the best in the genre. The influence of Duke in terms of determination, effectiveness, creativity and discipline transferred into his band members who experienced fulfilling jazz careers (Shaw, 1987, p.76). Most compositions done by Duke were dependent on the styles and abilities of his band members.

This ensured that all the members felt comfortable and could easily identify with the band, which is a good recipe for success (Shaw, 1987, p.80). All the members had high discipline as they could not work on any project or respond to any band messages without notifying him. The band by Duke Ellington received much recognition in 1940 after black and white Americans understood and developed a passion for jazz music.

Conclusion

Jazz originated from black communities in the United States. Development and spread of jazz music resulted in different styles influenced by cultures around the world. African and European musical traditions influenced spread and development of the genre across the world. Some of the qualities associated with jazz music included dangling, group communication, voice growth and improvisation.

Radio broadcast played a remarkably crucial role in the growth of jazz music. Introduction of radio presented an alternative opportunity for jazz lovers to enjoy the genre apart from attending performances in entertainment joints. Contributions made by women in the growth of the genre were influential as they introduced fresh ideas. Women participated in shaping their social life as well as identifying their position in the entertainment industry.

The influence of African and European cultures in development of jazz music dates back to 1808. Jazz musicians of African American descent applied the genre to reflect on their domineering and xenophobic society that blocked their goals in art. Jazz critics argued that this music genre applied as a hint of how African Americans influenced on the history of United States as well as supporting their culture.

Minstrel hosted comic skits, dancing, music and variety. White people who impersonated black people characterized performances. Instruments such as piano and brass bands applied in the development of ragtime music.

Entertainment from African Americans was in the form of dances and minstrel shows that had considerable influence on spread and development of jazz. One of the individuals that made a remarkable contribution to spread and development of jazz music was Duke Ellington. Music by Duke applied art, bridging and swinging.

References

Meeder, C. (2012). Jazz: The Basics. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Shaw, A. (1987). The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920’s. California: Oxford University Press.

Stokes, W. (1996). Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson. New York: Temple University Press.

Sutro, D. (2011). Jazz for Dummies. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Townsend, P. (2000). Jazz in American Culture. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

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IvyPanda. "Jazz Music in American Culture." January 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jazz-era/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Jazz Music in American Culture." January 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jazz-era/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Jazz Music in American Culture'. 12 January.

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