Black History Month: Jazz Music ♫

In honor of Black History month I’ve decided to write about Jazz music, a quintessentially American creation. Born in New Orleans, a fairly large and diverse city at the beginning of the 20th century to Black and Creole musicians began as a fusion of three types of music.

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The first being “ragging” tunes which involved syncopating (Displace the beats or accents in (music or a rhythm) so that strong beats become weak and vice versa: “syncopated dance music) and used military marches, and European folk melodies as inspiration. The second was “spiritual” music which were hymns played in Baptists churches, and the third being the Blues which created a soulful music capable of expressing emotions with its 12-bar sequence. From New Orleans would also come the most famous son of Jazz, Louis “Louie” Armstrong in the early 1920s, whose undeniable talent of improvisation would leave a lasting impact on Jazz.

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Like Jazz itself Armstrong would spread his influence and leave New Orleans for Chicago where the most famous city in the Midwest would become the center of the Jazz. From there Jazz caught on to other cities in the northeast such as New York City and Washington D.C, and eventually the entire country.

When I listen to Jazz, I find it so hard to describe, this is where a few musicology classes would have come in handy, perhaps something to consider after I finish my masters degree. Instead of trying to describe what I hear, I think instead I’ll try to describe what I think about, well I think about a large band with a room of well dressed people drinking cocktails and bantering. I also think about jet aeroplanes in the early days of air travel, it was wonderful experience before they started charging for baggage and cut out food service. Boat travel comes to mind as well, moving across Pacific Ocean to a far away destination without knowing what to expect.

Consider some of the finest Jazz musicians of the 20th century:

Ella Fitzgerald

  • Known as the Queen of Jazz, made her career debut at 17 years old
  • Her recording career spanned almost 59 years and she went on to win 13 Grammy Awards and National Medal of the Arts

 Herbie Hancock

  • Known to be a child music prodigy, he later joined the Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet as a pianist
  • Hancock graduated from Grinnell College with a degrees in music and electrical engineering (clearly the music degree was a better choice)

Miles Davis

  • Davis was instrumental in development of several forms of Jazz including bebop and cool jazz
  • In 2009 the US congress passed a symbolic resolution honoring his album Kind of Blue on its 50th anniversary

Louis Armstrong

  • Known for his solo performances and his voice and being very important to the development of Jazz as genre
  • Famous for his song, “What a wonderful World”, known to virtually all audiences
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