The Origin of Jazz Music

Most people believe that Jazz music was first heard during the period known as the “Jazz Age” of the 1920’s. The truth is that the origin of Jazz was much earlier. In fact it’s roots can be traced to a period between 1850 and 1900 when African slaves and freed people began to experiment with European music.
The music of central and western Africa is filled with intricate rhythms and improvisation played on percussive instruments. When the early African American people incorporated these rhythms into American spirituals, hymns and hillbilly tunes the roots were planted for new forms of music that would eventually lead to the Jazz phenomena. However this new improvisational style of music wouldn’t be a given name until around 1915 when it was first referred to as “Jass” or “Jassing”.
The first instruments used to play this new style of music were more commonly part of military marching or dance bands. Percussion, brass, woodwind and string instruments were taken up by the African Americans. Without formal training the new musicians were free to interpret and play in their own style. The new music lacked formal structure and collaborative improvisation became a key feature of the new sound. African rhythms and improvisation were combined with European instruments and American tunes. As Jazz developed, long improvised solo performances would also become part of many music pieces.
The first style of music to be classed as Jazz was called Dixieland and it was performed from around the turn of the century in the Southern states of America. New Orleans would become the first home of this new sound. Dixieland itself had it’s roots in the Ragtime music played at the end of the nineteenth century. In fact many Dixieland bands and orchestras would include Ragtime music in their repertoire.
Jazz music would become a form that gives musicians freedom to experiment with sounds. New harmonies and rhythms could be added to music on the fly, adding originality to each performance. It can be described as “music from the heart”. Each instrument and performer adding their individual brilliance to a collective performance. Put it all together, and that’s what they call Jazz!

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