American Music in the United States


Jazz represents a merging and melding of many different peoples and their heritages. During the 1800s in America's south, music was an integral part of the life of plantation slaves of African descent. Plantation songs, spirituals, and field hollers were a part of everyday life -- to celebrate, to mourn, to entertain, to commemorate, to worship, and to accompany the drudgery of work. This music of the plantations blended with the European-American musical tradition to create the basis for blues, ragtime, and other musical forms from which jazz evolved.

Ragtime - (1880s-early 1900s)
Ragtime was one of the early musical styles that contributed to the development of jazz. Originating in the southern United States during the late 1800's, ragtime was composed primarily for the piano. It combined a sixteenth-note-based syncopated melody with the form and feel of a march. On the piano this was achieved by the pianist's left hand playing a steady "boom-chic" bass and chord pattern and the right hand playing the syncopated tune. Playing in this syncopated style was called "ragging," which is probably the origin of the term "ragtime."

Important musicians of the time included pianists Scott Joplin, Artie Matthews, James Scott, and Tom Turpin.

The Blues- (1900s-1920s)
Like ragtime, the blues was an important influence on the development of jazz. A highly expressive, predominantly vocal tradition, blues songs expressed the stories and emotions of African-Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. The blues were not only a type of music, but a state of mind and way of life for many African-Americans during this time.

A blues song usually includes words which form a three-line stanza. The first line is sung twice, the third rhymes with the first two (aab form). The melody is performed over a 12-bar chord progression consisting of three chords built on the 1st, 4th, and 5th notes of the major scale. These three chords are referred to by the Roman numerals I, IV, and V. The distinct sound of the blues melody is in large part due to the use of notes outside the major scale, called "blue notes."

Usually blues vocalists accompanied themselves on the guitar or sang with instrumental accompaniment of guitar, piano, harmonica, or sometimes homemade instruments. Blues performed on the trumpet or saxophone, for example, often imitate the vocal effects of blues singers by bending pitches, rasping, and recreating the growl of the voice.

Important blues musicians of the early twentieth century include Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and W.C. Handy.

Dixieland - (1917-1920s)
Blues and ragtime, along with a rich local brass band tradition and many other influences, came together in the late teens to early 1920s in New Orleans, Louisiana to create a new type of music called Dixieland jazz. Dixieland is also known as traditional jazz or New Orleans jazz. As jazz gained in popularity, it spread north from New Orleans to Chicago, New York, Kansas City, and across the Midwest to California.

The name "Dixieland" was most likely derived from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a New Orleans group who made the first publicly available recording of this style of music in 1917. The recording was very popular and the band gained international prominence as a result.

Common instruments in a Dixieland jazz-style group included trumpet-cornet, clarinet, trombone, and occasionally the saxophone. The rhythm section could include the banjo, piano, drums, string bass, or tuba. Dixieland was usually performed without a vocalist. The music was characterized by a steady, often upbeat, tempo, 4/4 meter, and rhythms performed in an exaggerated triplet swing style. Frequently the tuba or string bass plays on the first and third beats of each measure, with the banjo or piano playing chords on beats two and four. This is known as "two-beat" style, and gives the music a sound similar to ragtime. The other instruments of the ensemble play melodies and counter melodies simultaneously and take turns playing solos. Musicians often play familiar melodies from memory adding their own bluesy inflections throughout the song.

Dixieland jazz greats included trumpeter Louis Armstrong, pianist Jelly Roll Morton, trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, trombonist Edward "Kid" Ory, clarinetist Sidney Bechet, and bandleader and trumpeter King Oliver.

Big Band Music: The Early Years - (1920's)
Following the rise of Dixieland jazz in the 1920s was a new style performed by a large ensemble usually consisting of 10 players or more. These bands, called big bands, relied increasingly on saxophones instead of clarinets and emphasized sectional playing. The overall instrumentation was broken into three groups of instruments: brass (trumpets and trombones), reed (saxes, with players sometimes doubling on clarinet), and rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, guitar, and in later years, vibes). Generally big band arrangements followed a standard form: (a) the melody was played by the entire band in unison or harmony; (b) soloists improvised based on the tune's melody, style, and chord progression, and (a) the melody was restated sometimes in a varied or more elaborate setting.

The music performed by big bands was called swing, a type of music that people could dance to easily. It was performed in a triplet swing rhythm style. This energetic dance music was wildly popular for almost two decades, with the swing era extending through the mid-1940s. During this time, thousands of big bands played across the United States. They performed written arrangements of popular and jazz tunes, sometimes with a vocalist. Some groups, like the big bands of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman, toured a great deal and had national recognition, but many only had local or territorial appeal. These "territory" bands," as they were called, performed regionally in the dance halls of both big cities and small towns.

Two prominent early big band leaders were Fletcher Henderson and Paul Whiteman.

Big Band Boom - (1930's-1940's)
Despite the challenges as a result of the Great Depression and World War II, big band music continued to grow in popularity during the 1930's and '40's. Musicians played together in jam sessions after hours at bars and clubs. Radio broadcasts spread interest in big band music by bringing it into peoples' homes. Ballrooms such as the Savoy and the Roseland in New York City were wildly popular venues for hearing the latest big band sounds.

The big band boom of the 1930's and '40's brought together the greatest jazz musicians of the day playing together in bands led by clarinetist Benny Goodman, trombonist Tommy Dorsey, clarinetist and saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey, trombonist and arranger Glenn Miller, clarinetist and saxophonist Woody Herman, pianist and composer Duke Ellington, and pianist Count Basie. Some of the most well known singers from this era appeared with bands like Ellington's, Basie's, Goodman's, and Herman's, and included such legends as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Joe Williams. During the big band boom, leaders and musicians were as idolized as rock stars are today.

The invention of the microphone in 1935 changed the way vocalists approached singing with a big band, allowing for more subtle nuances.

Big Band Music: Postwar to Present - (1940's-Present)
Big bands continued to be popular throughout the 1940s, but the 1950s marked a decline in the raging popularity and sheer number of big bands. The big bands that continued seemed to change with the times, reflecting the influences of bebop, 20th-century art music, cool jazz, and pop and rock styles.

Important big band musicians of this period are Stan Kenton, Thad Jones, Buddy Rich, and Maynard Ferguson. Other well-known bandleaders and musicians of the postwar big band era include: bandleaders Rob McConnell, Maria Schneider, and Toshiko Akiyoshi, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, tenor saxophonist Bill Holman, and trumpeter Doc Severinsen.

Bebop - (1940's-1950's)
Bebop emerged in the 1940s as a style of jazz in great contrast to the music of the big bands. It featured a small group of musicians -- four to six players -- rather than the 10 or more associated with the big bands. The smaller size allowed more solo opportunities for the players. The music itself was characterized by more complex melodies and chord progressions, as well as more emphasis on the role the rhythm section. Furthermore, phrases within the music were often irregular in length, making bebop interesting to listen to, but in contrast to music of the big bands, unsuitable for dancing.

The development of bebop is attributed in large part to trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. The unique styles of Gillespie and Parker contributed to and typified the bebop sound. They experimented with unconventional chromaticism, discordant sounds, and placement of accents in melodies. In contrast to the regular phrasing of big band music, Gillespie and Parker often created irregular phrases of odd length, and combined swing and straight eighth-note rhythms within the swing style.

Other influential bebop musicians included saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon, trumpeters Red Rodney and Kenny Dorham, trombonists J.J. Johnson and Bennie Green, guitarists Tal Farlow and Kenny Burrell, pianists Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, and Thelonius Monk, drummers Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, and bassists Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers.

Cool Jazz - (1940's-1950's)
During the 1940's there were many different styles of music evolving simultaneously. Cool jazz developed during the late 1940's at approximately the same time as bebop, and remained popular for several decades. Cool jazz was more subtle, moody, muted, and restrained than bebop, and may have been influenced by the harmonies of 20th-century art music composers like Stravinsky and Debussy.

Two of the most important contributors to the cool jazz style were trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist, bandleader, and composer-arranger Gil Evans. Other cool jazz musicians were saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, trumpeters Chet Baker and Conte Candoli, trombonists Frank Rosolino and Bob Brookmeyer, guitarists Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel, pianists John Lewis, Dave Brubeck, and Lennie Tristano, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummers Shelley Manne and Mel Lewis.

Latin Jazz - (1930's - present)
Latin-influenced jazz is characterized by Latin dance rhythms combined with jazz melodies and chord progressions. Latin influences began to enter mainstream American popular music in the 1930's. During the 1950's and 1960's these influences became particularly strong, with Latin dances such as the mambo, cha-cha-cha, samba, and bossa nova becoming extremely popular in the United States. Other Latin dances such as the salsa and merengue continue to be an influence today.

Latin music has its own unique sound. Eighth notes are played straight, not swung as in other style of jazz, but syncopation is still common. A wide variety of Latin percussion instruments also flavor the music. Congas are Afro-Cuban in origin, played with the palms of the hands and with the fingers. Bongos are also Afro-Cuban, but are higher-pitched and thinner in tone quality than congas. Other common instruments include timbales, claves, and cowbells.

Some bandleaders who infused a Latin element into their bands are Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton. Other musicians who incorporate Latin elements into their music include Brazilian drummer Airto Moreira, Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña, Cuban trumpeter, pianist, composer and protegé of Dizzy Gillespie Arturo Sandoval, pianist Eddie Palmieri, percussionists Tito Puente and Poncho Sanchez, bandleader Mario Bauza, trombonist Steve Turré, and alto saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera.

Free Jazz - (1960's)
Free jazz is a term often used to categorize a new direction in jazz in the 1960's. Experimental, provocative, and challenging for many listeners, free jazz was characterized by a high degree of dissonance. Pitch and tone quality were manipulated by players on their instruments to produce squeaks, shrieks, and wails. New sounds from non-western music traditions like those of India, China, the Middle East, or Africa were sometimes used. Collective improvisation, where all players improvise simultaneously and independently without the framework of a chord progression, was also common. All this sometimes lent to the feeling of "organized chaos." Free jazz was praised by some of the prominent musicians of the time, but was not widely accepted by the public.

Two of the major contributors to the evolution of free jazz were alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor. Other free jazz musicians included saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, and composer, pianist, and bandleader, Carla Bley.

Fusion (Jazz-Rock) - (1970's-present)
Jazz-rock, also called fusion, combines jazz improvisation and chord progressions with the rhythms of rock. Generally, it is more electronic than acoustic, featuring synthesizer, electric bass, electric guitar, electronically-processed woodwind and brass instruments, and a great deal of percussion. The rhythm section usually plays a series of syncopated repeated notes to create the groove over which a vocalist and other instrumentalists play the tune, improvised solos, and accompaniment figures.

Well-known fusion musicians are pianist Chick Corea and guitarist Pat Metheny. Successful jazz-rock groups include Weather Report, Chicago, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Chase.