Origins of Jazz

Most books suggest that the origin of jazz comes from New Orleans in the late 1890s, but in fact the idiom arises from secular and religious music of the Negro population of the southern states of America, long before this. Traces of these early routes can be found in the rags and songs of composers like Rosamond Johnson and Scott Joplin as early as the 1900s. Remember, the minstrel songs black America were passed down verbally, and the printed versions of the songs may have borne little resemblance to what was actually performed. So we have in reality little idea of what the Afro-American entertainment might be like back in the 1840s, from which the early jazz idiom truly drives and forms the foundation of bands like this jazz band.

Tunes and songs like "Turkey in the Straw" which is considered today as the standard American barn dance tune, has its roots in black American music from the 1830s. Turkey in the Straw was first published under the title of "Old Zip Coon" in 1834. So is clear from this that jazz, specific type of music played by jazz bands, as much wider roots.

Jazz is also to do with dancing, and all sorts of dance styles have been associated with jazz, from the vacant minded "shagging" of the"jitterbug" that was such a prominent dance style of the "swing" fad, to the much politer and stylised walking patterns of the more polite dance halls. Black American dance hall was quite a different matter, where dancing to a hot orchestra was more like disco dancing of today, which was much freer using feet, arms hips and every part of the body. Then there was the very specialised art of tap dancing, so brilliantly performed by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

As music to listen to, on radio one recording, it developed into many forms and can be traced not only to secular celebrations of southern black Americans, but to their religious ceremonies. And rather like Irish folk music, where the bowing style of the fiddler reflects the flowing speech and emphasis of the Irish accent, (and indeed, the fiddler of the ceilidh band should be reflecting the speech patterns of the part of Ireland that the tune comes from, which is radically different in the clips and stilted northern part of Ireland to the flowing and expressively soft southern Irish inflections), jazz inflected the speech patterns of the black American South.

The books talk about influences direct from Africa, though there seems to be little actual evidence for this, but assuming this is the case it shows a wide spread of influences, with the other end of jazz composition covering symphonies, concertos and rhapsodies. And between these 2 extremes lies a mainstream of Afro-American musical expression, of which the southern "spiritual" is just one example, extends to the Creole music of Cuba, Brazil and Haiti, and encompasses the sophisticated jazz of the cities. So jazz is many things to many people.

And this is what makes it so impossible to recommend a jazz band to potential customers Midsummer Music. Because jazz means so many things to so many people, there is no way of reading the mind of the customer. That's why we, at Midsummer Music, enable customer to browse through all the jazz bands who play in their local area, listen to their music, see their photographs and sometimes videos, so that they can choose the style of jazz that they like and having their mind when they ask for a jazz band.

Jazz has been discussed and analysed till the cows come home, by the music critics and musicologists. It doesn't fit well to the Western European style of classical music. It sometimes regarded as folk music, yet in many ways it doesn't relate to the folk music of Western Europe. Has been called the music of the future and successor to the European musical tradition. It isn't a contrived music, written down and perfected for the concert hall. If it's played deliberately a contrived way at least as much of its energy, though the big band music and well-known pieces like Brubeck's Take 5, are fully structured and worked out and have little or no improvisation within.

In its original form the melodies were not handed down intact from generation to generation, as folk melodies, but with the publication of The Great American Songbook, this is no longer the case. But nevertheless, the interests of the music is usually developed by the performance based on a simple tune, bending and modifying it at will, different from one performance to the next as the mood takes them. This is totally different from the rehearsed and perfected style of classical music or the modern day pop song, which is often laid down painstakingly track by track in the studio, with some pop songs being impossible to produce on the stage, being recording studio constructions.

Jazz, rather like music paid by a ceilidh band, is often interacted with the audience. People dancing, the music will follow the dances in tempo and in mood, so that the dancers have an input to where the music goes. This is totally different to the classical music concert, where audience firmly implanted on their seats, with a blank or miserable expression with music, (unless you're talking about a promenade concert in London, where part of the audience is standing and sticking around in the open space in front of the orchestra. Having been to many prom concerts, I know this can have a profound effect on the musical performance, always I think, to the better. Similarly with classical string quartet music, if the performances in large concert hall to a large audience, it is fixed and predictable. However performance of the string quartet to a small audience in an intimate setting, with members of the string quartet chatting to the audience, can produce a very different performance that interacts with the audience, and can produce a performance much more akin to a jazz style of performing.

So music is plated to dance, it becomes an organic part of the whole event, following the same essential rhythmic forms as the musicians. Going back to the string quartet, my experience of playing tangos in a situation where people are dancing to the music, makes it very different to the concert performance of the tanker. When people are dancing, the music follows the dancers and the dancers for the music performance develops in parallel. The result is a much higher level emotion and excitement.

Another manifestation of jazz and jazz rhythms is in the black American "shoutin'" congregation in church, with the linguistics follow and build a rhythmical and dramatic work of which is very close parallel to the music of jazz.

Jazz has also been used as an element in pop politics. Because jazz reached its first peak of popularity during the First World War, it was claimed that jazz was somehow expressing an emotional escape from the tensions the battlefield. Then shortly after, it was hijacked by Marxist ideologists, who stated that jazz was read music of the downtrodden proletariat, and that the abandon, regularity of his rhythm was really a satirical, martial protest against this the evils of capitalist society! Other people claimed that jazz was an immoral influence on the youth of the country. Others claimed that its carefree melodies of that period's jazz bands were a symbolic language of satire in which the black American was expressing his contempt for his wide neighbours. It's unlikely that any of this as much truth in it, unlike the very clear and specific anti-Communist aspects of some of Shostakovich's symphonies, and one who string quartets where the music imitates the sounds of incoming bombers and the whole movement rises to a crescendo of falling bombs.

Underlying this much of this confusion is the disregard of distinction which should be made very clearly between the aesthetics of non-European music and folk music in general, the distinction between the music itself with its complexities and subtleties and the rather inaccurate representations of this kind of music in written notation. (I have a book of music transcribed from one of the famous jazz fiddle players. It's impossibly complex to read, even though the underlying tune is simple. It attempts to portray the rhythms which are somewhere between the rhythms of classical music but not quite the same. It attempts to write out the ornamentation and harmonically complex runs. It's an interesting analysis, but now used to help one play the actual music.