Jazz is a thoroughly American form of music that has its roots in the melding of African culture and music with European musical forms and instruments. Jazz began in New Orleans and was originally called jass. It began around 1900, when musicians in New Orleans took the European march music and brass instruments so popular in the city at the time with the rhythms and musical sensibilities of African-culture. Also in the mix were ragtime, a style of music popular in the late 1800s, and blues.
The earliest form of jazz was what we call Dixieland. Louis Armstrong, the first great jazz soloist was born in New Orleans around 1901. He learned to play the coronet around 1912. The first jazz recording was made in 1917 and was called “Livery Stable Blues.” In the 1920s, jazz spread across the nation and the around the world. During the 20th century, jazz continued to change, going through many phases and style shifts.
From its beginnings, jazz music has included several components that make it unique:
• Solo work. Even in an ensemble, every player gets an opportunity to solo.
• Improvisation. Jazz players “riff” off of whatever melodic structure is being played.
• Experimentation and innovation. From Dixieland to swing, be-bop to fusion, every phase of jazz has had musicians ready to experiment with new possibilities in their art form.
• Adventurous rhythms. Syncopation is one of the many hallmarks of jazz music.
• Urban sensibility. Jazz was born in and evolved almost entirely in large American cities such as New Orleans and New York.