Jazz is something special in the world of music. Some are going so far as to consider it more than just music, a way of life. The famous Nina Simone quote “Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking” resonates through history and makes a statement for itself. Likewise, the lives of many jazz musicians made their own statements, regarding jazz as well.
Here’s a look at jazz and its history and influence.
Jazz is a well-researched subject and it found its roots in the 1920s in New Orleans. While origins of jazz involve interpretation of so many different musical styles by black slaves during a longer period of time, jazz is very much often associated with New Orleans.
New Orleans played a very crucial role in popularizing jazz music, both to Americans and tourists who visited the town from abroad. Many jazz players at the time very extremely poor and were able to play at pretty shady locations like Storyville. That was a red light district in New Orleans, created to regulate the use of drugs and prostitution. Louis Armstrong started his career in Storyville.
The Jazz Age
The 1920-1930s are often considered the Jazz Age. While it was pretty much criticized for most of the time, things took off a bit when Paul Whiteman’s orchestra performed George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1924. It was received positively and many jazz musicians started to get popular after that, most notably Duke Ellington and the above mentioned Louis Armstrong. Armstrong led to the popularization of scat singing during his time with the band Hot Five.
In Europe, Django Reinhardt popularized jazz music combined with gypsy jazz.
Cool jazz saw people like Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Miles Davis come to the scene and turn it upside down. This took off because it was not as aggressive and energetic as bebop, but was rather calm and soothing with longer, more melodic lines.
Jazz as a Way of Life
Jazz takes a lot of dedication as a music genre. Many people dedicate years and years of studying and honing their skills as a musician or composer. Training your skills to be that sharp so that you can improvise takes a lot of time.
Jazz being mainly oriented towards improvisation, everything revolves around a musician’s skill to sound great. A musician must know their instrument in and out and be familiar with improvisation. Music theory helps, yet not every jazz musician or one that is good at improvisation has a background in music theory or even jazz, for that matter. Paco de Lucia toured with John McLaughlin and Al di Meola for a long time and was not versed in jazz.
A local musician once said that anything can sound good in jazz if you’re confident enough. What he didn’t say, in between the lines is that the confidence to play jazz well takes a lifetime of commitment.