Jazz Roots – You Might Be Suprised

Bruno Bollaert - Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Photo Credit – Bruno Bollaert

Do you ever wonder where Jazz music came from?  I did.  Maybe it’s just because I’m a nerd  or maybe it’s my love of history and music, but I find the story behind the music as fascinating as the music itself!

About a year ago, I was introduced to the amazing world of Jazz of which (gasp!) I had previously been unaware.  Before you get too appalled at my backwards ways, you should know that I absolutely fell in love with the genre and couldn’t get enough of it!

Jazz has an absolutely fascinating history (far more than I could cover in one post).  If you are the speed reading type who just wants the facts, I suggest you take a look at the “Jazz family tree” I made below.  But if you want to learn some of the fun facts of Jazz you may not know, keep reading!

Photo Credit Jonathon Potts (edited)

Chart adapted by Amy Mack, Photo Credit Jonathon Potts (edited)

Blue freedom

As you can see in the above image, Jazz gets its roots from the spirituals or “slave songs.”  Most of those songs were sad as the slaves longed for their freedom.

Later, after the emancipation, musicians took the rhythms, tonalities, and repetitive qualities of the spirituals and turned it into the style we know as “The Blues” – the direct predecessor of Jazz music.

Ragtime is Jazz?

You may not realize it, but ragtime (my favorite!) is actually an early form of jazz.  It also came from the spirituals, borrowing the syncopated rhythms and, like jazz, the seeming “improvisations.”

Armstrong Swing

Swing dance music is also not something we usually think of as Jazz, but it has strong ties to early Jazz music.  In fact, Louis Armstrong (nicknamed the “King of Jazz”) was one of the foremost swing players and did much to form the style.

Bebop – Don’t you dance!

Bebop was actually a reaction to the swing movement. As the dance craze spread across the Western Globe, musicians began to feel that music should be listened to only – not danced.  To prevent dance fanatics from dancing to their music, they invented a style that was so fast and so irregular that no one could keep up.

Obviously, there is so much more I could write on jazz, but here were just a few to tickle your fancy.  Don’t forget to check back for more!

By the way, I’m thinking of doing a few more of these posts, and I would love to hear from you!  What do you want to hear about next?


Posted on May 21, 2015, in Jazz, Music Family Tree and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I love learning new things! Please keep writing more!

  2. Interesting map, I had not seen it before. Thanks for sharing!
    Obviously, as always when we try to simplify the world, there would be some comments to be made.
    However, one thing I have not understood yet completely on Jazz – how does the Blues fit into the picture? Blues is an own art form and develops, but at the same time is linked to the Jazz heavily.

    • That’s a great question! The map is one I made and was adapted heavily from other charts I saw and used in my music writing. The Photo was taken by Jonathan Potts.

      While I do not claim to be an expert in jazz, from my research, here is what I have learned:

      Think of Jazz and Blues as two siblings of the same parents (the spirituals). Blues is older and forged much of its own way – playing with rhythms (and emphasizing off beats), harmonies, melodies, improv, and call and response. It also gained much ground in recognition as an art form.

      Then Jazz came along and copied much of the same things in Blues. Not content to be the same (and influenced by other genres) Jazz took many of the Blues elements and “livened” it up a bit if you will.

      That may be a silly, and vastly simplified example, but it helps to picture what’s going on. Both music genres have many of the same components, just how and when they use it is different.

      • Largely agree. However, the blues is itself a song form with some clearly defined characteristics. Jazz musicians can improvise over a blues form for example.

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