Jazz Music in America

Jazz music first appeared in New Orleans in the late 19th century. It originated from blues music and rag time and by the 1920s it was at its height of popularity. Jazz music is played at a fast-rhythmical tempo and is a characterized by a swinging feel. It is “call and response” music, first originating with the vocals highlighting the problems the American African people faced in their daily lives.

Ella Fitzgerald early in her career

However, it soon became popular nationally and internationally as the music exuded rhythm, and gave people the opportunity to dance to. The music was created by a full band with piano, bass, horns, drums, guitars and vocals. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between blues and jazz, but basically blues was centred around one individual playing an instrument and singing. As soon as jazz appeared the heartbeat of the action came from the group, playing music that was more upbeat. The success of Jazz was instant and different genres of jazz appeared. There was New Orleans jazz, big band jazz, gypsy jazz and cool jazz. However regardless of the different forms being played the popularity of the music resulted in certain artists becoming household names.

The lady who was known as the Queen of Jazz was Ella Fitzgerald. The purity of her voice stood her aside from other vocalists and she was the main singer with the Chuck Webb Orchestra, taking control of it after Webb passed away in 1939. Fitzgerald left the band in 1942 to pursue a solo career. The success of her career resulted in her appearing on numerous television shows and many appearances in films. However, during this time she still had the time to produce great records, with her interpretation of the Great American Songbook winning great critical acclaim. Many other women made significant contributions to Jazz including the vocalist Billie Holiday and the piano player Lin Hardin Armstrong. During the Second World War many musicians were drafted to serve so women replaced them in the jazz bands. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were an all women jazz band who as well as playing in the States toured Europe in 1945.

The Duke Ellington Band and its world class jazz musicians

One of the most famous performers was Duke Ellington who was the conductor of his own Orchestra and also played the piano. As a composer he wrote over 1000 tunes and his band played for over 50 years. The band contained some members who were considered to be some of the greatest jazz musicians and members such as Juan Tizol wrote tunes which Ellington recorded. The success of the Duke Ellington Band played a significant role in pushing Jazz music into being seen as a major genre of American music.

In the 1920s the band opened at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. Between 1923 and 1935 the night club became a major venue for Jazz musicians to perform there. It was rather strange that the “white’s only” audience would be listening to African American performers such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Bess Smith singing about the troubles that their people were experiencing in the Deep South of the country.

Lois Armstrong was another world class jazz performer. He was a trumpeter, composer and vocalist whose career span five decades and he helped to move jazz forwards as he gained notoriety for his performances on stage. His gravelly voice kept the audiences spell bound and he played some of the most famous night spots such as the Cotton club and Connie’s Inn in New York, before moving to Los Angeles and playing at the New Cotton Club. As well as numerous recordings he appeared in over 30 films. He appeared on the front cover of Time magazine, and made a number of overseas tours. Due to his appearances overseas, he commanded a truly international fan base.

Jazz had a meteoric rise in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. Its influenced is still seen today as most music produced is clearly linked to this music genre.


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