Jazz Roots: Tech

Technology
Jazz Roots, 1890-1935

Swing Era | Cool Jazz and Hard Bop

Columbia AS Phonograph, c.1897

The Phonograph

The phonograph was one of the most influential technological advances of the early jazz period. By the late 19th century, the German-born American inventor Emile Berliner had improved upon Thomas Edison's early phonograph design. With Berliner's introduction of the gramophone, or flat-disk phonograph, the mechanical device began to develop as an artistic medium for musical recordings. Soon replacing sheet music as the main form of music distribution, sound recordings had a great impact on the orchestration of jazz and its transition from regional to national music.

Despite the limited acoustic capabilities of the early recording period, phonograph records captured the tonal variations and improvisations of jazz that sheet music missed. By the 1910s, jazz musicians from New York to Chicago were learning from each other at a distance. While slowing the hand-cranked phonograph below normal speed, instrumentalists learned to mimic and improvise upon the distinctive styles of noted jazzmen. In turn, jazz musicians made adjustments to their musical arrangements to compensate for technological weaknesses in the recording process. In recordings before 1926, for example, jazz bands often used the banjo and the tuba to replace the more difficult to record guitar and string bass. Additionally, the size and speed of the 78 rpm single set a three minute standard for popular jazz recordings.

While enlarging the audience for jazz music, the phonograph spawned the growth of noted record companies like Victor and Columbia.


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