Jazz Roots

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Song of the Tower, Aaron Douglas

Jazz Roots, 1890-1935

The "birth" of jazz music occured roughly in the period from 1890 to 1935, a time when disparate musical sources unified in a distinct form that marked the transformation of local black folk expression to the commerical product of the national music industry. Well before the first jazz recording of 1917, the syncopated, march cadence of ragtime and the bent, blues notes of the folk spiritual and work song flourished in the vibrant urban black community of New Orleans. As the number of black Southerners joining the Great Migration rose, the uptown style of the Delta was urbanized in the dance halls, theaters, and caberets of Chicago and New York City. From New Orleans to New York, early jazz instrumentalists furthered the fusion of classical style and folk improvisation that came to distinguish the jazz sound.

By 1914, the term "jazz" gained mainstream currency as a description of entertainment music. With the rise of dance halls and vaudeville theaters jazz instrumentalists found a growing audience for their music. In turn, the emergence of the phonograph and music recordings created a new medium for the consumption of jazz music and a tool for musical training. Because phonograph records captured nuances of jazz orchestration that could not be detailed on sheet music, jazz musicians had greater opportunity to learn from (and improvise upon) the tonal and rhythmic variations of fellow instrumentalists. Much like the Great Migration, the phonograph encouraged the blending of regional styles that would later gain recognition as a national jazz sound.

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