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The History of Jazz

A brass trumpet in a card case

Every genre of music has an interesting origin story, and jazz has a fascinating backstory. If you’ve ever been curious about the history of jazz, you’re in the right place!

The Beginnings of Jazz

Around 1820, the Louisiana Territory had a set of rules outlining the treatment of enslaved people. While many were harsh, providing enslaved people with few rights and freedoms, a few clauses gave enslaved people some rights. Some of these clauses barred slave owners from making the enslaved people work on Sundays or Catholic holidays, resulting in enslaved people having a rest day where many gathered at Congo Square. The tradition of gathering in Congo Square brought together people from different countries, each introducing their own nation’s unique sound to the mix. Because of this, New Orleans became the birthplace of jazz, where enslaved people could find joy in music that became the foundation of the jazz genre.

The Roaring Twenties

The topic of when exactly jazz was created is quite controversial. Many believe it began in the 19th century, but others think it was the 1920s simply because it became popular. In the Roaring Twenties, jazz rose to fame, especially in Europe and the United States. With prohibition, speakeasies, flappers, and music, jazz was driven into the mainstream, making musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington overnight success stories!

The First Jazz Musicians

Most historians agree that Buddy Bolden, an African-American cornet player and band leader, is the first jazz musician, and many consider him the “first man of jazz.” At a minimum, Buddy was the musician who spearheaded jazz, often playing in Storyville at night. Other early African-American jazz musicians included Mutt Carey, Bunk Johnson, and Joe Oliver. Creole jazz musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet also shaped the jazz genre.

Characteristics of Jazz Music

When enslaved people gathered in Congo Square, the blending of African and Caribbean music was joined by marching band instruments. Marching bands were prevalent during the Civil War to maintain morale and accompany drills. They introduced many people to various brass instruments, and the united sound eventually formed the genre known as ragtime. Spiritual music was also popular during this time and made its way into what ultimately became the sound of jazz. After the Civil War, formerly enslaved people throughout the American South brought blues to Louisiana. In time, all these sounds blended, leading to jazz music.

Jazz shares characteristics with other genres but has different elements unique to jazz. Improvisation is one of the most classically defining traits of jazz. Solos and calls and responses are traditional parts of early jazz. With calls and responses, one musician in a band would call out a phrase that would be replied to by another member of the band. Jazz embodies musical freedom, setting it apart from other music genres.

Jazz of Today

Despite the dominance of jazz ending with the Great Depression, the music continued to evolve with new styles and subgenres forming as its influence on pop culture continued. At the Maxan Jazz & Sushi Club, we feature jazz and blues artists from all over the world at our club! You can enjoy live music Wednesday through Sunday and a deliciously fresh sushi meal! Check out our upcoming performers and book a reservation today!

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