Jazz is a constantly evolving art form that began from influences of Ragtime, Creole, Gospel, early Blues and the African-American folk music of the pre-Civil War South. Its beginnings in the early 20th century jazz has spawned a variety of sub-genres.
1910-1920s New Orleans traditional music is a blend of Cajun folk music, African-American music, and traditional American band music.
It spawned the broader Southern Dixieland sound that ran the breadth of Old Dixie and the length of the Mississippi River and defined a generation of sights and sounds in the Old South.
Louis Armstrong was its most notable performer, but it was played on river boats that plyed the Mississippi and throughout the Southern American states, and became synonymous with the sound of the Old South. This, during the Civil Rights era, marginalized the music, which was associated by many African-Americans with the Jim Crow era of segregation. The music lived on in New Orleans, and was revived for the rest of the world by its most notable current practitioners, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
1915-1930sChicago Jazz, is a sub-genre that evolved out of New Orleans musicians who traveled to Chicago looking for work during one of New Orleans economic downturns. White dance bands and other African-American dance bands blended their ideas based more on concert band music into the syncopated sounds of Chicago.
Jazz became the wild music of the youth of the "Roaring Twenties." The adoptation of the music by white jazz bands, who could play more frequently to white audiences in a very segregated America, spread the sound across the country, often by way of college campuses where young people looking to be free and wild found music that represented their energy. Players like Bix Beiderbecke popularized the sound with young white audiences who otherwise might not have seen an African-American band play the music.
Combine the music with the heavy drinking in illicit places due to the national Prohibition laws, and white audiences who would probably never have seen an African-American band now sought them out as part of the thrill of drinking and gambling in illegal clubs calls "Speakeasies"
"Jazz" turned into a craze that everyone, from its traditional practitioners to all-girl college bands played, talked about, etc.
World War I sent Americans overseas, and they took the jazz craze with them. It displaced traditional concert band music as the "popular" music, and opened the doorway to all of the other forms that came behind, including Rock-and-Roll. The music of this period would also eventually come to represent the excesses and moral decay of the 1920s that was largely blamed for the Great Depression in 1930.
From the mid-1940s through the 1970s jazz exploded and diversified into its modern forms. Latin jazz such as Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz changed the flavor of the big band sound, but BeBop began a radical departure from that style and sound, returning to the smaller combo and more improvisational freedom. In the 1950s and 1960s the freedom to experiment exploded in a number of new sub-genres, from the safe and conservative Smooth jazz to the avant-garde Modal jazz, to the music that explored the boundaries of the genre, Free jazz. These were followed by Fusion jazz which searched for the blend between jazz, rock, and other musical genres and Acid Jazz which specifically blends Hip-Hop, R&B and Funk into the jazz genre.
Latin jazz employs straight rhythm, rather than swung rhythm. Latin jazz was not a departure from Big Band, but more of a flavoring. Latin is distinguished because it rarely employs a backbeat, using a form of the clave instead.
Machito and His Afro-Cubans, whose musical director Mario Bauza created the first Latin jazz composition "Tanga" on May 31, 1943, with jazz instruments and solo improvisational ideas lead the way. Latin band leaders like Xavier Cugat popularized the form in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but it was Cuban-born band leader Desi Arnaz who brought Latin jazz into homes around the world by way of the first smash sitcom with his wife Lucille Ball, "I Love Lucy."
BeBop, a style of jazz characterized by fast tempo, instrumental virtuosity and improvisation based on the combination of harmonic structure and melody, began in the early 1940s, but took off after WWII, and featured a whole new departure for Jazz, lead by legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonius Monk, among others.
Music theorist, pianist, composer and bandleaderGeorge Russell is credited with developing the modal form of jazz. He was not as well known to the public, but he was the inspiration for the modal works of top jazz artists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, who popularized modal jazz music as they continued to search for the boundaries of the genre.
Free Jazz, also known as "avant-garde", "energy music" and "The New Thing," emerged in the 1950s from the BeBop movement. It was a search for the outer limits of the musical form. It was experimental, avant-garde, and deconstructionist. The rules, limited as they were, of BeBop and Modal jazz were thrown out of the window in an attempt to bring jazz back to its most primitive roots. The emphasis was on collective improvisation, and often the collection of soloists is so extreme as to almost dare not to play with each other. The head of the song was familiar, but after that, "the adventure," as Ornette Coleman would describe it, began, where no one in the band was sure where the improvisation would lead. The later years of John Coltrane, and the careers of Coleman and Cecil Taylor, among others, were dedicated to free jazz.
Smooth jazz, is a down-tempo, heavily layered, melody-playing sub-genre that emerged in the 1960s. It is very focused on the solos of a single instrument, which are most often saxophones, especially soprano and tenor, are the most popular, with guitars a close second.
The lead solos are played over a backdrop that typically consists of programmed rhythms and various pads and/or samples. Smooth jazz gained a lot of popularity on the radio as large companies like Clear Channel added it to their FM music lineup to compliment stations that played soft rock and pop love songs. The radio format began dying off in the late 1990s but the music still remains popular with its fans.
In the late 1960s Jazz Fusion developed from a mixture of elements of jazz such as its focus on improvisation with the rhythms and grooves of funk and R&B and the beats and heavily amplified electric instruments and electronic effects of rock. While the term "jazz rock" is often used as a synonym for "jazz fusion", it also refers to the music performed by late 1960s and 1970s-era rock bands when they added jazz elements to their music such as free-form improvisation.
As jazz has spread around the world, it has drawn upon local, national, and regional musical cultures. Its aesthetics are adapted to these varied environments and cultures, giving rise to many new and distinctive styles. It continues to grow and change and adapt as new generations of musicians both honor the past, and explore the future of the genre.