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How Jazz Got Its Start

Playing jazz music

The roots of Jazz music can be traced to the city of New Orleans, around the turn of the twentieth century. Because New Orleans was a port city at the time, it was a melting pot of many different cultures and ethnicities. The thriving nightlife of the city was built around the appreciation of music. This created the perfect environment for African and European influences to meld together and form the musical style known as Jazz today.

From Africa to Europe and Back

Jazz gets plenty of its key, identifiable characteristics from its African roots. Many of Jazz’s musicians, both in the early days and modern times, were of African descent. This is very easily identified in the music when you know what to look for. Early Jazz began by putting a new spin on traditional African spiritual songs and slave songs, which were often religious folk songs. Another element of Jazz that came from African influence is the deeply emotional and expressive “feel” of the music.

Jazz music can arouse powerful emotions from its audience, even in purely instrumental pieces. Jazz music also often features improvised elements, which is a practice that can also be traced back to Africa. By featuring a soloist to come up with music on the spot, the pure, emotional qualities of Jazz is only amplified.

While the influence of African music on Jazz is undeniable, there are also clear components inherited from Europe. Perhaps the biggest element of influence is the introduction of iconic Jazz instruments that originated in Europe. The most recognizable of which is the piano, that came from Italy, the Belgium-developed saxophone, and the trumpet, whose modern design is a product of Germany.

Classical Meets Contemporary

The pioneering Jazz musicians took elements of African music they were familiar with and started recreating and experimenting with them on these instruments. In addition to utilizing these European instruments, Jazz depends on the same harmony structure developed during Europe’s Classical music era, which took place in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries across Europe.

The founding Jazz musicians took the emotional, expressive, and improvisational style of African music, and blended it with instruments and harmony structure that came from European countries. The musically-oriented nightlife of New Orleans helped pave the way for Jazz to take off. While Jazz originated in New Orleans in the early 1900s, it is now recognized and celebrated globally and has maintained its association with the African Americans who pioneered this fun, particular style of music.