Jazz is an improvisational music form that was developed by African Americans and has impacted both the African rhythms and the European harmonic structure. Partially, this genre was established from the blues and ragtime and is typically characterized by polyphonic ensemble playing, syncopated rhythms, deliberate pitch deviations, varying degrees of improvisation and the application of natural timbres. This essay will focus on its elements that make it a distinct form of music.
The features that render jazz as a distinct genre are primarily derived from West African musical sources that were exported to North America by the slaves. The slaves preserved these elements despite all challenges in the plantation belief of the American South. However, the elements are not unidentifiable since they are undocumented until the mid-19th century. Consequently, the slaves were brought from various West African cultures with varying musical norms. Therefore, a significant range of black musical characteristics had their assemblage on the American soil. In turn, this encountered the European musical characteristics, for instance, shape-note hymn tunes and simple dance and entertainment musics, were dominant in the early 19th century in North America.
Music evolved to jazz following a broad-ranging, gradually integrated incorporation of white and black folk musics and the famous styles with its origins in both Europe and West Africa. The only derivatives from the West African customs are the slight oversimplification asserting that structural and rhythmic features of jazz and some attributes of its customary instrumentation such as guitar and percussion or banjo while the European inputs are seen in both the harmonic language and its application of convectional instruments such as trombone, trumpet, and string, saxophone piano and bass.
The jazz syncopations were not entirely new but rather acted as the primary attraction of one of its forerunners known as ragtime which was present in the older minstrel music as well as in the art of Creole artist Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The nonblack listeners were struck jazz syncopation as fascination and novel since there was no such type of syncopation in the European classical music. In truism, the ragtime and jazz syncopations were a resultant of the simplifying and reducing the already complex, multilayered, polymetric and polyrhythmic structures natural to the all sorts of the West Africa ensemble music and cultural dance. In another explanation, there was a drastic simplification of the earlier accentuations of numerous vertically competing metres to the syncopated accents.
Jazz exhibits a more obscure melody provenance in tune, motive, theme and riff. In all probabilities, jazz music was developed from a simple mixture and residue of African and European voice elements intuitively established by Africans in America in the 1700s and 1800s. For instance work songs and unaccompanied field hollers relating to the social status of the blacks. The widely dominant emphasis on pentatonic structures were majorly from West Africa while the more chromatic, formerly diatonic melodic elements of jazz developed from the late 19th to the early 20th century European antecedents.
Among the last aspects of the music in Europe to be incorporated by African American was harmony. However, once achieved, harmony was used as an additional resource in music to religious writings resulting to the steady spiritual development borrowed from the white spiritual revival gatherings that the blacks in most regions of the South attended. One significant result of these musical developments was the establishment by the blacks off the blue scale with its blue notes which flattened 3rd and 7th scales. The scale can neither be specifically European nor specifically African but instead obtained its distinct modality ranging from inflections in pitch typical to most numbers of the West African dialects as well as musical forms. These highly impressive, in influence and in African considerations very significant, deviations in pitch were established on the diatonic degree typical to almost all European vernacular and classical music.
The idea that jazz evolved uniquely in America, rather than in South America or Caribbean or any other region where the blacks were taken in large numbers is fascinating and historical. Most African Americans in those territories were often freed by the years around 1800s and hence were liberal people who actively took part in the norm enhancement of their own states. For instance, in Brazil the slaves were very socially and geographically alienated from the white settlements thus they just were able to uphold their traditional musical norms and traditions in a partially pure form. Therefore, it is ironic that jazz music would likely never have developed were it not a result of the slave business which was specifically done in the America.
Jazz developed from the African American slaves who were barred from retaining their original musical beliefs and thus felt the necessity of substituting some home nurtured structures of musical genre. Some artists, for example Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia of the Brazilian mulatto were completely in absorbed in the musical developments of their error that were taking shape in Europe and composed music in correlation to the dominant styles and traditions of that time. American slaves, on the contrary, were limited not only in their working situations and spiritual beliefs but also in their recreational and leisure participations which included music composition and making. Despite the fact that slaves playing instruments such as horn, violin and oboe were exploited due to their musical talents and capabilities, they were exceptionally treated well in cities such as South Carolina and Charleston.
Conclusively, jazz is a music genre which is largely related to the slave trade and slavery practices in the Europe and America. The music was typically developed by the blacks trying to uphold and recap their cultural backgrounds. However, jazz contained features from both the West African nations where the slaves had been bought and Europe where they worked.
Bogdanov, Vladimir, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine. All Music Guide To Jazz. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books, 2002. Print.
“Jazz In The International Sphere: Glocal Jazz Dialects And Poly-Idiomatic Creative Music.” College Music Symposium 55 (2015): n. pag. Web.
Riggs, Kate. Jazz Music. Mankato, Minn.: Creative Education, 2008. Print.