While melody and harmony are all important parts of any song, Jazz emphasizes something that is so important to the development of music: improvisation. In Jazz, each performer takes a turn experimenting with different notes to create an overall new sound experience. Every time they step out on stage, Jazz musicians may perform songs that no one has ever heard before, and no one will hear again. Since the beginning of Jazz, people have been using its improvisation factor to express how they feel.
In the 20th century, New Orleans became the hub of Jazz music. As a port city, New Orleans hosted a tremendous amount of people arriving from all over the world. These people, along with area locals, would come together to listen and perform music as a way of communicating and assimilating into their new culture. However, its earliest roots have been linked to Africans enslaved in the United States who had been using this form of music as a means of passing the time and keeping their culture alive. While working in the fields, they would sing spirituals to “express not only devotion and faith but [their] desire for freedom from the white man’s subjugation.” By the time slavery was abolished, early Jazz music had made its way along the South. When it arrived in New Orleans, elements from African and European music molded Jazz into what it is today.
Jazz is said by some to be the only true American form of music. What started off as a totally new style has transformed into many forms of genres in the American culture. Rock, R&B, Hip-hop, Pop and other genres have been influenced by Jazz. Jazz rhythms and harmonies have been featured in styles of music that produce a sway rhythm, like R&B or Latin styled tunes.
Jazz has contributed a great deal to the style of Hip-hop music. Some critics have said that Hip-hop is just a way to “ruin” or “vulgarize” Jazz, but what those people don’t understand is that the artists of today are taking the influences of past Jazz musicians and adding their own new elements to create new music. Hip-hop takes all the elements that Jazz contains, like infectious rhythms and intense melodies, and develops it into something new. Just like with Jazz, improve—or freestyling—is a lauded skill in hip-hop that allows rappers to express their thoughts and feelings on the spot with their music. It’s not uncommon for “battle rappers” to engage in freestyle battles and ciphers for sport. It all comes back to improvisation. Whether you’re playing Jazz or rapping your own lyrics, you are able to communicate your feelings through music, which is an enlightening experience. As George Gershwin once said, “Life is a lot like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”
Music has a way of communicating with people who may have little or nothing in common. Two people who don’t speak the same language, or have the same culture, or look the same, can feel emotions and enjoy a song in their own unique way. Jazz is one of those genres of music that everyone who hears it experiences something, whether or not they are alike. Jazz has played a big part in America’s culture and history, as a form of expression and a way of bringing people together. What began as a way to escape reality, turned into an expression of one’s self. We thank the Black communities of America for creating jazz; music that can unite people of different races and ethnicities, allowing us to come together to enjoy. Jazz music and its offspring are evolving every day. While it’s important to learn from and remember the great musicians of the past, we also need to look forward and see what the future will hold for “America’s true form of music.”
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