It has been said that jazz is the only true American musical genre. Other styles, folk, country & western, pop, rock ‘n roll and musical theatre all have strong heritages to the folk, pop and stage music of Great Britain and Europe.
But it would be erroneous to present jazz as a style which had no parents. The influences of African culture, Latin American rhythms and European harmonies and song forms all played an important part in the unfolding of the style.
Whereas the exact birth time of jazz is somewhat uncertain, the birthplace can be most certainly stated as New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans, which in the late 19th century arguably was the most cosmopolitan city in America, was a fascinating cross-pollination of cultures.
Port of New Orleans, 1840s, artist: Henry Lewis
Originally settled by the French in 1718, then given to the Spanish in 1763, given back to the French in 1801, but ruled by the Spanish until France sold it to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans had a French-Spanish blend of cultures which made it unique from any other city in the United States.
Although slavery was a part of the culture and lifestyle of New Orleans, it is important to note that under Spanish rule, many slaves were given free status and rose to the upper levels of society, some even owning businesses and their own slaves. Also during the Spanish rule, the marriages between French or Spanish white men and light skinned women of color became common, creating an upper class called “creoles of color”, separate from both white and black cultures. These free creoles of color were raised in an elite, educated, prosperous lifestyle which included an emphasis on education, the arts and all the cultural activities that money could provide.
It is understandable, then, that the Creoles living in New Orleans in the mid-1800’s had a desire to emulate the classical arts that were then prominent in Europe, specifically Paris. In addition to their own symphony, they supported three opera houses, several schools of musical learning and dozens of private music teachers instructing in piano, violin and voice.
In addition, German and English immigrants, French-Canadians (called Acadians in Canada, shortened to Cajun in Louisiana) and Euro-French (which was the foundation of the city-based Creole, French/African, culture) also populated the area in and around New Orleans. Add the influence of the Spanish culture, the African slave trade and the close proximity of the Caribbean, Latin American cultures and its easy to see that New Orleans was a microcosm of almost every culture in the Western Hemisphere.
New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, April 1867 – Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
New Orleans was also a major shipping port and entry point for many of the African slave ships traveling to America in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Before landing in North America, many of the ships paused in the Caribbean islands with the purpose of allowing the African slaves to acclimatize before continuing on to various ports in North America. While in these island ports, the influence of Spanish culture was fused into their way of life. During these stops, the slaves heard rhythms and tasted food which they then brought to their final destination.
This is not to say that while in Africa they did not have their own indigenous music. Music, in fact, was an integral part of their lives. The celebrations of life, the stories of tribal history, and the passages of life and death were all recorded in songs and chants. Music was not so much a diversion as a basic element of life. Music was not an artistic activity of the select, it was a communal function of the many.
Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch
Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse
Ch. 3: Understanding Volume
Ch. 4: Understanding Tone
Ch. 5: Understanding Melody
Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony
Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm
Ch. 8: Understanding Bass
Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody
Ch. 10: Understanding Structure
Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation
Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo
Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster
Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People
Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy
Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”
Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster
Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”
Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music
Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”
Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist
Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music
Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”
Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave
Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave
Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”
Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message
Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon
Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City
Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport
Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan
Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century
Ch. 1: The Roots of Country
Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings
Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry
Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies
Ch. 5: Western Swing
Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine
Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One
Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop
Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B
Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice
Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound
Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country
Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century
Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s
Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century
Ch. 1: What is Jazz?
Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz
Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!
Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians
Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong
Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz
Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!
Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers
Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop
Ch. 10: Cool Jazz
Ch. 11: Hard Bop
Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules
Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience
Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz
Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz
Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!
Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music
Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?
Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?
Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues
Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years
Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings
Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power
Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters
Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect
Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today
Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology
Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences
Ch. 3: Rock is Born!
Ch. 4: Rock is Named
Ch. 5: Doo-Wop
Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels
Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll
Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll
Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal
Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs
Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens
Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues
Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound
Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South
Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock
Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock
Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll
Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock
Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love
Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements
Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs
Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music
Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction
Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap
Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets
Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age
Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap
Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap
Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More
Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions
Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap
Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s
Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas
Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century
Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas
Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical
Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals
Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century
Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s
Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century
Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century
Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century
Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary
Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?
Study Units also have “Playdecks” – containing hundreds of chronologically organized audio examples of music in the study units, and “Study Qs” for unit chapters.