I recently visited New Orleans where I was fortunate enough to get to listen to Jazz concerts and gain an appreciation for the variance in cultures across America and the raw feeling that is interjected into this beautiful music. While I was listening to the swinging tunes, I began to think about the roots of the music. Where did Jazz come from and how is present day Jazz different from when it originated in New Orleans?
The slaves of the south sang the blues and played the music for themselves using makeshift instruments derived from animal bones and skins. Many dark skinned individuals could be seen congregating in Congo Park and participating in large musical sessions with ragtime beats, chanting and singing songs about day to day activities (http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/g/gioia-jazz.html).
The actual year in which Jazz originated is debatable, but one of the first classifiable combinations of European classical music and African drums is noted as early as 1847 in the song "La Bomboula-Danse Negre" (http://youtu.be/T73k3OPgeS4).
Although Jazz, at its conception, was mainly comprised of African beats and European melodies and was greatly influenced by the African culture, in the early years many of the performing musicians and bands were white only, or mixed-race individuals who appeared white. As the social standing of Black individuals in America changed, the subject of the Jazz songs also changed. The earliest Jazz songs depicted the plight of the African American slaves and eventually the content began to shift to love songs and what we know now as the "blues." Over the years, at the hub of its creation in New Orleans, this cultural melting pot was recognized and embellished in the developing styles of jazz musicians and their music. Since Jazz is so expressive, each artist who made a name for him or herself entered the scene playing the ragtime blues with their own special flare and made a mark on this emerging art. This freedom to express oneself with the accompaniment of upbeat rhythms and flittering horns helped form Jazz as we know it; the genre which is known today as Classic American music.
Today if you were to look up Jazz on the internet or Pandora, you would find several categorizations which are mainly separated by era. The newest and probably the most commonly played now can be referred to as Smooth Jazz which has a higher production quality and longer duration than the early Jazz tunes. Although the music may have changed throughout the years, the main components of ragtime rhythms, melodic voices, and horn have remained consistent.
One of the highlights of my trip to New Orleans was to experience the music of a fabulous jazz singer, Charmaine Neville. We were lucky to get the last few seats at a small club called Snug Harbor. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZlPTCsWR60) Charmaine, who is the daughter of one of the highly acclaimed Neville Brothers, is engaging and puts on a great show of contemporary and traditional jazz. (www.charmainenevilleband.com/)