Origin of Jazz



There are many theories on how Jazz started but there is only one place from where the music originated and that is New Orleans in the United States in the year of 1895. Critic Joachim Berendt defines Jazz as a “form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music.”

Jazz was born over hundred years ago in New Orleans but its roots can be found in both musical traditions of Africa and Europe. Jazz was the first American music style to influence worldwide. It combined elements of Blues, marching band music and Ragtime. Many music scholars share the opinion that the early Jazz influences came from the post Civil War and Emancipation era when the former slaves were free to travel and spread their African Heritage of rhythm and tonality with them. They were now able to earn a living for their family by playing music in hotels, restaurants, brothels, dance halls and clubs. Instruments from the bands of Civil War armies also became available to the African Americans around this time. According to ‘A Study in Jazz Historiography: The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz’ by Eileen Southern, the plantation music of anti- bellum days was one of the forebears of Jazz. A three-piece group of Fiddle, Banjo and Drum was the basic instrumentation. By 1890’s, the combo grew to include, Banjo, Cello, Cornet, Drum, Fiddle and Upright Bass. By the early 1900’s the fiddle was discarded and the Trombone and Clarinet were introduced, sometimes with the Tuba.

Music experts say, “Jazz is a combination of African and European music. From African music, Jazz got its rhythm and feel, blues quality and tradition of playing the instrument in your own expressive way, making it an expression of your own human voice. From European music, Jazz got its harmony – the chords that accompany the tunes played on the piano. The instruments used in Jazz, the piano, saxophone and trumpet originated in Europe. Musical improvisations came from both cultures. New Orleans was the perfect city for all these elements to come together as it was a port city and people from all parts of the world arrived there. It was a meeting place for people from different ethnic groups. It was a city with nightlife where musicians had the opportunity to play together, learn from each other and blend all the elements.

Jelly Roll Morton an American ragtime, bandleader and composer was widely recognized as a pivotal figure in early Jazz. His composition ‘Jelly Roll Blues’ was the first published Jazz composition in 1915. The most important jazz originator and first truly great jazz soloist (improviser) was trumpet player Louis Armstrong.

Today, Jazz is played and listened to by people of all cultures and ethnicities and includes musical elements and styles from all over the world. Jazz has become World music from America’s music.