The ‘two-page’ history of jazz


Jazz is a genre of music that originated in the United States of America. Around 1915 songs, rags and blues melted together into jazz. In jazz improvisation and swing are the two main musical characteristics. The history of jazz can be divided in three main periods: the historical period, the institutional period and the digital period.

The historical period

In the historical period, the first seven decades of the 20th century, between 1917 and 1977, show us a succession of seven styles in jazz. These styles emerged one after another: New Orleans Style Jazz in the 1920’s; Swing in the 1930’s; Bebop in the 1940’s; Cool Jazz and Hard Bop in the 1950’s; Free Jazz in the 1960’s; Rock Jazz in the 1970’s.

In every style in the historical period there is a different relation between the melody section and the rhythm section. Improvisation and swing and also the instrumentation in the melody section and the rhythm section were shaped differently from style to style.

Jazz evolved from simple to complex. In the New Orleans Style and Swing improvisation was restricted to melodic variation but in Bebop, Cool Jazz and Hard Bop, improvisation become more complex. In Free Jazz and Rock Jazz improvisation became extremely complex. Also swing, the rhythmical flow became more complex as the styles in jazz evolved.

The institutional period

In the institutional period, between 1977 and 2007, the three decades that followed the historical period, jazz became institutionalized in non-for profit and in for-profit organizations.

The seven historical styles in jazz were simultaneously studied and rediscovered in non-for-profit institutions such as academies, conservatories, universities, and musics schools from all over the world.

Jazz was as well promoted and distributed by for-profit organizations such as festivals and record companies. Most attention commercial support went to jazz musicians from the USA. Jazz musicians in Europe, as well as elsewhere in the world, developed personal ways of playing, and often were weaving their musical background into jazz.

In the institutional period at first the emphasis was at Bebop and Hard Bop but at the end of the century all historical styles in jazz were re-discovered and re-invented. In the first decade of the 21st century a mixing of all style elements of jazz and non-jazz started to take place.

The digital period

In the digital period, from the end of the first decade in the 21st century till now, the notion of jazz was expanded to a wide variety of kinds of music. There are two poles in the opinions of what belongs to jazz and what not. On one side there is the belief and conviction that jazz in order be jazz has to have a clear relation to the historical period of jazz, with improvisation and swing. On the other side there is the belief that jazz can only flourish and develop if elements of all other genres of music, classical, world an popular, are woven into jazz, either with or without improvisation and swing.

The future of jazz

From the start jazz was popular all over the world. In the historical period jazz was seen outside the USA as novelty music at first, to be imitated and assimilated next. At the end of the historical period and in the institutional period, innovations in jazz came form both the USA, Europe and elsewhere in the world.

In the second decade of the 21st century, in the digital period of jazz with new technology causing a paradigm shift in the production-distribution-reception chain, musicians from all over the world, now play and will be playing key roles in the development of jazz.

Wouter Turkenburg

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