Who Invented Jazz?

Even the most ardent student of the history of jazz will be hard pressed to trace its inventor. Rather than point to a single individual, it’s more accurate to say that the sound emerged from various musical sources.

Beginnings of Jazz Music
Some accounts state the word jazz was first heard in Chicago. It is unclear where it came or from what it was derived from. Its origins have also been disputed. Some claim the music originated from Africa. This influence can be seen from some common elements found in jazz. These are improvisation, swung note and polyrhythm among others.

But most accounts of the history of jazz trace its roots in the 1890s. Black people in America were given the chance to hold jobs. Segregation was still enforced. But they were able to find work as entertainers. Blacks worked at vaudeville, minstrel and other musical shows. Various forms of music remerged including ragtime and the blues. From these and other genres, jazz would come out.

The 1900s to 1920s
It was during this time that jazz as we know it came into being. It became very popular in New Orleans. Most of the early jazz musicians played in the red light district of New Orleans. One of the earliest known jazz musicians was Buddy Bolden. He began playing in 1900 and is considered by many as the first man of jazz.

The 1920s saw the arrival of the phonograph and radio. These two innovations had a tremendous effect on the history of jazz. Once limited to the south, their music was now heard across the country. Bessie Smith became known as the Empress of the Blues and the most well known singer of the 1920s. Other performers during the period were King Oliver and Bill Johnson.

The 1930s to the 1950s
The 1930s witnessed the emergence of swing big bands. Among the artists who became popular were Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and Eddy Wilson. It was also around this time that bands featuring black and white members first came out.

Bebop became popular during the 1940s. It had its roots in New York City. Among its proponents were Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and Thelonius Monk.

The history of jazz in the 1950s saw many subgenres come out. The most notable were cool jazz and hard bop. Generally, cool jazz was slower in tempo that hard bop. Chet Baker and Stan Getz were among the best known cool jazz artists. Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown were among the finest exponents of hard bop.

1960s to the 1980s
The 1960s witnessed the birth of fusion. The 1970s saw Latin jazz become trendy. It combined traditional jazz with South American beats. Instruments used included the conga, claves and guiro. This style of music would inspire jazz samba.

From the 1980s onward, various forms came out. One of the most significant was smooth jazz. This genre combined jazz with pop. This type of music would gain mainstream acceptance.

The history of jazz is continuously changing. But for all the changes, the genre has managed to retain its distinct sound.

Additional Reading on Jazz

  • Top Ten Jazz Albums