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Jazz music is a collision of cultures. Just as the nation developed, so did its own new brand of music, bringing the disparate pieces of many cultures together in a way that was truly unique and unforeseeable. As the Europeans brought slaves from Africa to the new world, they incidentally brought along the musical and rhythmic traditions of the native Africans. That in itself is not groundbreaking, but cone that with European instruments, Creole flavor, and the emotive blues of the southern slaves. Putting these factors together at the right time and circumstances evolved into a truly original American art form.
Music of the slaves brought from Africa during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had many unique qualities. The culture of the natives of West Africa was heavily laden with traditional ceremonies that covered every facet of life. Since these people had no written records, these traditions were often kept alive in music. West African music of several centuries past was very stylized. Due to the lack of resources, the natives of western Africa were forced to rely on percussive instruments and crude stringed instruments. In this deeply ceremonial society, children were often surrounded with music from the day they were born. This emersion was responsible for a highly developed sense of rhythm. This rhythmic adaptation in West African culture would play a major role as music evolved over the next server centuries.
When Europeans brought black slaves from West Africa to America, they had inadvertently thrown a key ingredient into the soup that would become jazz. The center of this mixing pot would be New Orleans. Throughout its history, New Orleans has always been a tossed salad of different cultures. As the Europeans settled into the new world, they needed entertainment. Before the rise of such novelties as radio and television, dancing was the preeminent form of social entertainment. The white socialites would often hire Creoles or black slaves as musicians. This form of dance music was an older predecessor of New Orleans jazz.
There are other factors that created jazz, such as the evolution of the traditional music of West African slaves. After several generations, the original African slaves had become so intertwined with the land on which they toiled that a new form of regionally influenced music grew out of the traditional African music. This new form of music was simply the blues. It sprang from a need to maintain tradition as well as to express the slaves’ frustration and resentment at being kept in servitude.
After many years of developing into an identifiable sound, jazz music came to the apex of its popularity in the first half of the twentieth century. For three decades, jazz was the mainstream of American popular music. During this time, technological advancement and music experimentation left an indelible influence on popular music. Therefore, the music evolved from its rough and tumble beginnings toward a finely tuned and highly experimental product.
Read more about the explosion of jazz in the history section of the site.
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