Early Jazz

Please note, this post is a work in progress.

It is thus evident that many more aspects of jazz derive directly from African musical-social traditions than has been assumed.Very few discussions of the prehistory of jazz have gone beyond the simplistic generalizations that jazz rhythm came from Africa but jazz melody and harmony from Europe. The analytic study in this chapter shows that every musical element - rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre and the basic forms of jazz - is essentially African in background and derivation. And why should it have been otherwise? After all, centuries old traditions are not merely artistic cultivations but an inseparable part of everyday life are not abandoned so easily. Acculturation took place, but only to the limited extent that [African-Americans] allowed European elements to become integrated into [their] African heritage. Until the 1920s, they took only those European ingredients that were necessary for their own music’s survival. Thus one can say that within the loose framework of European tradition, [African-Americans were] able to preserve a significant nucleus of [their] African heritage. And it is that nucleus that has made jazz the uniquely captivating language that it is. 1

Jazz is an important part of my life. I am a software engineer by trade, but a significant portion of my free time is spent on activities related to swing dancing. For me, the most key part of swing dancing is the music. The human body can move in a finite number of ways, and new movements are very rarely invented, much less widely taken up by everyday folk. Given that, what distinguishes one dance movement from another is the context. In the case of swing dancing, that context is swing jazz. Without swing jazz, the dance becomes something different - with pop music, for example, it becomes west coast swing, and while many of the movements are similar to those found in salsa, the key distinguishing feature is the different underlying music to the two dances.

It is because of my obsession with swing dancing, that I have also become obsessed with swing jazz. It is, in my opinion, a

The book

The Origins

Covers the early musical origins of jazz. Concludes (see the quote above) that jazz is a musical form that is almost entirely African in origin, with European influences introduced only to “conform” with what was allowed during its development.

The Beginnings

The initial origins of jazz, and its growth in New Orleans and Chicago.

The First Great Soloist

Louis Armstrong.

The First Great Composer

Jelly Roll Morton

Virtuoso Performers of the Twenties


Bix Beiderbecke




Brass Players


Harlem Pianists


Bessie Smith


The Big Bands


New York


The Southwest


The Ellington Style: Its Origins and Early Development


  1. Early Jazz, Gunther Schuller, Ch1, p.62. Edited slightly to remove gender specific terminology and culturally insensitive terms (acceptable at time of publication, but in my opinion unacceptable today).

Posted on September 13, 2018
Last modified: Sep 13, 2018
Tags: music, jazz, swing, books