Jazz history-- a fusion of cultures

Jazz history-- a fusion of cultures

The weather is warmer, flowers are in bloom, and suddenly everyone is outdoors. But there is one more reason to celebrate April: It is a good time for jazz.  

     The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), a time to celebrate music rooted largely in African-American culture. To mark the occasion, here are five things to know about jazz, along with links for further study:
  1. The word “jazz” may have come from a slang term -- or may have been named for prostitutes' perfume. If you look up the word jazz in the dictionary, chances are you will see this phrase: “origins unknown.” But the word comes from somewhere and may have been rooted in a slang, according to the BBC: “Dating back to 1860 there had been an African-American slang term, ‘jasm’, which means vim or energy.” Another theory is that the expression came from “the jasmine perfume that prostitutes in New Orleans’ famed Storyville red light district often wore.”
  2. The New Orleans newspaper was the first to use the term jazz. The BBC website explains, “On 14 November 1916, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper referred for the first time to 'jas bands.'”
  3. New Orleans was different from the start -- and that gave rise to jazz. “The Creole culture was Catholic and French-speaking rather than Protestant and English-speaking. A more liberal outlook on life prevailed, with an appreciation of good food, wine, music, and dancing,” the National Park Service website recounts. “Festivals were frequent, and Governor William Claiborne, the first American-appointed governor of the territory of Louisiana, reportedly commented that New Orleanians were ungovernable because of their preoccupation with dancing.” The area had a cultural mix that gave rise to the musical art form.  “A well-known example of early ethnic influences significant to the origins of jazz is the African dance and drumming tradition, which was documented in New Orleans,” according to the park service.
  4. Jazz took off as a result of an interest in brass bands following the Civil War.  Ragtime and blues also flourished in the later part of the 19th century. Ragtime differs from jazz. It was “fully notated music intended to be played in more or less the same manner each time, much like classical music,” Encyclopedia Britannica recounts.  The music was basically written for piano. Jazz, on the other hand, was instrumental music, often improvised.
  5. Miles Davis was possibly the greatest jazz artist to date. BBC listeners voted Davis  as the top jazz artist in 2015. Davis, a trumpeter known for a lyrical style, beat out the legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong, along with vocal performers Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday (although all three also made the top 10). Here is the BBC’s list:
  1. Miles Davis, (1926-1991).
  2. Louis Armstrong, (1901-1971).
  3. Duke Ellington, (1899-1974).
  4. John Coltrane, (1926-1967).
  5. Ella Fitzgerald, (1917-1996).
  6. Charlie Parker, (1920-1955).
  7. Billie Holiday, (1915-1959)
  8. Thelonious Monk, (1917-1982)
  9. Bill Evans, (1929-1980).
  10. Oscar Peterson, (1925-2007).
     To know more:


     25 things to see at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

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