When people think of jazz, their minds tend to sway to elevator music. What many people do not know is that jazz is often overlooked as being a major cornerstone of the foundation of African-American culture.
Throughout African history, music has always been an important part of the culture. Music was a form of communication and, during the slave trade, it was used to retain certain aspects of their stolen cultures. Keeping music and their rituals involving music was a valuable part in retaining their cultural identity. Music was used for various rituals, ceremonies, important milestones, and curing the sick. These practices were passed down through many generations and are still in practice today.
After over two centuries of torture, being held in captivity, and cultural erasure, African-Americans needed a revival. Only about 60 years after the abolishment of slavery in the United States, the Harlem Renaissance came into full swing.
The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural movement of the African-American culture. This movement was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in 1918, lasting until the mid-1930s and birthed phenomenal influencers of literature, politics, fine arts, and fashion. The Harlem Renaissance greatly changed cultural representation of black people in America.
The long term effects of the Harlem Renaissance was the mainstream recognition and appreciation of African-American culture and developments, and the rebirth of the idea of cultural expression. Cultural expression through music continued to be a major concept to African-Americans, thus resulting in the spread and appreciation of jazz.
Jazz originates from New Orleans in the early 1910s, with stylistic origins of genres like blues, ragtime, classical, and marches. A big role in the birth of jazz was played by Western African musical and cultural expressions with the tradition of “call and response”. This genre has been noted as difficult to define because of its ability to encompass a large variety of genres and range of music that spans over a period of a century, including ragtime and rock fusions. Jazz blended aspects of African-American and European-American music to create something that would take the world by storm all throughout the 1920s and pave the way for other music styles and subgenres such as bebop, rock and roll, and jazz fusions with other popular genres of the times.
Ninety years after the birth of jazz, it truly never stopped changing. Every decade, a new form of jazz and jazz expression was born. All of these subgenres included the original and basic jazz characteristics: improvisation, brass-band elements, swing and blues notes, complex chords, and polyphonic rhythms.
The constant changing of jazz birthed other genres with less jazz influence, which resulted in the creation of many genres that are popular today. Jazz paved the way for many genres and popular artists to step into the world of music and further influence the African-American community along with many others.
Throughout the Harlem Renaissance and African-American history in general, it can be observed that although many traditions and ways of expression changed, there will always be elements of the culture that remain constant and in tune with their roots.