A Brief History of Jazz

As early as 1895, jazz was emerging in New Orleans. Early jazz blended the syncopated rhythms of ragtime with the harmonic elements of the blues and the raw energy of New Orleans marching bands. The most salient feature of jazz was its use of improvisation. The spontaneity of this music and the colorful nature of many of its early practitioners made jazz captivating. Before long it was thriving — alongside blues — in brothels and saloons in the American South. Soon, white musicians got in on the act, forming their own groups. However, the white status quo wouldn't embrace jazz until the swing era or golden age of jazz (1935–1945).

Jazz might have remained a regional phenomenon if it wasn't for a boom in the recording industry and a migration of New Orleans jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, to cities like Chicago and New York. It was in these urban settings that hot jazz truly took shape.

By 1935, swing captivated audiences throughout the world, due in large part to the popularity of the radio. During this period, big bands lead by Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, and others ruled the airwaves.

However, by 1946 the swing era was in decline, and by the mid-1950s America's youth had traded swing altogether for rock-and-roll.

In the late 1940s, a subgenre of jazz emerged called bebop. This largely cerebral style of music allowed bassists to develop as soloists. However, the electric bass wouldn't be integrated into jazz until the mid to late 1960s. Throughout the 1970s, artists began experimenting with a jazz hybrid known as “fusion.” Fusion mixed jazz harmonies with the power and energy of rock. Fusion artists also used electric instruments including guitars, keyboards, and synthesizers. On bass guitar, Jaco Pastorius epitomized virtuosity on recordings with Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, and others. His solo outings are also renowned, especially his self-titled debut Jaco Pastorius (1976).

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