It is impossible to determine the date of origin of Jazz, or Jass, as it used to be known in its early years. What’s certain is that it has its roots in the blues and gospel music of early 20th century in the Southern states.
But it wasn't until the Great Migration that jazz musicians got their big break in the affluent clubs of Chicago and New York. Blues already had the urbanites in its grip by then. It was the touch of jazz’s syncopated rhythms to the score that catapulted audiences from their seats to the dance floor. Jazz had won over the Americans.
The music grew rapidly sophisticated and powerful during the 50’s and 60’s, powered by the civil liberties movement, and became rightfully a source of black pride. This period produced extraordinary musicians, who besides being counted amongst the greatest ever, were as much symbols of black empowerment as leading political figures. Jazz had gained a unique edginess and social energy that was hard to find anywhere. A truly extraordinary period for its evolution.
It is fortunate that the golden years of Jazz has been extensively documented through quality recording, photography and commentary, making it wonderfully accessible to an enthusiast.
What also makes it popular with listeners even today is its improvisational nature. Every member of a jazz ensemble is free to play several choruses, one after the other, the way they want.
Jazz has influenced and been influenced by most western genres - rock, rap, country, funk, Latin, classical, blues, gospel, African, Eastern, pop, folk, rock and hip-hop over the years. And even today, the art is metamorphosing in response to cultural changes in America and the rest of the world.
1900’s-10’s Jazz moves up the river to St. Louis, then to Chicago and New York during the Great Migration of African American people to urban areas in search of a better life.
1910’s – 20’s The seeds of jazz are sown. New Orleans, where ragtime was based, was home to a number of budding musicians. 1917 is when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band cuts the first jazz album record.
1920’s – 30’s The decade marks many crucial events on the jazz timeline. Rise of jazz-influenced pop music results in its acceptance by the masses. New Orleans starts losing its centrality in musical output, as musicians move to Chicago and New York City. One such artist is Duke Ellington.
1930’s – 40’s The Great Depression takes its toll on the masses, but jazz music keeps everyone’s spirits up. Dance halls are brimming with people, doing the jitterbug to the music of bebop bands. 1940’s witnesses the emergence of bebop in the works of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
1940’s – 50’s Swing declines, and bebop is on the rise. All jazz musicians are now eager to flaunt their musical abilities singlehandedly during a performance – the defining characteristic of bebop. Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and Charlie Christian are having a ball playing jazz at clubs in Harlem, New York.
1950’s – 60’s Jazz takes off in a big way in the 50’s. The year 1959 sees the face of jazz change forever. Accomplished virtuosi like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck pave the way for modal, free, avant-garde jazz styles, which are then further developed into sub-genres (currently around 50).