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History of Jazz

Outline of Jazz History

Outline of the History of Jazz


Origins– African drum beats, European musical structures, blues, ragtime, spirituals, work songs, field hollers.

          Buddy Bolden 1891…. First uses coronet to improvise a “Jazz” line

Early Jazz(1910-1920)

          Dance bands, stride pianists, vocalists…. Hard to categorize this period -- Clarance Williams, Bix Beiderbeck.

Ragtime – published starting in 1890. Structured music. Song forms – ABACD. Syncopated melodies. Joseph Lamb, Scott Joplin.

Dixieland(1917-23 then in the 30s) Improvised small band music.  Rags, blues, one-steps, two-steps, marches and pop tunes. Counter lines with trumpet, clarinet accompanied by piano, guitar, banjo, tuba, bass, and drums. Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds.

Early New Orleans Dixieland(1900-17) – rhythm section place equal emphasis on all four beats of the measure. Origins with marching bands.

Chicago Style Dixieland(1920s) – Second and fourth beats emphasized.  Chicago became the center of jazz in the “roaring twenties.” Louis Armstong influence and soloist.       

Tin Pan Alley – anactual place that became known for an era of music where many ideas mixed together to form American Popular Music. Popular music publishers established in New York aggressively gatheringand selling music; e.g. “After the Ball” (1890) sold six million copies. Sheet music for home use rather than just for professionals. Music chart created to track the country’s most popular songs. After WWI the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) was formed causing Tin Pan Alley to be a mega force in popular music. However ASCAP’s membership was largely white even though there was huge interest in African American music. Early black members of ASCAP were W.C. Handy, Clarence Williams, James Johnson. White composers who incorporated the styles of African American composers included George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Arlen.


Boogie Woogie is a jazz piano style to substitute for an orchestra. This “Barrel-house” piano tried to imitate the sound of three guitars: one playing chords, one melody, and one bass. Based on 8 or 12 bar blues chord progression with repeated “ostinato” or repeated bass line. Meade Lux Lewis is credited for the boogie woogie craze in the 1940s. Pine Top Smith, Clarence Lofton, “Fatha” Earl Hines.


Swing(1930s) – emphasis on big bands with at least 10 musicians. Rhythm sections (guitar, bass, drum) played repeating simple danceable rhythms. Large rich tone qualities.  Solo improvisers were more lyrical than virtuoso. Distinction between swing bands (hard driving rhythmic with extensive solo improvisations – Count Basie, Duke Ellington) and sweet bands that had less swing feeling and improvisation (Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo). There was lots of mixing of styles making it difficult to categorize.

Big Band– 10 or more musicians usually at least three trumpets, two trombones, four saxophones, rhythm section with piano, guitar, bass, drums.

Scat– art of creating an instrumental style improvisation vocally.  Vowels and consonants less related to words and more like the tone and articulation of jazz instrumentalists.  Louis Armstrong was the early creator of this technique.  Ella Fitzgerald turned scat into a household word. Sarah Vaughan, Bobby McFerrin, Mel Torme.

BeBop(1944-55) – artistic over commercial, innovation ahead of convention; looking toward the future instead of the past.

WWII brought about the dissolution of big bands and the rise of small combos.  Both the country and music was nervous and agitated. New players got exposure because many older players were in the service.  Changes in techniques and attitudes.  Bop became the first jazz style that was not used for dancing. Big changes in repertoire. More elite audiences. Musical complexity. Theoretical underpinnings began to emerge and players stretched the harmonic boundaries of early jazz styles. Players had to have a greater and more immediate sense of chord recognition, as well as their extensions and possible substitutions. Bop today is considered the mainstream jazz style but at the time the jazz community did not enthusiastically accept it. Some thought that it was the end of jazz – solemnity and elitism disconnected from dance.


Cool(1947) – different mood…. The country after the war was relaxed and so was the jazz.  Softer instruments, unamplified. G.I. bill made schooling possible for many jazz players which encouraged experimentation in jazz that had been previously ignored – new meters, longer forms, explorations in orchestration.  Longer forms were possible by the introduction of long-playing records.  Lester Young and Miles Davis were main contributors. However Cool and West Coast Jazz became the music of predominantly white musicians.  The structured soft-spoken arrangements were more of a European tradition.

Hard Bop(1955)Return to hot jazz expression to recapture the audience. Reaching back to past roots.  Possible movement for African-American groups to reclaim jazz as an expression. Public accepted this moving joyful style. Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderly, Art Blakey.

West Coast(1940’)  “mutant modernism” – melodies were especially rhythmic, predictable.  European-style counterpoint, use of flute and oboe. Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck. Sub group of the Cool era.

Free Jazz– not organized by a preset melody, tempo or progression of accompaniment chords. More spontaneity.  Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane. Loud screeches, nonrepetitive highly complex sounds from basses and drums, high energy, seemingly chaotic group improvisations.

Bossa Nova(1960s) Brazilian popular song influence. Easy listening jazz.  Popular at Jazz festivals.

Jazz/Rock Fusion(beginning 1965) Crossover between jazz and rock. Jazz began to use rock instruments, volume, and stylistic delivery. Controversial. Rock was associated with baby boomer adolescents.  Jazz established its legitimacy. Political polarity between generations. Fusion artists include – Earliest fusion was with Miles Davis. Chick Corea, John McLaughlin offered a new virtuosity which has later become part of common practice.

Neobop(1980s) Return to bebob and hard bop eras. Wynton Marsalis. Jeff Watts, Kenny Kirkland.

Soul Jazz– subcategory of hard bop. Earthy, bluesy melodic concept with dance-like rhythmic aspects. Simplified. Jimmy Smith, Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann. Stanley Turrentine.

Acid Jazz– term coined by disc jockey.  Marketing phenomenon rather than a style. Revival. Music more jazz oriented than soul but not heavy enough to be free jazz ore early fusion.

World Fusion– not exclusive to American jazz. Combines music from other cultures

Straight Ahead/Neoclassical

Return to hard bob and New Orleans era. Wynton Marsalis.

Modern Creative– combination of older styles to present jazz in modern light.