Jazz music has become one of the 20th century’s most important art forms. The audience for jazz is now larger and more diverse. However, on the other hand, jazz as a constantly evolving artform is in decline. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, not one new musician has emerged who even remotely approached the stature of musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis or John Coltrane. This is in no way intended to criticize fine artists playing today, but is rather to state the fact that jazz has lost its status at the leading edge compared to other musical forms.
The history of Jazz music originated in New Orleans, although this unique, artistic musical development occurred simultaneously in other areas like Saint Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. However, its roots can be found in the musical traditions of both Africa and Europe. From African music, jazz got its rhythm and feel, “blues” quality and the tradition of playing an instrument in one’s own expressive way, thereby making it an extension of your own voice. From European music, jazz got its harmony as well as instruments like the saxophone, trumpet and piano.
New Orleans was the ideal city for all of these elements to come together, as it was a port city, making it a perfect meeting place for people of different ethnic groups. It was also a city with a nightlife where musicians had the opportunity to play together and learn from each other. Essentially, Jazz was born out of and evolved through the African American experience in the U.S. It evolved from slave songs and spirituals, such as religious African American folk songs.
Female singers, especially Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, had a bigger role to play in the evolution of jazz than most women did. Since its genesis, innovations in jazz seemed to come mainly from those who played wind instruments, such as trumpet players like Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis, saxophonists Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and clarinetist Benny Goodman.
In jazz, it’s about the way a song is played, rather than what song is played. Jazz musicians can create new elements and moods to any song. For example, an up-tempo, fast beat song can be played as a ballad and vice versa. Jazz musicians have a unique way of playing instruments. They strive to develop their own unique sound on their instruments, a sound that expresses them personally, like singers do with their voice. It is not only the result of choosing which tune, but an ideal that is created in the mind, inspired by one’s passion, and willed next in playing music. Good jazz musicians have the ability to produce a wide variety of sounds on their instruments, depicting a wide variety of emotions and feelings.
One of the key elements underlying the development of jazz has been musicians trying to incorporate influences from a wide variety of global musical traditions. Indian classical music’s influence on jazz has been pervasive and longstanding over the years. The connection between jazz and Indian music had deeper conceptual roots, which had to do with concepts of solo expression. Its philosophical underpinnings have allowed many musicians to deepen the spiritual and improvisational of their music. They are drawn to Indian music because of their exotic sounds & also an opportunity to gain a competitive edge over other musicians. The work of John McLaughlin and Shakti has perhaps come closest to the realisation of truly hybrid music stemming from the two traditions.
Jazz has a different style of expression that draws from life experience and human emotion as the inspiration of the creative form, and through this discourse is chronicled the history of people. Musicians and those that follow this genre closely, can indeed be thought of as an artistic community complete with its spokesmen, innovators, members, bands, & supporters.