General Jazz 101

Jazz music is one art form that is inherently an American art, though its roots lie in traditional African music and slave communities. A blend of West African, European, and American music that relies on improvisation, rhythm, and harmonies, jazz came into being in the late 19th century (Tirro). New Orleans, Louisiana is considered the most important center of jazz and often the city of its creation. Place Congo, an area of New Orleans known today as Congo Square, was a part of the city in which slaves were allowed to gather before the Civil War to sing, dance, and play percussion instruments (Tirro). It was in this setting that the music we now know as jazz evolved. Jazz musicians traveled all across the country in the years before 1917 but the name “jazz” was not in common use as a way to describe the music until between 1913-1915. While there is no one person or band credited with the creation of jazz, Joseph Lamothe “Jelly Roll” Morton claims to have created jazz in 1902. The first recording of music that was described using the word “jazz” was in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (Tirro). The traveling of jazz performers and the spread of jazz recordings helped the music migrate out of New Orleans and the South to major cities throughout the rest of the country such as Chicago, Kansas City, and New York.

Even though jazz could be found around the country by the early 20th century, jazz become an element of music education until after World War II, however, there were a very small number of school jazz bands performing under the terms “dance band” and “stage band” in the 1920s and into the 1930s. The time of the most growth in jazz education was through the 1960s; by 1960 there were about 34 faculty-directed jazz bands in higher education, by the early 1970s there were over 450 reported faculty-directed bands (Ferriano). Most of the development of higher education jazz bands as a whole was due to the push of a small group of music educators. The National Association of Jazz Educators formed in the mid-1960s as an association of the Music Educators National Conference.