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History of Music Essay

I. Introduction

Music—sounds arranged into meaningful— expressive patterns. The composing and playing of music is both a science and an art. Musicology is the study of music as a field of knowledge, with emphasis on history and theory.

The raw materials of any kind of music are certain characteristics of sound—pitch (highness or lowness), timbre (tone color), intensity (loudness), and duration. These raw materials are organized by means of the basic elements of rhythm (the pulse, or beat), melody (the tune), and harmony (the blending of tones).

Music is often called the universal language because its meaning and appeal are largely the same for people everywhere. It has almost limitless variety. Music can express the widest range of human experience and feeling—joy, and grief, love and hate, amusement and reverence. It may be vocal or instrumental, and may be performed by soloist or by orchestra, band, or chorus.

Moreover, Jazz is a form of music that developed in the United States between 1900 and 1915. The origin of the word is uncertain. The music was created originally by the American Negro, but within 40 years it was being performed and created by people of every national and racial background. By the 1940’s no phase of contemporary American music, serious as well as popular, remained untouched by jazz. Jazz bands, magazines, and festivals are found in Japan, in South America, in North Africa, and throughout Europe (O’Meally, 2002).

Jazz is difficult to define, and not even jazz musicians and critics agree on a definition. It is a performer’s art, a way of playing. Jazz cannot be written down to show the precise manner in which it is played. It is most accurately preserved not in published scores but on phonograph records.

This paper discusses a brief history of the development of some “mechanical” aspects of music such as musical styles, particular instruments, the recording industry, growth of jazz, etc.

II. Discussion

A. The Nature of jazz

Rhythm. The infectious, compelling rhythms of jazz are based mainly on the 4/4 march tempo. In conventional music, the first and third beats of a four-beat measure are accented. In jazz, however, the second and fourth are accented, producing a syncopated rhythm.  Additional complex contrasting rhythms are built upon the simultaneous use of another form of syncopation in which a tone is held through a beat stringer than the one in which it began. Underlying these multiple rhythms is a regularly accented basic rhythm called “the beat,” or “swing”—a pulsating, rhythmic feeling that is hard to define and cannot be represented in writing by notes (Lopes, 2002).

Improvisation is the composing of music while in actual performance without previous rehearsal. It is a basic element of jazz. The improvising musician may compose a new theme, or melody, or may create new variations and patterns on an existing melody. While one member of a band develops a theme another will expand it. Each musician in the band adds something of his own and several musicians improvise on the same theme at the same time.

Jazz is not entirely improvisational, however. Although jazz cannot be notated exactly, much of it is written down, or arranged.  Some passages are left unwritten for solo improvisation. This improvisation and the overall rhythmic interpretation of the music make an arranged piece into jazz (Jones, 2000).

Instruments. Another characteristic of jazz is the way musical instruments are played. Brass instruments, such as the trumpet, often take on the tone colors of a singing or speaking voice. Mutes are used to give different sounds to the trumpet, trombone, and other instruments. The rhythm section of a jazz band is not limited to drums. The piano, guitar, and string bass are also used as percussive instruments (Jones, 2000).

B. History of Jazz

A blending of African and European musical traditions, jazz goes back many years. Revival hymns of the Western frontier, Negro work songs, and minstrel shows are among its many sources. From them came the blues and ragtime. The blues, a vocal music, developed in rural areas; ragtime, a piano music, developed in the cities. After the Civil War many blacks began playing brass-band instruments, and brass marching bands developed.

Blues, ragtime, and brass-band music, by the end of the 19th century, blended into a music that today would be classified as jazz. While no one city can be called the birth-place of jazz, New Orleans was one of the most colorful centers of early jazz (Jones, 2000).

New Orleans. Around 1898 a brass band led by the cornetist Buddy Bolden played what would probably be recognized as jazz. Bolden’s band, Kid Ory’s Creole Band, and others marched in parades, played for funerals, weddings, and dances, and performed while riding in advertising wagons. These early bands consisted of one or two cornets, a clarinet, a banjo, and drums. About 1910 the bands began playing in the brothels and gambling houses of the notorious Storyville section in New Orleans (Jones, 2000).

Dixieland. Many white musicians, influenced by the Negro bands, organized their own bands. Jack “Papa” Laine, with his Ragtime Band and his Reliance Brass Band, was one of the first white jazzmen. The musicians in these bands read music, and all their pieces were written out. Although they could not capture the bittersweet mood of the blues, they played an orchestral type of ragtime that was later called Dixieland (Benford, 2004).

The Jazz Age. In 1917, the federal government closed down Storyville. King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and other New Orleans-born musicians went North and helped spread jazz across the country. By the early 1920’s, the center of jazz had shifted to Chicago, where it flourished in dance halls and speakeasies. Eddie Condon, Gene Krupa, and other Chicago musicians played an intense, driving variation of Dixieland that became known as “Chicago style” (Benford, 2004).

During the Jazz Age, jazz bands became larger, the saxophone was added, and new jazz styles evolved. Virtuoso soloists and new jazz styles evolved. Virtuoso soloists, such as Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, became more important as the improvised breaks grew longer. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and other blues singers performed and recorded with jazz bands (Lopes, 2002).

III. Conclusion

Jazz, however, was not yet considered respectable, mainly because of the places in which it was played. The general public heard, instead of true jazz, carefully rehearsed arrangements of jazz-like pieces. Paul Whiteman, called the “King of Jazz,” was a pioneer in such music.

Furthermore, modern jazz is not a single movement or school. Various schools with distinctive styles have developed (Lopes, 2002). Jazz continued undergoing many changes in the 1970’s. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea helped popularize jazz-fusion (or jazz-rock), a style that uses electronic synthesizers and electronically amplified instruments.

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