The origins of Jazz music can be traced back to Africa and the tribal and folk music of the local populace. The African style of performing music centered on the social interaction of tribe. Songs were created for specific occasions such as birth, marriages and deaths. Furthermore, everyone participated in the creation and performance of the music. The characteristics of the African music are reflected in jazz. Rhythm is central to the creation of African song; it involves clapping, using sticks or one’s feet to pound the ground and the general use of the body to create complex rhythms.
The main instrument that was used while composing these pieces of music was the drum. A wide variety of percussion instruments made from animal skin and hollowed out gourds or wood were used to create the complex polyrhythms that would come to typify jazz music. The arrangement of the vocals in this tribal music form involved a lot of ‘call and response’ portions. The vocalist would sing a pattern or call and be followed by a chorus of voices; the response. This also found its way into jazz.
Experimenting with vocal range and sounds is another characteristic of the African music form. Falsetto, note bending and different kinds of vocal manipulation were prevalent in their songs. Jazz singers displayed a similar quest for experimentation. Finally, most of this African music is composed around the pentatonic scale; a five note scale. This scale became the heart of jazz music. Jazz musicians combined the polyrhythms and the many variations of this simple five note scale to create the seemingly disorderly, yet technically challenging form of music.