Jazz and Blues—Who Knew!
Jazz and blues are often referred to as cousins. Many believe jazz came out of the blues, or that jazz has its roots in the blues. Actually jazz and blues are like brothers, they grew up side by side.
By definition, blues is both a musical form and a music genre, while jazz is defined as a musical art form. The blues refers to both a certain type of chord progression and a genre built on this form. Jazz is much harder to define because its range is so broad, encompassing everything from late 19th century ragtime to modern fusion music.
Jazz and blues may have different definitions, but they have a lot in common. Both jazz and blues originated in the deep south around the end of the 19th century. The blues came out of the African-American communities, from their work songs, spirituals, field chants and hollers. The blues is characterized by its chord progression, the use of flattened or bent notes or “blue notes”, and its sad and melancholy lyrics.
In the beginning the blues was purely the music of the black people of the south, had several forms, and was generally played slow and sad. But by the twenties, due to the popularity of African-American blues singers like Bessie Smith, the 12 bar blues became the standard form of the blues and sub-genres like “jumpin’ blues” began to emerge. Since that time many hybrid forms of the blues have developed including rock blues and even punk blues.
Jazz came out of those same southern African-American communities at the same time, but was the result of the combining of African and European music. From the beginning jazz has always incorporated popular music of the time, and it is characterized by the use of blue notes, improvisation, syncopation, and what was coined the “swung note.” The term jazz encompasses early New Orleans Dixieland jazz, the big band music of the swing era, bebop, Latin jazz, fusion, acid jazz, funk, hip hop, and of course, the blues.
In the early part of the 20th century jazz and blues quickly spread up the Mississippi and all across the country and became the popular music of the day. Cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and New York City became hotbeds of jazz and blues. As these African-American creations became popular with the general population, writers began to put these previously unwritten songs down on paper.
With the invention of the phonograph, this great and original music was captured for all time and broadcast across the land through another new medium called radio. The rising popularity of jazz and blues and its subsequent off springs led us quite naturally to the big band era, and overnight hundreds of dance orchestras popped up all over the land. Thanks to jazz and blues the Golden Era of Big Band music flourished and America had found its own voice.
Today there are more musical genres in the U.S. than one can count, and many if not all have been influenced in one way or another by jazz and blues. Over the decades the sub-genres have multiplied and today it is much more difficult to classify what is or is not jazz and blues. But one thing is certain, both jazz and blues are purely American art forms that originated in the United States, and many feel that jazz and blues are America’s greatest gift to world culture.