By: Bobby McHavens
Whilst the origins of the type of music we know as jazz go back many centuries, their true roots in terms of popular appreciation and international exposure really start at the beginning of the 20th Century in a Southern city in the United States called New Orleans.
As the name implies this city started life with a French influence but soon became a melting pot of many races and colours, all of whom brought with them their own brand of popular music. Soon these started to intermingle and some unusual sounds were produced.
Despite the 19th Century Civil War and it’s problems, and later the virtual disenfranchisement of Creoles who previously had been musically more classically trained, this melting pot of races started playing a new form of music, enjoyable to all races and it was called jazz.
Creoles learned from blacks how to improvise, often on ex-civil war martial instruments such as trumpets as well as Spanish guitars, the American banjo, clarinets, double basses, no doubt originally from orchestras, and indeed any other instrument they could lay their hands on. The drums often had an African or Latin American beat, and the music could be either up-tempo or sad blues.
The jazz history of 1920’s America was like a wheel whose spokes originated in New Orleans and spread rapidly all over the country and abroad. To begin with New Orleans bands started to travel, then with the recording age upon them, recordings of this innovative and "fun" music soon found their way over the Atlantic to Europe and elsewhere.
In terms of jazz history New Orleans brought in the "Jazz Age", but has always retained its special affection for many as the start of a new era in music. Initially improvisation was the key to being able to play it, and many musicians had to "throw away" their classical training to be able to play and understand this freeform type of music. Soon though this music took on its own form, and small and larger groups of musicians became popular, leading later to the Big Band sound.
Jazz history 1920’s style was mostly all about what New Orleans had to offer and export, namely the music, the players who could play it and teach it to others, the fun aspect of new (or old to be more exact) rhythms and the narrowing of the gap between different cultures which only music can sometimes achieve.
Jazz was "good stuff". Mummy and Daddy may not like it so of course it became even more popular with young people, but of course for many people and races this was the music of their childhood, simply made more interesting by the skills of the modern 1920’s jazz players.
In early 1920’s New Orleans bands started to make recordings as well as play at the numerous cafe's, dance halls, restaurants and functions, and from these the style which many today know as "classical jazz" was born. Many bands took these ideas and added their own to move to New York or Chicago, and many visitors took back to Europe the ideas and adjusted them to their own audiences in home countries.
When new ideas came out of 1920’s New Orleans they were soon copied elsewhere, and most jazz musicians, even today, will acknowledge that 1920’s New Orleans was the decade when jazz and its worldwide popularity really took off, both musically and of course financially.