A Brief Jazz History Cultural Studies Essay

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Music is living entity, which is continuously changing, adapting and reflecting each environmental and cultural change. The American music has been shaped by the country's social and cultural environment. It is always characterized by the use of syncopation with irregular rhythms and melodies, which reflects the American landscape and the sense of personal freedom characteristic of American life. Since 1920s, jazz has been intertwined with aspects of American social and cultural identity, including through social class, race and ethnicity, and environment.

Thesis statement (At the end of introduction):

Jazz is not only a way to reflect the landscape of the U.S.A. in the 1920s, to showcase contributions of African American to American society, to highlight black history and affirm black culture, but also a reminder of an oppressive and racist society.

Body paragraphs:

Brief Jazz history:

Jazz takes its roots from slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries in America, where themes like spiritual music and the less religious music based off of folk lore and field work. The less religious, or secular themes would go on to play a key role in the foundations of the Blues genre in Jazz, with much of the unorthodox musical aspects such as the rearticulating of words and the cries and shouts that have become a hallmark of the genre.

The American environment (urban capitalist environment)

Topic sentence: Jazz is a musical portrait closely identified with American urban settings, portraying the urbanization, industrialization and the growth of the nation at that time.

The birth of jazz as a musical form occurred at a unique time in the history of the United States. In the early 1900's the industrialization of our society was well under way. Millions of people were moving to cities for employment opportunities, and immigration from other countries.

The majority of the population was living in the urban areas of the United States rather than the rural areas.

Responding to the material relations of urban life, the working-class ethos of music switches from secular to sacred, especially as urban secular life became predominant in African American culture.

Jazz was incubated and inspired by the new city experience, with its pull into capitalist production and commerce.

It encouraged improvisational modes of expression, which offset the drudgery and monotony of hard menial work

The rhythm and cadence of Jazz is a cultural challenge to the repetitive downbeat of measured time over work and life. The urban working-class experience is the root and foundation for this creative musical tradition.

The syncopation and cross-rhythms create the image of the city rush-hour and bustling modern life.

Example: George Gershwin's symphonic jazz Rhapsody in Blue composed in 1924 expresses a forward-driving energy towards urbanization of the U.S.A at that time. Written on a series of train trips between Brooklyn and Boston, Gershwin devised this iconic piece, embedding the clickety-clack sensations of the train into the music with its steely rhythms and rattly-bang. It is a musical portrait of America, evoking the mood of skyscrapers by night and jazzy urban bustle.

Jazz highlights the black history and affirm black culture

Topic sentence: Jazz is an artistic expression of African American national culture within the United States.

Jazz was born in the street parades and sporting houses of early twentieth-century New Orleans. Jazz was forged in the cauldron of Jim Crow segregation by the descendants of slaves, who transformed antebellum spirituals, work songs, hollers, and ring shouts into the witness-bearing, intensely expressive truthfulness of the blues, as well as the effervescent spirit of ragtime. Marrying these currents of sorrow and joy, oppression and resistance, jazz captured and heralded the struggle for African-American freedom.

Jazz's rhythmic finesse, melodic inventiveness, and improvisational energy expressed the dreams and desires of a modernizing people, a people anxious to cast off the chains of slavery and segregation in order to catch the pulse of America's emergence as a twentieth-century beacon of technological and cultural innovation.

It is the soundtrack for the migration of African Americans from the rural plantation culture of the Old South to the modern urban culture of the North, Midwest, and West.

African music was largely functional, for work or ritual. Jazz shows the use of the African traditions of a single-line melody and call-and-response pattern. The rhythms also have a counter-metric structure, and reflected African speech patterns.

Racism and Slavery

Topic sentence: Race and class are elemental conditions in Jazz, especially with respect to its social import. Racism, national oppression, and class exploitation interact to form Jazz's material basis, as a creative expression of the African American experience in the United States.

After Spain took control of Louisiana in 1763, New Orleans became the center of slave trade in America.

The need for creative responses is especially acute for the African American working poor because of the dual burden of racism and national oppression.

The unique experiences of slavery and segregation gave rise to the spirituals, work songs and blues.

With migration into the cities, the African American worker was oppressed. As a newly established urban working class, African Americans were denied equal access to jobs, housing, schooling and other matters of civil society and the state. They responded to the urban capitalist environment with new forms of cultural/musical expression.

Jazz syncopation is an upbeat response to the downbeat situation of being at the bottom of the social order.

Jazz as a synergistic process

Topic sentence: Jazz is the great cultural achievement of America where blacks took a leading role as creators and practitioners, and where blacks and whites performed and listened in harmony.

Jazz is the Americanization of African music, as well as the Africanization of American music. It is the blending together of cultural elements that previously existed in the European and African cultures separately.

As the music buzz progressed to the cities, Jazz became the mainstream for all races. The Jazz Age was a step in making America truly equal in the fight for civil rights. The African American race obviously moved up the social ladder as well during the 1920s.

Although the African-American practitioners of jazz found racial discrimination in virtually every aspect of their lives, from segregated dance halls, cafés, and saloons to exploitative record companies, early jazz was popular with whites, in part because it reinforced "darkie" stereotypes of African Americans as happy-go-lucky and irrepressibly rhythmic.

Nonetheless, many black jazz musicians used jazz as a vehicle for cultural, artistic, and economic advancement, and were able to shape their own destinies in an often hostile environment.

African-American jazz was often performed for or by whites, and it was assimilated into the overall fabric of popular music, to the uneasiness of some on both sides of the racial divide.

For white men to play jazz, they had to address the Negro in all his grandeur and, in the process, the bulk of them were able to break free of the racist conventions that surrounded them. So jazz was just as important socially as it was artistically.


Jazz is closely identified with American urban settings. It creates images on cultural, geographic, ethnic, and economic levels, using the technical components of melody, harmony and rhythm to evoke American identity. It does not only portray the growth of the U.S. and affirm black culture, but also shows the interaction, the clash and fusion of African and European culture. Nowadays, Jazz has continued to mirror and exemplify the complexities and ironies of the changing status of African Americans within the broader culture and polity of the United States.


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