United States African American Music Cultural Studies Essay

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In the late 1800s hidden musical practices were developed by professional African American musicians. An improvised song about a popular racehorse was the tale that coined the name for ragtime music. "That sounds so ragged, a witness supposedly said, and the journalist proclaimed the name 'ragtime' was born." (Southern, 1997) Ragtime and blues became the genre that were prominently used in African American music. Around the 1900s, ragtime became popular and it brought fame to musicians such as James Europe and Scott Joplin. By 1910, blues became more popular than ragtime in the South although it had a harder time and had a slower path to being popularized to the urban black in the middle class as well as the major white community. Jazz, on the other hand, is not considered to be purely black music. Notable though was that at key points in its development, African Americans were the significant contributors to its innovation. "In addition, to an extent greater than in ragtime or the blues, jazz became the black musician's ticket to respect and prosperity in the eyes of the largely nonblack public." (Peretti, 2008) Jazz has been known to be an art form that originated in America "a genre of American music that originated in New Orleans circa 1900". (The Definition of Jazz, 1998-2012) It is characterized by strong distinctive tones, syncopated rhythm, and improvisation. It is considered by avid jazz listeners as an art form, an ideal that is inspired by passion, a pattern first formed in the mind and subsequently willed to the hands to be able to elicit notes from an instrument. With improvisation as its defining component, jazz has continued to evolve into new levels of art expressions. In over a hundred years, approximately two dozen jazz styles have been formed.

Ragtime involved rhythms that originated from the musical heritage brought from Africa. It was subsequently incorporated to the music that was created by performers who uses improvised instruments that are notably unconventional more popularly known as "Jig Bands." "The first ragtime composition was published by Ben Harney. The music, vitalized by the opposing rhythms common to African dance, was vibrant, enthusiastic, and often extemporaneous." (The Definition of Jazz, 1998-2012)

Classic jazz originated in New Orleans and took to the form of small band music. It was first played by brass bands that were hired to perform in parties and dances. It was popular in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It retained the lively syncopations introduced by ragtime and infused this with adaptations of the more popular melodies of its time.

Hot jazz is characterized by "collective improvised solos, around melodic structure, that ideally built up to an emotional and 'hot' climax." (The Definition of Jazz, 1998-2012) Most of the time, this is created in the style of a march tempo. Typical instruments in this ensemble included the clarinet, trombone, trumpet, banjo, tuba, and the drums.

Chicago style is characterized by harmonic arrangements. This often requires high technical abilities from the musicians. It has greater emphasis on individual solos and emits less feeling of relaxation. "Contributions from dynamic players like Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, and Eddie Condon helped to pioneer Jazz music." (The Definition of Jazz, 1998-2012) This style had simple accompanying rhythms with some elements of melody instruments that were often improvised.

Swing belonged to the 1930s classic era. It is a dance music that gave its immediate connection to its audience along with its invigorating tempo. The Kansas City Style on the other hand came about during the Depression and Prohibition eras. It is styled as soulful and more of the blues type of sound. "Swing also offered individual musicians a chance to improvise melodic, thematic solos." (The Definition of Jazz, 1998-2012)

Gypsy jazz is an unlikely mix that included American swing from the 1930s, French dance, and Eastern Europe folk strains. It had a seductive feel coupled with driving rhythms. It is often attributed to Django Reinhardt, a gypsy guitarist. Its main characteristic is the use of rhythm guitars instead of the usual jazz drummer since this style more often than not makes use of all strings. The rhythm guitarist utilizes the technique called swing guitar rhythm to be able to produce a dynamic percussive rhythm which is as effective as that of a drummer.

Bebop is characterized by harmonic improvisation that is often characterized to avoid the melodic line after the first chorus. This was developed in the early 1940s. Bebop musicians typically played tunes at faster tempos. Emphasis was made on unpredictability of rhythm and creating complexities in harmony instead of focusing on lyrics. This style has also marked the crossover of jazz from pop music into the art music scene.

Vocalese is considered as the art of composing lyrics and recording it in the same manner as its instrumental solos. It has two predominant factors namely, tributes and storytelling. "Among those known for writing and performing vocalese lyric are Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks." (The Definition of Jazz, 1998-2012)

Cool jazz was evolved directly from the Bop although its harmonics and dynamics were made soft with the mixture of tones that came from swing. This style was popularized in the 1940s up to the 1950s. It was often used at the time by East Coast musicians. It emphasizes on the more intellectual aspect of music. It has also altogether avoided the tempos that were quite aggressively used in the Bebop style of jazz. This particular music was formed just after Bebop was established which made it initially unpopular although it provided an alternative to the mainstream style.

Hard bop is an extension of the Bebop style and is characterized as interrupted in a way by the cool sounds that are known from West Coast jazz. This style is also known to be more on the soulful side as compared to its predecessor, the Bebop, as it is more diverse and has a more sophisticatedly designed rhythm. It has also been known to incorporate themes that are often used in Gospel as well as Rhythm and Blues.

Mainstream jazz came about after the time of the Big Band Era. Swing music still continued to be played even as the big groups were broken down into smaller ones. The 1950s was the era wherein a handful of swing's notable players have played. This was also the time when a significant improvement on chord structure has taken more significance than the melody. This jazz style was mainly influenced by the hard bop, cool, and classic styles.

The Bossa Nova is a blend of harmonies based from the cool feel of the West Coast, classical European harmony, and samba rhythms popularized in Brazil. In this style, simple melodies are accentuated with subtle acoustic guitar rhythms that can give of the effect of being hypnotic. This particular style evolved from samba although in comparison, it offers more complexity when it comes to harmony and it is less percussive that its predecessor. "It is clear that bossa nova put together many musical elements in an original way." (Chris McGowan, 1998)

Through the hardships they faced, music came to be a means of healing through self-expression for African Americans.