What About Dat?
To call jazz one of America’s original art forms may seem a bit odd given that its beginnings lie in Western Africa, born of ritual drumming, call and response singing, and a seductive rhythmic pulse rooted deep in that continent’s musical and spiritual soil. However when those roots made their way across the Atlantic, carried in the hearts and minds of enslaved and scattered masses to the shores of the Caribbean and the United States, these transplanted rhythms took hold and evolved into what became field hollers, work songs, gospel and blues. A more structured musical style known as Creole, together with the spontaneous oral tradition of the African Americans, resulted in an early form of jazz.
The new sounds found homes in places like New Orleans, Charleston, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis, where they were blended with harmonies derived from European music and evolved into other genres like blues, ragtime, swing, jazz and eventually even R&B. The American culture offered a wealth of musical diversity that early jazz musicians used as material for improvisation.
I used to have the feeling that jazz was the basis for other styles of music, particularly country and rock. There was a Program Director at one radio station whose glue began to melt whenever I filled-in as DJ on their Bluegrass program because I magically managed, on those rare occasions, to locate most of the jazz-based tunes they had on the shelf. Listen to Alison Brown’s “Etouffee Brutus” and tell me they aren’t blowing jazz! I did the same thing at a couple of rock stations, much to the chagrin of the persnickety music programmers.
On the other side of the coin, listen to Sonny Rollins’ “I’m An Old Cow Hand” and see if he wasn’t milking a little cowboy country … thus disproving my theory! While the influence of jazz on rock and pop may be more evident than it is with country, it seems clear that there continues to be a creative symbiosis between jazz and many other types of music … they tend to borrow from and lend to each other for the benefit of both, not to mention the benefit of the listener. You might be surprised to hear what pop artists like Diana Ross (You remember the Supremes?) have done in that regard.
Jazz, as a hybrid of musical traditions, reflects a marriage of musical interpretations as well as a blend of musical elements … a fusion of rhythm and melody that makes it a truly American art form, exported to all races, colors, creeds and countries around the world!