Jazz: Born in the U.S.A

Jazz is neither African nor European; it is American. The contribution of American political concepts and culture were vital to the birth and development of what would eventually become a widely respected and enjoyed international art form. Being “born in the U.S.A.” was necessary for the evolution and development of jazz.
All That Jazz p. 53 by Jack Wheaton

1. Explain the contributions Africa made to Jazz. (All That Jazz chapter 2).
2. Explain the contributions Europe made to Jazz. (All That Jazz chapter 3).

* You are welcome to use other sources if the book is not available.

Contributions From Africa

With two thousand tribal groups and rich natural resources, Africa is both home to a diverse ecological and cultural mix, as well as a battleground for political and social movements, not the least of which is the conflict between old traditions and modern society.

High-life, a musical style popular in Africa today, combines American rock and blues influences with traditional African rhythms. Music in Africa has traditionally been a communal activity with a dominant role in important social events such as marriages, births, deaths, religious festivals, crop harvests, and military victories. All elements of a tribal musical performance are equally important and inseparable.

Many traditions of Africa tribal music are essential characteristics of modern popular American music. African techniques that influenced the development of Afro-American music include poly-rhythms, cross-rhythms, and syncopation. Blue notes, lowered notes that don’t fit into the European scales, were another important contribution, as were buzz tones- deliberately distorted and raspy vocal or instrumental tones. In addition, many popular dance forms, such as The charleston and jitterbug, are derived from African dances. These and other contributions from African musical tradition played a crucial role in shaping popular music as it developed in the United States.

Contributions From Western Europe

An emphasis on logical, linear, and sequential thinking developed in Europe in response to a seasonal climate that required advance planning. European art and music, consequently, stress structure and forethought, in contrast to the African emphasis on spontaneity and flexibility.

Despite a de-emphasis on rhythm and a religious distrust of syncopation, which was to closely tied to the body’s “base” natural instincts, the European tradition did contribute written rhythmic innovations to American jazz- time signatures and the division of written music into measures and phrases. The European concept of form emphasized symmetry and balance in a composition, allowing the preconceived and spontaneous, which co-exist in Afro-American music, to compliment each other, rather than compete. The European tradition also contributed aesthetic concepts regarding melody and a complex harmonic system based on chords and chord progressions. Important jazz and pop instruments, such as the saxophone and piano, were also developed in Europe, although most commonly used percussion instruments are African in origin. The importance today of musical literacy and the rich heritage of written European music available to the American musician are both passed down from the European tradition, as is the use of formal concerts, which eventually encouraged jazz musicians and composers to perform for more critical audiences.

Obviously, Western European contributions to jazz are as important as are the African contributions. It’s impossible to have “jazz” without both musical traditions. In the brief period of jazz’s history, any attempt to separate these two traditions have failed.

Jazz brings a balance to twentieth-century music. The balance between the preconceived and the spontaneous is now the expected part of any concert- not only jazz concerts, but also pop, rock, and even some of today’s classical music concerts.

Jazz is neither African or European: it is American. The contribution of American political concepts and culture were vital to the birth and development of what would eventually become a widely respected and enjoyed international art form. Being “born in the U.S.A.” Was necessary for the evolution and development of Jazz.

All That Jazz by Jack Wheaton p. 37 and 53

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