Jazz was born in the late 19th century from African-American musicians and is considered ‘America’s classical music’. Their stylistic origins are strongly influenced by European classical music but also the traditional sounds of West Africa, creating a cultural melting pot, coloured and enriched, that has given birth to many children, from soul to progressive rock. What a journey!
From the very beginning, Jazz music was an authentic breeding ground for the musical arts. The notable preference of relevant plastic artist, writers, academics and creators in general for this hybrid musical genre is well documented, today jazz is performed and enjoyed by lots of people in specialized clubs, universities, big concert halls, large world-renowned festivals, but also in the streets and bars, the native lands were it was conceived.
Rich and constantly evolving, jazz music is about improvisation and experimentation. It’s almost futile trying to put the category on a box because any musical creation has the potential to be touched by the swing of jazz. Many classical composers, like John Alden Carpenter, Igor Stravinsky or Aaron Copland have been seduced by the rhythms and the unusual assembles of jazz.
Many subgenres are direct descendants of jazz, the improvisation is a key on the infinite variety of sounds that influences and relates it to all kinds of music. The jammin’ around with the folks in the early 1920’s, gave way to the amazing establishments of big bands to the modern sounds of avant-garde and free jazz. That is how these sounds and time signatures have merged and settled in our music lovers taste.
The Female Role
You can’t say “Jazz” and not think about a woman. Since the very beginning, women have had a big part on the blueprints that made the impact on the music we enjoy nowadays. Great Afro American female singers have given the soul and blues feelings to jazz’ colourful notes. Pioneers as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald are our canonic references on music history.
The so-called ‘Jazz Age’ exploded just after World War I, when women took a major part in the workforce population and began social movements such as the suffragists, all calling for independence, better opportunities and respect for the new and diverse roles that women would assume in the future. Jazz music was the intersection were many of them forged their wills and found a way to make change possible.
Luckily, today despite the bad habits of judging female performers by their looks, sexiness or lack of capacity to assume positions of authority, rather than their actual talent, many jazz female performers are recognized as talented composers, songwriters, bandleaders and performers. But there’s still a lot of work to do for future generations to come.
As for 2018, names such as Jazzmeia Horn, who was the winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, Cécile McLorin Salvant, who has been depicted as “one of those performers you get once every generation, or two” and even septuagenarian Nancy King are female names leading the billboards (and nominations) for this year’s Grammy Awards, regardless of skin color, country of origin and even age.