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History of Jazz Timeline

History of Jazz Timeline: Roots of Jazz

By Published: April 22, 2004
African and European Fusion
  • African music featured complex cross-rhythms, slurs, melissma, falsetto, vibrato and simple melodies.





  • Call and response form was employed. The leader would throw out a line and a chorus responded.

  • Griots were African historians who kept complex records in their heads and related them via song. The Blues form may have derived from this West African culture.

  • Derision songs were popular.





  • European music featured complex melodies and simple rhythms.



Characteristics of Early African-American Music

  • Off beat and syncopated to simulate the complex cross-rhythms.

  • Based primarily on the pentatonic scale and other truncated scales.

  • Employed blue notes (flatted thirds, sevenths and later fifths) to eliminate half steps.

  • Ensemble style singing employed (no true harmony).



Types of Early African-American Music

  • Work songs were sung to ease the pain of hard work.





  • Field hollers.

  • Boat songs.

  • Corn shucking songs, etc.



  • Spiritual songs were songs based on white hymns and spirituals meant to praise God.



  • Lining out, a call and response form derived from African and British roots, was used in white and black churches because there was not enough money for hymn books.

  • Camp meetings and ring shouts became popular in black and white churches.

  • In the early 1800s, white and black churches split and their Spirituals took separate paths.



  • Street vendors' songs were another form of early African-American music.

  • There were also play songs.

  • Prison songs, which contributed to the Blues, were heard after the Civil War and Reconstruction.


Four distinct fusions have occurred:

  • Early African-American folk music was a fusion of African and European musics to form work songs, etc.

  • Europeanized African-American folk music was a fusion of African-American folk and European music to form Spirituals, Minstrelsy, Vaudeville, etc.

  • Ragtime was another fusion of African-American folk with European band music.

  • Jazz-Rock or Fusion is a fusion of Jazz and its distant derivative, Rock.


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