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History of Jazz: The Roots of Jazz

AAJ Staff BY

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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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