When was Jazz born?

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong

From work songs to affirmation as a musical genre

Jazz was born at the beginning of the last century by African-American slaves, who worked on plantations or in the construction of railways in the South of the United States. Partly to alleviate the daily grind and partly to coordinate in the hard manual labor, the slaves sang the so-called work songs: improvised songs in binary rhythm.

In particular, in the city of New Orleans, some African-American musicians take up the musicality and the constant rhythm of the work songs in their shows in the red-light clubs of the city. The musicians play by ear, improvising to a new rhythm defined “in shreds”, in English rag and this is how these first species of jazz orchestras will be defined: ragtime bands.

An important evolution of jazz through the Italian emigrants, numerous in New Orleans. Italian-Americans introduce new instruments into jazz music; the piano and strings are joined by the wind instruments that are now much better known and played in Europe. Among all stands out Nick La Rocca, founder in 1917 of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The Band will be the first to sell (and successfully!) Jazz songs that become classics today like Tiger Rag.

The real great exploit of jazz, however, takes place in Chicago, where many African-Americans move to work as workers in the new factories in the city that symbolizes the roaring twenties. In this context, the famous Louis Armstrong arrives from New Orleans – trumpeter, singer and then actor – brings jazz to success in the new and the old continent.

It is at this time that jazz asserts itself as a musical genre in all respects and is also played in the most elite clubs of New York, Los Angeles and the various European capitals.


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