The Deep Roots of Jazz


The history of Jazz dates back before 1850 when slaves used Field Hollers, (call and response) Work songs and Boat songs while doing their work.  Some slaves entertained the planters and their guests at parties.  In New Orleans, slaves born in this country were re-inventing African melodies and rhythms and, in reality, the beginnings of New Orleans Jazz.


The term “Ragtime” was first used in 1893 in a song titled “Ma Ragtime Baby”. In 1899, Scott Joplin, the king of Ragtime, sold several of his rags, but the publisher turned down the “Maple Leaf Rag.”  John Stark, who sold ice cream and pianos, heard the “Maple Leaf Rag” and published it for Joplin.  It sold over 100,000 copies.


In New York, while some talented musicians were abducted and sold into slavery to play for southern planters, Dan Rice (an actor) “blacked up” his face and did a show in the Bowery district, which quickly became Minstrel Shows.  His group, the Christy Minstrels, became the most well known Minstrel troupe.  Minstrel shows were about African Americans, but the parts were all played by white actors in “black face” These minstrel shows were the only exposure that northern whites had to what slave life might be like. The minstrel shows included a band that consisted of banjos, “bones”, fiddle and tambourines. 


After the Spanish American war, many surplus military instruments came into the port of New Orleans.  In 1897, Buddy Bolden organized the first band to play instrumental blues – the forerunner of Jazz.   His band played Polkas, Quadrilles, Ragtime and Blues. By  1900 the Blues became a standard in honky tonks and dance halls.  New Orleans players performed a mix of Blues, Ragtime, and marches using military surplus instruments.  Some instrumentalists began to improvise to the popular songs of the day.  The blues and Ragtime migrated to other cities such as Pittsburgh and Detroit


In 1900, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong is born and later becomes known as the first genius of Jazz because the concept of swing is attributed to him.  In 1902, Jelly Roll Morton claims to have invented Jazz by combining Ragtime, Quadrilles and Blues.  W.C. Handy, a composer and musician began writing blues songs. He became know as the “Father of the Blues.”