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The roots and branches of jazz

Jazz as a genre includes a diverse lineup of sounds and grooves that pull together the melting pot of cultures that is America. However, what is often overlooked is its roots in African-American culture.


Jazz, and music in general, has a critical role in African-American history. Originating around the early twentieth century in New Orleans, the genre consisted of heavy influences from blues and ragtime, combining a 12 bar pattern with unique syncopations and use of improvisation. Primarily being recognized within Black communities, jazz music became an outlet to voice their own political and social opinions.


During the Civil Rights Movement, artists like Billie Holiday used jazz music to further promote the movement and bring awareness to the atrocities that were happening to the Black community at the time. The song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday explains the terrors of the lynching of Black Americans during the years of the civil rights movement. The meaningful message in the lyrics behind the smooth, groovy instrumentals created a base for this type of music to become popular, and “Strange Fruit” is now regarded as one of the most influential jazz pieces in history.


While the roots of jazz music lie heavily in African-American culture and history, it has been shared all over the nation to create a nation-wide appreciation for the musical genre. Later songwriters, like Frank Sinatra, pulled from the fundamentals of the genre to create songs with a variety of meanings: for example, love. “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra, accumulated a mass appreciation for the meaningful lyrics and slow jazz instrumentals.


With the emergence of songs like these, jazz music continues to thrive and spread throughout the nation and be considered as a part of, not only Black culture, but American culture and history. As the genre keeps reinventing itself, it is important to remember the roots and where it comes from to appreciate it to the fullest extent.

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