Some of the founding aspects of early Jazz:

Religion, Christianity and the Church: Gospel

Blues, songs related to poor living conditions, difficult circumstances and hope for the future,

Working rhythms of call and response developed in church settings.

Ultimately, Jazz expresses core “American” values:

Freedom
Risk taking
“melting pot” ability to synthesize culture (afro-cuban jazz, electric jazz, free jazz, etc., etc.
Innovation
Creative collaboration
Simultaneously heard voices: democracy
Jazz is a foundation for RnB, Rock n’ Roll, Funk, Rap, and other interdisciplinary artistic and popular genres.

“By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”

–Black Lives Matter

In all these ways, Jazz, in all its forms, is a uniquely American genre, developed out of generations of African American culture.

Timeline and Historical Context for Our Biographies:

1865 – Slavery officially ended in the U.S. (13th amendment)

1868 – 3/5 Law officially repealed (part of the 14th amendment)

Increased Jim Crow Laws in the south led to:

The Great Migration: The relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest and West from about 1916 to 1950 and even until 1970.

Circumstances around the Great Migration:

Demand for factory workers throughout the more industrialized north due to increased manufacturing for WWI (July 1914 – November 1918. American entered in 1917)

Relocation meant great tensions between still-racist Northerners and growing Black populations.

1917: The U.S. Supreme Court declared racially based housing ordinances unconstitutional.

Real-estate agents and home owners create covenants requiring white property owners to agree not to sell homes to Blacks people.

These housing contracts were legal until Supreme Court again intervened to strike them down in 1948.

Housing tensions and continued white supremacist attitudes worsened this attempt at more nationally widespread integration. Race riots across the country sprang up, notably in Chicago and New York. The 1913 race riot in Chicago lasted for two weeks and left hundreds injured, many dead, and hundreds without homes.

Race riots left Black communities to seek enclaves of like-minded citizens within the cities they immigrated to. Perhaps most famous of these urban centers was Harlem, New York.

Harlem became home to some of the most important jazz venues in American history. The notable Harlem Renaissance lasted from approximately 1910 to 1929. Poetry, literature, activism and music all flourished together and fed off of each other. Notable figures during this time were:

Writer Langston Hughes
Actor Paul Robeson
Anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston

Perhaps the most notable jazz figure of this era was Duke Ellington and the most historic jazz venue of the time was called the Cotton Club.

Here is a short list of dates of the jazz musicians we’ll study in the next few weeks. See how they overlap with the important dates above:

W.C. Handy 1893–1948

Bessie Smith 1894 – 1937

Duke Ellington 1899 – 1974

Billie Holiday 1915-1959

Dizzy Gillespie 1917 – 1993

Ella Fitzgerald 1917 -1996

Charlie Parker 1920 – 1955

Miles Davis 1926 – 1991