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Jazz in
America
Learn about some of the great jazz performers in
American history.
Each April, the United States celebrates Jazz
Appreciation Month (JAM), an opportunity to
savor a major American contribution to world
culture. Initiated by the Smithsonian Institution’s
National Museum of American History, JAM
aims to focus public attention on the music and
the many talented composers, musicians and
other
contributors
to
the
sound.
There was a new kind of popular music, though, that
was very American. It was called jazz. Jazz was
invented by African-American musicians, who used
ideas from lots of different styles of music. They often
combined work songs from slave times and religious
folk songs (called spirituals) with an exciting beat and
rhythm. Two other styles of music that helped make up
jazz were ragtime and blues. The musicians made up
most of the music as they went along, and played the
way they felt at the moment. Because of this, notes
were never written down, and pieces never sounded
exactly the same way twice.
During the swing era, jazz
artists stood at the forefront
of American popular music. In
subsequent decades, genres
from rock to country to hiphop mostly supplanted jazz in
this role. But jazz continued to
influence other forms of
American music, even as it
branched out in new
directions. Bee-bop, acid,
fusion, and other styles
appealed to smaller and more
specialized –- but equally
enthusiastic –- audiences.