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.