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AN AMERICAN MUSIC TRADITION
A HISTORY OF JAZZ IN NEW ORLEANS
Jazz is an undisputedly American tradition born from the intermingling of races and cultures synonymous with New Orleans, where jazz was born. Since the Smithsonian declared the month of April to be Jazz Appreciation Month in 2001, we would like to take some space to appreciate it ourselves in this edition. As far as jazz might travel, and as renowned as it may be the world over, New Orleans and jazz will always be inherently linked. It couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Its roots in the French colony of Louisiana and ties to Catholicism immediately differentiated it from the rest of the Anglican and Protestant cultural norms of the rest of the United States. This culture created a people who had a more liberal outlook on life and enjoyed good food, wine, and dancing. At various points in time — from before the Louisiana Purchase until after the Civil War — French, German, Irish, Italian, African, and many other cultures all contributed to the melting pot that New Orleans became. Many neighborhoods were unsegregated, unlike the rest of the South at that time, and there was a large community of both European and African descent who were highly educated. Some of them played in the best orchestras in New Orleans.
on precise composition, relying more on feeling the music and letting your emotions show through every note. It wasn’t just something people watched; it was something people danced to. Jazz musicians began springing up in New Orleans as early as the 1890s, starting with cornet player Buddy Holden and followed by Kid Ory’s Creole Band, Joe Oliver, Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and eventually Louis Armstrong. After jazz gained traction in New Orleans, its musicians traveled far and wide, reaching Chicago, New York, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. The 1920s became known as the “Jazz Age,” representing the booming lifestyle of post-World War I America. As jazz became more ubiquitous, it also strayed farther and farther from its origins in New Orleans, with distinct versions sounding forth in every city where jazz musicians put down roots. All the while, however, musicians in New Orleans still regularly performed jazz that was closer to its roots, which drew enthusiasts back to the Big Easy. The traditions that drew their attention persist to this day.
“AS FAR AS JAZZ MIGHT TRAVEL, AND AS RENOWNED AS IT MAY BE THE WORLD OVER, NEW ORLEANS AND JAZZ WILL ALWAYS BE INHERENTLY LINKED.”
As different as all these groups might have been, music and dancing were central to the lives of everyone in New Orleans. Every group contributed something to the music scene, whether it was the blues and spiritual tunes of the African American community, the classical traditions of Europe, or American ragtime piano. Just as the people mixed and mingled, so did the elements of these musical traditions, and jazz was born. While it retained elements of its antecedents, what it became was less dependent
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