Since it’s inception, Jazz has been an international phenomena. It has travelled across the world and grown in thousands of untold ways. It was created by Americans and developed by Americans. Just as Christopher Columbus discovered the land, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and others, all american, defined the music. Jazz comprises a huge part of the American identity in its uniqueness. Yet despite this importance, americans know little about Jazz at all. Because of its place as a stunningly american art form, I believe all Americans should know something about jazz.
Most people know that Einstein created the theory of relativity, but few actually know what that means. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, it is just a facet knowledge on a subject. I do not ask that Americans understand what makes jazz what it is, and to understand the complex loop of harmonies that are used, but only that we know the history of jazz, how it was born beneath the oppression of the white upper class who valued Classical music, who mocked jazz as too low-brow to actually be appreciated. Just as America declared independence from the oppression of the British, jazz innovators declared independence from the oppression of western classical style.
Songs of national pride mention freedom and liberty countless times, and pride is even taken in gems of american terrain (mountains majesty), yet not once is the fact mentioned that the mold of classical music being stoic and rigid was broken by an american, George Gershwin, and that music continued to grow from this vain in America. With Gershwin (and others before him), jazz was conceived in the womb of western classical music, until Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and Benny Goodman pushed it out of the birth canal with their Big Bands, which took traditional orchestral and put them in a purely jazz setting, giving them completely new roles that they had never held before. After the baby was delivered, it would be up to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to further remove jazz from the Classical style by cutting its umbilical cord in defining what became called a “combo,” a jazz group of 5 to 6 musicians. Finally, with his work in jazz fusion and experimentalism, Miles Davis introduced electronic instruments and psychedelic effects, thereby raising the child that was jazz into a fully grown adult, who lived just up the street in his own apartment.
Despite the long, convoluted analogy, the point still stands that jazz is a uniquely American art form that American should be proud of and respect with a little bit of knowledge, just as we respect what Washington gave to our country by at least knowing his name and something about him. Because of its place as a ground-breaking movement as well as a part of American history, we should understand jazz for what it is: a child of freedom and liberty.
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