About the music

The beginnings of Jazz included pain and sadness, but also joy and a sense of freedom and expression.

Imagine being a slave living in the hot and swampy areas around New Orleans in 1819. You have known about the time-honored traditions and rituals your ancestors in Africa held dear, knowing that you, yourself, are forbidden from exercising them. Your people have very nearly lost all their spiritual expression rights including those incredibly complex drumming rhythms. Instead, what you do hear is European music of all flavors coming in through the ports - especially marching bands and opera which you can hear frequently in New Orleans. The one place where you are allowed to be yourself is Congo Square every Sunday, originally sacred Native American ground, now a gathering place for up to 600 slaves, where you are free to celebrate life and traditions with drumming and dancing.

Over the next few decades, new styles of music would evolve - among them the blues on the one side and ragtime on the other - and some time presumably around 1900, musicians started combining these styles and everything else they heard into a new music called Jass (later changed to Jazz due to people scratching the J off records). Among the most influential musicians was the legendary cornetist Buddy Bolden who added improvisation and wild ferocity to the sound. Around the same time, a young pianist who would later call himself Jelly Roll Morton was playing the blues in the brothels. Shortly after, established cornetist and band leader Joe "King" Oliver discovered a young Louis Armstrong and decided to include him in his own band which already included trombonist Kid Ory whose own contributions also helped develop the style that we now call New Orleans Jazz.

Eventually, many bands started moving out of New Orleans and brought this new music along with them to the rest of the country. It would, however, take until 1917, when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band created the first recordings of Jazz, that the popularity of this music really skyrocketed. More bands left New Orleans to make their names in the big cities like Chicago and New York where more variations to the style were born and more recordings were made all throughout the 1920s.

Around 1942, a revival of Traditional Jazz took place when trumpet player Bunk Johnson was re-discovered back in New Orleans. He and a few others had stayed behind and kept that original New Orleans sound, and after adding clarinetist George Lewis to his band, new recordings were made that started a new interest in this music.

Since then, Traditional Jazz has stayed mostly the same, and it continues to get your feet tapping today the same way it did back then in the dance halls of New Orleans and around the country. Musicians today have many advantages to those back in the days who had to listen very closely to bands and try to memorize their songs to be able to include them into their own repertoires. Technology and the Internet make it much easier to find recordings and videos made between 1917 and today of a variety of amazing bands all over the world.

So come along and listen while we take you back to the roots of Jazz. We will keep those feet tapping and the music going!

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