Of all the genres of music, jazz is one of the most fluid—and one of the most unique. Anyone who has listened to greats like Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, or Dizzy Gillespie knows what it’s like to hear scatting, flourishes, and unprompted solos; a mastery of jazz that seems almost effortless.
In order to realize the impact jazz music has had on many other genres, it’s important to look at where it came from. Although some people assume it’s a purely American invention, in truth, the roots of jazz music lie in African and European music traditions.
According to an article from Jazz in America, jazz can attribute its “rhythm and feel” and bluesy quality to traditional African music; as well as the ability to use an instrument as an extension of your own voice. The more rigid pieces of the jazz language—such as the harmony, chords, and instruments—come from a European influence. Of course, jazz also has strong roots in the African-American tradition; particularly with folk songs sung by slaves in the Southern United States.
It’s believed that once these musical traditions collided in the early 20th century—in New Orleans, Louisiana—what we know today as “jazz music” was born. It’s a fitting birthplace for a style featuring a loose, free-flowing combination of musical pieces. The raucous atmosphere of the port city allowed for musicians of all sorts to get together and learn from each other.
Today, jazz music is played around the world, and various regions have developed their own spinoff styles—including bossa nova in Brazil, cape jazz in Cape Town, and even Asian-American jazz, played with traditional folk instruments like the shamisen and taiko drums.