- James Lincoln Collier
A music created mainly by African-Americans in the early 20th century through an amalgamation of elements drawn from European-American and tribal African musics. A unique type, it cannot safely be categorized as folk, popular, or art music, though it shares aspects of all three. It has had a profound effect on international culture, not only through its considerable popularity, but through the important role it has played in shaping the many forms of popular music that developed around and out of it.
It has been said that jazz has recapitulated the history of four centuries of European music, moving from the heterophonic polyphony of the early New Orleans style, through the big-band romanticism of the 1930s, to the chromaticism of bop and the free-form experiments after 1960. While this analysis is simplistic, it is nevertheless true that jazz has shown a penchant for rapid change, often rooted in youthful rebellion and accompanied by tensions between players of different generations. To some extent these changes result from pendulations between more formal “European” modes and more spontaneous “African” approaches. A second important trend has been the steady rise of jazz from its bohemian, even underground, beginnings, through various levels of the entertainment business, into widespread acceptance by American society as a form of art. The rise of jazz into respectability is still by no means complete. Although jazz is taught in many schools and colleges in the same way that literature and painting are, studied in scholarly fashion, and often presented in formal concert settings, it still has one foot in show business: much of jazz musicians’ incomes still derives from sales of recordings and appearances in nightclubs....