New Orleans would never have produced its most famous musical expression had it not been for a confluence of seemingly unrelated events. Difficult economic times and a growing interest in popular music would fashion a springboard for an assortment of musical styles to coalesce into what would become a uniquely American kind of music. And in the process, jazz would expand beyond New Orleans. And traditional African-American music would form the backbone of these emergent genres. Developed in the rural South, the blues produced a number of noteworthy musicians, including the famous Robert Johnson, who claimed that he sold his soul to the Devil in order to play the guitar. Both of these genres would influence the development of jazz.
When did jazz originate?
How was jazz created?
Even before jazz, for most New Orleanians, music was not a luxury as it often is elsewhere—it was a necessity. Throughout the nineteenth century, diverse ethnic and racial groups — French, Spanish, and African, Italian, German, and Irish — found common cause in their love of music. The s represented the culmination of a century of music making in the Crescent City. Just after the beginning of the new century, jazz began to emerge as part of a broad musical revolution encompassing ragtime, blues, spirituals, marches, and the popular fare of "Tin Pan Alley. The early development of jazz in New Orleans is most associated with the popularity of bandleader Charles "Buddy" Bolden, an "uptown" cornetist whose charisma and musical power became legendary. During the next decade he built a loyal following, entertaining dancers throughout the city especially at Funky Butt Hall, which also doubled as a church, and at Johnson and Lincoln Parks. In he collapsed while performing in a street parade. The following year he was institutionalized at the state sanitarium at Jackson for the remainder of his life. During the nineteenth century, string bands, led by violinists, had dominated dance work, offering waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, and schottisches to a polite dancing public.
Researchers and historians are still learning about jazz history; there are many and various opinions about what is important in the history of jazz. What follows is an overview of jazz history that provides a foundation for this study. A review of New Orleans' unique history and culture, with its distinctive character rooted in the colonial period, is helpful in understanding the complex circumstances that led to the development of New Orleans jazz.
Jazz is a byproduct of the unique cultural environment found in New Orleans at the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the vestiges of French and Spanish colonial roots, the resilience of African influences after the slavery era and the influx of immigrants from Europe. Another element driving this musical heritage toward the creation of jazz gets down to race and the distinctive black experience in New Orleans. Though the city was a leading slave port and segregation persisted long after slavery was abolished, people of different races mixed much more freely in New Orleans than other American cities. For instance, slaves were allowed to congregate, make music and dance in Congo Square, an area that is today part of Louis Armstrong Park on North Rampart Street on the edge of the French Quarter.