The History of Jazz

The history of jazz music indicates that every kind of artistic expression has a tendency to undergo an evolution with time. Arguably, the 20th century witnessed a massive evolution of jazz as a way of communication partly from the historical background that the inventors of jazz music were emerging. The beginning of jazz music runs parallel to a revolution which has been experienced in music "media". The American nation had abolished slavery and the African Americans were trying to reinvent their culture through music. However, because of the time lapse between slavery and its subsequent abolition in 1808, the Creole Americans were not fully conversant with their African music and thus there was a need to reinvent the way they could communicate through music. Among the greatest contributors to the evolution of jazz music were the 20th century jazz legendaries Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. This paper discusses the history of jazz music beginning with Armstrong and culminating with Davis. 

The evolution of jazz from early improvisations to the development of cool jazz was inevitable. Jazz music, like any other form of artistic expression underwent numerous changes in performance and expression during the 20th century. Jazz legendary performers like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis were instrumental jazz musicians whose performances set a precedent in the popular jazz music. Some of their themes and performances were being introduced into the jazz music irrespective the fact that the music genre had been around for the past one century. Their unique styles in performing jazz music also became the standards that the entire jazz world looked up for as guidance in the performance of jazz. During this period, jazz became popular both in the black America and in the white America population with some whites performing jazz music despite it being associated with the African American.

Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis

Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis are two jazz legends that lived during the 20th century and contributed immensely to the jazz community in terms of styling and composition. Armstrong lived between 1901 and 1971 while Davis lived between 1926 and 1991. This means that the two musicians contributed concurrently to the development and evolution of jazz music not only in the United States but also across the world. Armstrong was instrumental in introducing new styles in scat singing and use of human voice as instruments in playing jazz music. On his part, Davis was an accomplished trumpet player, a bandleader, and a musical innovator whose works continues to influence the contemporary jazz community. Thus, the contribution of Armstrong and Davis to the performance and progressions of styles in jazz form a strong foundation the jazz music. Evidently, during this time jazz music underwent unprecedented evolution that radically transformed the performance of jazz music across the world.

Instrumental and Styling

Prior to the entry of jazz revolutionary musicians like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, jazz music was characterized by calculated and orchestrated playing of instruments that followed well defined rules to produce a given sound (Stanford and Forsyth, 2002). The jazz music was then transformed by the proliferation of more enthusiastic artists together with the continued acceptance that the Northern America, mostly populated by the Whites of jazz as a popular music. During this period, jazz attained its reputation as a music genre that could borrow almost from all cultures in the United States as emergence of different types of jazz started to come.

The evolution of jazz music during this period was not only witnessed in the instruments and voice variations that were becoming popular from jazz superstars like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis but also in the variance of styles that were as dynamic as the music industry itself. Stanford and Forsyth (2002) observes that during this period, several styles became popular including blues, folk, march, and ragtime. The rising of jazz to popularity was a result of many contributing factors that were in existence during this period. The ability to develop unique styles from different towns was among the notable contributing factors and thus there was a kind of competition among different jazz communities to develop their style and elevate it to prominence (Gioia, 2011).

Among the towns that produced unique styles of performing jazz was the New Orleans that was home to many successful jazz performers and bands including the famous Louis Armstrong. The New Orleans style had theme variation and a number of spontaneous collectives improvisation which made its style polyphonic. They were popularized across the country by Armstrong through albums like Heebie Jeebies and St. Louis Blues that totally changed the landscape in jazz music (Gioia, 2011). It is important to note that there was a massive shifting of the focus of jazz music from collective improvisation, that were common across all the bands in the United States, to solo performance. Such advancements are associated with the efforts of Armstrong and other contemporaneous jazz trumpeters of his time.

Furthermore, Stanford and Forsyth (2002) argued that the characteristic recording of the age, and that which reflected New Orleans' jazz’s original sound, was Benton Overstreet's Early Every Morn’s interpretation that was performed in 1924 by Red Onion Jazz Babies. The leaders of Red Onion Jazz Babies included Clarence Williams and featured Louis Armstrong, Bechet, pianist Lil Hardin, and blues vocalist Alberta Hunter. Jazz music at this time was gaining popularity among the young listeners partly because the government had prohibited the use marijuana and therefore young people could find opportunity to use these drugs during the performance of jazz. Another reason that helped to transform the jazz industry was the cut songs that were celebrated for the smooth and elegant phrasing of trumpet solos.

For instance, Stanford and Forsyth (2002) not that notable composers and innovators like Louis Armstrong recorded tantalizing music like Gut Bucket Blues in 1925 and Cornet Chop Suey in 1926. This was exactly the same to how the other bands ware becoming mere background; Heebie Jeebies ( that was recorded in 1926 was not only a transformative step in the jazz community but also represented a turning point because it was the first black recording of scat singing. This step led to an affluent of scat singing and many jazz musicians tried to imitate Louis Armstrong with his performance and style in scat singing. Actually, the year when Heebie Jeebies was performed heralded the beginning of a total transformation in the use of sound intonations and control in jazz music.

Jazz music was always considered a social enterprise (Stanford and Forsyth, 2002). As such, it was performed in a band with a group of six or more people each playing a particular instrument. However, there was a new approach to jazz as trumpeters like Armstrong, popularized individualism in jazz performance. This was in contrast with the original socialists principles. Similarly, Jelly Roll Morton used solos to increase the sophistication of orchestral music while focusing mainly on the collection of sound instruments in the performance. In addition, the efforts of Armstrong to see a change in the way jazz music was performed led to the solos becoming longer while displaying a more enhanced sense of control, unlike in the past where solos were shorter and depended on the instrumentalists to control the performance. Arguably, the focus turned towards extended virtuoso solos as they were becoming popular with the fans of jazz (Stanford and Forsyth, 2002).

The jazz community also welcomed a new phenomenon during this period where scat singing became popular with Armstrong inventing a new style of singing scat.  Jazz scatting thus became like a conversation sometimes becoming completely estranged from the musical tunes one could imagine that the presenter did not know what he was presenting.  As observed by Stanford and Forsyth, the voice is what was initially used an instrument. However, through the efforts of Armstrong its trend would change to be characterized by numerous instruments, “away from the passion of blues, the conventions of the opera and the frigidity of pop, (Stanford and Forsyth, 2002).” Through Armstrong’s music, human voice was turned not only to an instrument but also an instrument that was as justifiable for improvising as any other instrument that was being used in jazz music at that period.

The Trumpet Revolution

The trumpet revolution was one of the important changes the jazz music underwent during the period starting with Armstrong and ending with Miles (Gioia, 2011). Coincidentally, the trumpet revolution started with Armstrong himself in his hit song, Ain't Misbehavin' ( that was recorded in 1929. The jazz one started appreciating the importance of improvising that came to form an important aspect in the growth of jazz music during this period. For instance, the jazz music started improvising on a theme in the songs using simple tools. According to Ulanov (2011), the failure of some iconic jazz artists to contribute to the writing of jazz music influenced the young jazz musicians whose major concerns were the music’s ‘look and feel’ and not the main contributions of their compositions, (Ulanov, 2011). This means that jazz music was focusing more on style of delivery than the substance in the music. However, the contribution of early jazz music in making jazz music acceptable even among the middle White cannot be challenged because it is during this time that the white community both in America and outside became so much inclined to the jazz music to the point of borrowing the beats and styles in to their traditional music genres.

Cool Jazz Movement

According to Ulanov (2011), the emergence of cool jazz movement began with the work of Miles Davis in 1940s. During this period, many young people were enthusiastic about jazz music together with already jazz musicians like Armstrong. The jazz community began to embrace the use harmony mutes that later became popular among different bands from different cultures. Jazz was transforming itself from the old school styles that were performed by older generations and now new generations were coming up with new ways of performing jazz in what they described as spacious, relaxed, and melodic way that distinguished it from the older music.  Most of these evolutionary steps in the way jazz music was to be performed were pioneered by Miles Davis and quickly became the characteristic standard to which many other jazz trumpet players were to depend on as their reference.

As noted by Schuller (1991), what became notable during this period was that jazz community was not yet done with imitating innovative trumpeters, innovators, and composers that were coming up with unique pieces and easily attract the attention of the fans towards them. Schuller (1991)has further noted that an important factor in the history of jazz music is its ability to remain dynamic as witnessed from the way the industry was adjusting to the new styles in the industry very fast. It was as though other musicians and trumpet players were waiting for an innovative composer to comeup with a unique style of singing or playing different instruments to pick up the frenzy.

Additionally, Ulanov (2011) noted that 1940s also witnesses the emergence of hard bop performances that contrasted the usual bebop. This was a change in the way the different tempos were used to project the sound of musical instrument. In this case, the jazz music shifted to a much slower tempos and a less fundamental approach to harmonious tunes and melody. There was a widespread adoption of popular tunes into the jazz music mostly from the American Songbook. Hard bop marked a departure from the cool jazz because it encouraged the use of hard beats that drew their reference to the blues both traditionally and in popular rhythms. Among the most notable albums that helped to bring hard bop to the center stage was the Walkin’ performed in 1949. This album was instrumental in bringing the hard bop style of performance to the jazz community with wide acceptance even to the competing bands that were performing from various cultural step-ups.

Jazz music was mostly associated with young people who were out to break the law. However, the 20th century jazz musicians led by the likes of Miles Davis helped to change the perspective that people and the government were having towards jazz music. Indeed this was achieved during this period through groundbreaking compositions that depicted the culture and practices of different towns where the bands originated. For instance, Vail (1993) notes that the 1957 album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis hit the chat and became popular even as institutions and governments started to appreciate the importance of Jazz music as a way of communication that could be nurtured and assist different racial groups across the country to voice their issues. Many jazz musicians of this time contributed to the acceptance of jazz music both in the United States middle whites and abroad where other countries were starting to like jazz music from America. In London, an annual event was opened to celebrate jazz music and the musicians that presented in those annual events contributed to the continued acceptance of jazz as a respectable genre in music.

Modal Jazz

As the improvising songs became more popular in 1950s, modal jazz started to emerge. It relied on the scale of music as the foundational structures in the improvisations. Earlier on, the jazz community had emphasized that the creation of melody in the performance of a solo was the work of the soloist and was vital in ensuring the achievement of chord progression. According to Vail (1993), this new approach was an indication that the composition or improvisation of jazz music had shifted the focus from the chord to the scale of music. This was an evolution that was started by influential and creative trumpeters like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis who were in influential positions during this period. The modal jazz thus influenced the award-winning album by Davis in 1959 Kind of Blue and the Hello Dolly by Armstrong in 1964. The Hello, Dolly topped the chart in the US managing to unseat the Beatles from this position for the first time in three months.

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a change in the instruments that were being used in performing jazz. It turned from the traditional trumpets to electric guitars and other instruments that were using electricity (Ulanov, 2011). Miles Davis started using electric instruments when he changed from his normal guitar to perform In a Silent Way in 1969. The song became a hit thus opening an avalanche of a new breed of jazz community that was using electrical instruments to play their songs.   During this period, the jazz community in the United States also experienced disintegration, as it seemed like the vibrancy that the j community had enjoyed during the earlier years was not attainable again.


The improvisations in jazz music that occurred in 1920s and emergence of popular bands from New Orleans helped to launch jazz to a transformative path with popular jazz trumpeters like Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Johnny St Cyr, Lil Hardin, and Louis Armstrong making immense contributions to the development and growth of jazz music in America. The period starting with Louis Armstrong and culminating with Miles Davis is an important time in the history of jazz music as it represents the most important evolution that the jazz industry has undergone, in its performance, styles, and instruments that are used in the performance. As a pedigree of the African music, jazz music was popular among the African Americans with the 20th century evolution popularizing the music among the Europeans and other regions in the world. More specifically is the ambassadorial approach that Louis Armstrong took to popularize jazz music outside America even as the world continued to embrace jazz music. 

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