The word “jazz” did not become commonplace until around 1920 even though it had spent the preceding decade establishing itself as a musical genre. A mix of European harmony and African rhythm, blended with the current styles of the time such as ragtime and rhythm and blues, Jazz can be seen as an amalgamation of different cultures and has had huge influences on, and evolved concurrently with, American society in the past century. The birthplace of jazz is the subject of much more controversy than its undoubted influence on society. The most commonly reported and, in my view, logical birthplace of jazz is New Orleans. Being a port city (with people migrating from all over the world), it was a melting pot of diverse racial composition. Atkins (1995, p18) observes that unlike the stern protestant ethic found elsewhere in the south, the attitudes prevailing in New Orleans encouraged dance and music. It was a city with a great culture of celebration and rich music tradition, a city with a nightlife that allowed musicians to play with, and learn from, one another. These elements united in New Orleans in a way unrivaled by any other city and were crucial influences in the creation of jazz’s identity. Since its birth, jazz has spread across the globe like anything contagious. The more people were exposed the more it evolved. It has seen more than a century of humanities growth, from slavery in the early 1900s to America’s first black president and everything in between. It has been used as a creative emotional outlet by not only the African Americans but by people of all racial backgrounds and, to this day, is still evolving.
New Orleans and The Great Migration
New Orleans was unlike other cities. As Driggs (1982, p20) observes, music was part of everyday life. You didn’t have to travel or pay to be exposed to it. Atkins (1995, p19) notes that New Orleans boasted the first legal red-light district in the Western world. “The District” or “Storyville” as it was known was a 16-block area that saw saloons, brothels and dance clubs operate with prostitution services without being condemned by law. This created employment opportunities for musicians and entertainers alike. It also provided another platform for musicians to develop their own musicality and style. Because the punters attending these establishments weren’t too fussed by the music being offered, the musicians had a great deal of freedom to create new music. 1917 saw the closure of Storyville and, as Driggs (1982, p20) explains, a mass exodus of talented jazz musicians from New Orleans followed. This coincided with the spread of jazz throughout the United States. Driggs (1982, p21) goes on to explain how the focus of jazz had begun to shift to Chicago and then New York in the 1920s. Driggs (1982, p50) observes how ‘Big Bill’ Thompson ran the town wide open for most of the 1920s with his syndicate and gangsters like Al Capone making a farce out of prohibition. This would have...