When tracing the sources of any artform it is easy to get lost. Sure, one can connect the dots from one milestone to another before finally arriving at a defining moment in said artform's history, yet sometimes the dots don't line up that easily. In the case of jazz there are too many factors from too many cultures to make the case for a straight timeline to its beginnings; in fact its history plays more like two or three parallel timelines which finally come to a head to create a new artform. Yet confusing as this may seem it is only fitting that a form of music known mostly for its sense of improvisation should enjoy such a varied, piecemeal background. Jazz, as we know it, is really a fusion of three separate cultures and their musical contributions: African, African American, and European, each of which play an important part in the creation of one of the most enduring forms of popular American music.
It seems terrible to think of anything positive coming from such an ugly tragedy, and indeed no excuses can be made for something so atrocious, but in the 1800's when hundreds of thousands of Africans were enslaved and brought to work in America, they were bringing with them the seedlings of a musical tradition whose legacy would still be felt today. Though the Africans may be far removed from the African Americans who pioneered jazz, they are still responsible for many of the building blocks that were later to be found in jazz music. Their propensity for music as a group, rather than a singular experience, as well as their usage of a “call-and-answer” device and what Collier calls a “coarseness of timber” (Collier, p. 13), namely an impure tone similar to the instrumental blue notes later popularized in blues music, would all rear their head in jazz music, although instrumentally
as opposed to its African counterpart which was mostly vocal, Africans relying heavily on the rhythmic use of drums for instrumental accompaniement.
Upon their arrival in America, and forced placement in plantations, it was clear that the cultural traditions of the Africans were at risk. Forced by separation and, in some places, the loss of the use of drums for fear that “the slaves could communicate and concert a revolt” (Oakley, p. 15) Africans now had to develop new musical outlets. Stripped of their drums they were forced to revert to an oral outpouring, which was perfectly suited to the workfields where their hands were constantly busy. The work songs and “field-hollers” utilized both the group dynamic and the call-and-answer music of their traditional African upbringing. The other alternative, and one which gained widespread popularity (where available) was to learn European instruments, such as crudely fashioned banjos, violins or guitars. With these European instruments came an understanding of the previously ignored European concept of harmony and thus the advent of the heavily harmonized negro spiritual, devotional songs sung...