Art has always been one of the main indicators of the state of society. It appeared at the dawn of civilization and were used to reflect feelings and emotions a person had towards a certain phenomenon or process. Besides, developing along with society, art obtained new features and provided numerous opportunities to reveal some process or emphasize values appreciated at a certain period of time. Therefore, this unique phenomenon has always been used as the efficient tool to discover the problematic areas and introduce the necessity of some actions.
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Satire, caricatures or folk songs often revolved around some nagging problem that impacted the whole community. The evolution of society and the further development of human thought conditioned the sophistication of art and its functions. It became the powerful instrument that could change the attitude to a certain issue or even introduce the new movement promoting the significant shifts in the mentality of people. Jazz became one of the unique phenomena of this sort.
This music genre appeared at a very important period of time. The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in the USA could be characterized by a number of significant shifts in the structure of society and mentality of people. The reconsideration of the approaches towards liberty, freedom, will, democracy, etc. was also followed by the WWI that emphasized the necessity of the new value system. Moreover, society started to recognize the importance of the humane attitude towards a human being and the unique character of every individual.
Nevertheless, despite all these processes the question of discrimination, racism, and segregation still remained topical and served as the basis for vigorous discussions. The hypocrisy of society was that democracy and humanistic approach were related only to some privileged classes while the other had to enjoy their current status. Yet, the rebellious spirit of the epoch conditioned the development of resistance to the given ideas. Being one of the most discriminated classes, African Americans tried to use music to underline the great value of their culture and express their feelings. In these regards, jazz became one of the main peaceful tools of their struggle.
African American musicians gathering in New Orleans to improvise and share their music could be taken as the founders of this music genre. At first, it was considered as the local phenomena and suffered from the biased attitude to African American population. Between 1917 and 1923 a number of jazz musicians have to abandon New Orleans because of racism and discrimination (“Jazz centers of the 1920s” para. 2).
However, this fact only stimulated the spread of the genre across the USA as these musicians promoted the new sound and conditioned the appearance of new jazz bands. Furthermore, the character of this movement and the obstacles which musicians faced in everyday life, contributed to the formation of the new image of jazz. It was taken as the way of self-expression and resistance to dominant stereotypes and biased attitude towards African American population in the USA.
The further development of this music genre gave rise to a number of concerns related to the state of depressed social groups in the USA. The first one was obviously the thirst for liberty and equality. It was one of the core components of jazz music as its character implied the freedom of a performer to play in the way he/she wanted. Improvisation became the crucial distinctive feature of this music genre, contributing to the further development of its unique character. Additionally, jazz was used as the platform to reveal the problems peculiar to the society of that time (Seago 44).
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The popularity of these musicians promoted the great validity of their arguments and impacted the communitys attitude to the existing problem. Moreover, the upward social mobility among black jazz musician was another significant factor that impacted the popularity of this movement and contributed to the development of its unique ideology (Zola para. 6).
It is widely accepted that jazz was one of the main phenomena that triggered the reconsideration of the approach towards the culture of African Americans, their lifestyle, and rights. For centuries, representatives of this social group, their customs, and arts had been considered as inferior. This attitude conditioned the existence of the prejudiced and even scornful attitude towards African Americans. Jazz appeared at the times when this approach still remained dominant, and lynching was the common practice.
The incongruity between the values appreciated by society and white peoples vision of the role of minorities served as the basis for vigorous debates. Jazz became one of the main remedies to prove the right of black people to share their culture and become the same members of society (Zola para. 5). Furthermore, the growth of the popularity of this movement and the attempts of jazz performers to bring the problem into the public eye promoted the shifts in the mentality of people.
Nevertheless, the further development and formation of jazz impacted its empowerment. The appearance of the world-known performers evidenced the attitude towards this movement and the blistering growth of its popularity. This music genre performed a number of socially important functions and highlighted the major problems in the sphere of race relations Additionally, it also changed along with society and obtained new features. For this reason, it is possible to distinguish several important periods characterized by the appearance of new ideas and personalities promoting them.
Dizzy Gillespie was one of the brightest representatives of this genre. Being an outstanding musician, Gillespie, along with Carter and Barnet developed their own unique approach to music and introduced the bebop area characterized by fast tempo, complex chord progression, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation (“Dizzy Gillespie Biography” para. 1). His contribution to the development of jazz could hardly be overestimated as he was “one of the first musicians to infuse Afro-Cuban, Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms with jazz” (“Dizzy Gillespie Biography” para. 4).
Besides, like any other performer, he also was the ardent adherer of the idea of equality and used his trumpet to promote the idea of tolerance and democracy. Gillespie also conditioned the appearance of a number of followers who tried to use the same approaches to music and spread its influence on the whole state. In general, the bebop era revealed the problems that remain in the early 1940s in the USA and promoted the further increase of the importance of jazz.
The growth of the popularity of the given music genre was also conditioned by Duke Ellington, who was an outstanding composer and performer. He started his career in Broadway nightclubs being the bandleader of a sextet. All musicians belonging to this band had their unique styles and contributed to the creation of the unique sounding. Later on, Ellington created a number of masterpieces and promoted the development of swing era, characterized by experimentations in music, its beat, and rhythm. The further development of this style impacted the attitude to jazz greatly and created the basis for the gradual increase of its popularity.
This process was crucial for the evolution of the attitude towards this genre as it showed that the there were a number of possibilities for its further development in terms of the given cultural phenomenon. Being a very important figure, Ellington also tried to promote the development of the whole African American culture and considered music the most efficient tool struggle with discrimination and biased attitude (“Duke Ellington Biography” para. 7).
Finally, it is impossible not to mention Louis Armstrong who is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians whose impact on the genre could hardly be overestimated. Having engaged in jazz in the 1920s, he was one of the originators of this movement. Armstrong belongs to the New Orleans musicians who tried to find their own sounding and style. His extended trumpet solos and unique approach to music contributed to the appearance of the new trend in jazz. Besides, in the course of time, Armstrong became one of most recognizable figures in terms of the new music genre.
He cooperated with a number of other talented performers like Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith, etc. and created inspirational jazz that had the great positive effect on the whole image of the movement. Furthermore, being the grandson of slaves, he perfectly realized the necessity of change in the structure of society and peoples attitude towards discriminated groups (“Louis Armstrong Biography” para. 2). For this reasons, his activity could be considered the attempts to draw attention to the racial question and promote the African American culture across the world. His creativity and works are considered the main symbols of the great values of African American culture and prove its right for existence.
Altogether, jazz became the unique phenomena that appeared as the response to the significant processes in society and mentality of people. Suffering from biased attitude and discrimination, African Americans tried to struggle for their rights and prove that their culture should be accepted as the unique phenomenon. In these regards, jazz appeared as the synthesis of the American and African cultures. Moreover, improvisation became the main distinctive feature of the given music genre as it symbolized the thirst for freedom and challenged to the norms accepted in society.
The blistering evolution of jazz was conditioned by the beneficial social conditions and experiments in music which resulted in the in the creation of new forms and motifs. Furthermore, the significance of the phenomena was evidenced by the fame and popularity of outstanding performers who became popular due to their belonging to jazz movement. Being the bright representatives of their social class, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, etc. obviously tried to promote their own culture. For this reason, this music genre was one of the main remedies to initiate the reconsideration of the approach to racism and attain equal rights and liberty. That is why jazz could be taken as one of the greatest phenomena in the art of the 20th century.
Duke Ellington Biography. n.d.
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Seago, Lynne.”From Potent to Popular: The Effects of Racism on Chicago Jazz 1920-1930.” Constructing the Past. 1.1 (2000): 43-51.
Zola, Philipp. The Social Effects of Jazz. n.d.