Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Afro-American Origin (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

African American (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz) Mysterious as the birth of jazz is, it is firmly accepted it originated in the African musical culture
Mysterious as the birth of #jazz is, it is firmly accepted it originated in the African musical culture #AfricanAmerican #music Click To Tweet
A - African American (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz)

If there’s something certain about jazz is that nothing is certain about jazz. We don’t know for certain where or when it was born. We don’t know for certain why and how it emerged as its own form of music. Even a definition for it is not easily founded.
But it is normally agreed on the fact that jazz arose in the South of the United States around the turn of the XX century and that, although it was always a mixture of European’s and African American’s musical traditions, the characteristics that most define jazz – especially early jazz – found their origin very far away in time and place: in Africa.

The place where a first form of music that then evolved into many others, including jazz, was the Southern plantation.
The communities of slaves on plantations were very diverse. Slaves came from different parts of Africa and often spoke different native languages, but music was something they all understood because it was a common part of all their different backgrounds. Slowly but steadily, music became a form of communication and one of the very few forms of expressions for slaves, who would draw strongly on their African heritage, but also picked up elements  of the owners’ European music culture. The plantation was one of the first places where contamination occurred.

Music on the plantations manifests in two different, main forms:

  • Spirituals: a syncretic form of religious expression. It had its roots in African spirituality, but was generally tolerated by plantation owners because interpreted as a conversion to Christianity.
  • Work song and field hollers: work in the fields was repetitive and monotonous. Work songs created a rhythm to work at, with strong, steady beats. A leader would sing a line, all the other participants would respond.

Early manifestations of music and songs on the plantations, both sacred and secular, were very similar in structure. The situation when they occurred was what differentiated them. In later years, this connection between sacred and secular music created quite the controversy inside the black community.

Slave on the run towards the North of the United States

Another thing they had in common was that these songs often had a hidden meaning, a coded message comprehensible only to the community participating in the song and hidden to the slave owners. This secret meaning was sometimes meant to uplift the community and give hope. Some other times, it contained a message that was spread among the different plantations, which is why field hollers were sometimes forbidden.
The communal creation of the music, the syncopated rhythm and the “call and response” practice were all characteristics of African music, that would then evolved inside the African American community, often independently from the dominant white culture. Jazz was one of the many forms of music that emerged from this common experience.


RESOURCES

Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989
Sullivan, Megan, African-American Music as Rebellion: From Slavesong to Hip-Hop (PDF)

Hub Pages – How did jazz begin? The start of a history of jazz
Jazz – Jazz Heritages

81 Comments

  • Lillian Csernica
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 02:42

    Wow! I didn’t know about the field hollers. Thanks!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 08:00

      There’s so much hidden in history, don’t you find? 🙂

  • Parul Thakur
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 03:16

    Great post and so much information that I never knew. The source and inspiration for music comes from places we haven’t even imagined.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 08:00

      That’s true. But I think that’s what any kind of art does. It makes us free 🙂

  • Mary Burris
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 07:11

    Wonderful post. I learned so much! It just makes me appreciate music that much more.

    Mary
    Twitter: @KnottyMarie
    Literary Gold
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 08:02

      This is what I like of history: it always makes sense. There is always a reason why things happene and when we learn it, we know something more about our past, but often also about our presend and ourselves.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • Sharon Himsl
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 07:20

    Fascinating post. Had heard of coded messages in black music before. Had forgotten this but it does make sense. Clever on the part of slaves in communicating their messages in song. Jazz is less American than we think, although we do take credit!

    Pioneer Women in Aviation A-Z

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 08:05

      Well, I think jazz IS an American music. It came into being because of America’s particular history and social situation. I don’t think it could have arisen anywhere else.
      But nothing arises out of nothing. Everything has a history and a ‘before’, and this is what the African roots of jazz tell us about.
      Just my thought 🙂

  • Raesquiggles
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 08:19

    Fascinating history to Jazz. Quite a few of my family members have played in jazz bands, so I shall be back to read more.
    @Raesquiggles from
    The Quiet Writer

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 09:33

      I’m happy you find it intersting. Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 08:46

    I’d heard of the spirituals, but not field hollers – such a musically rich, but troubled start to the history of jazz.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 09:35

      It’s the history of people. Understanding the music, let us understand the people. Though for me, understaning the history of people made me appreciate the music more. When I started my research, I knew nothing of jazz 🙂

  • Mithila Menezes @Fabulus1710
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 10:55

    The hidden meanings in the songs have a really meaningful significance!

    All the best for the challenge, and I hope you’ve had a great first day 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 12:10

      Thanks for stopping by, Mithila. I’m just halfway through it… I’m anticipating a very busy night 😉

  • Tasha
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 09:07

    Beautifully informative as always, thank you so much for all the details I hadn’t heard before. I had no idea that the particulars of the origins of Jazz were so vague :).
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 09:40

      Jazz emerged from a melting pot of cultures and influences, just like many other music forms in the same time and places (as ragtime, for example). So the vogueness isn’t as much about what and when created the right conditions for the birth of jazz, but on the details.
      We know that jazz existed in and around New Orleans at a certain time, but was that the place and the time when it first started to be played? Nobody knows. We know that some of the jazz characteristcs come from certain influences (as I tried to expose), but how and when these influences congretated in a recognizable form of music the first time, again, we don’t know.

      Yes, jazz appears to be a very mysterious art 😉

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 11:04

    Interesting history about Jazz; like the comment about the field hollers. Great start to the AtoZ! Aloha to you on A day!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 12:11

      Happy you found it intersting, Gail. Your have a very good opening post!

  • Anabel
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 11:39

    The world has music in common. The field hollers remind me of Gaelic waulking songs sung in the Highlands and Islands as women beat (waulked) the tweed to soften it. The rhythm is similar.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 12:13

      True, eh? There are so many similarities among different cultures around the world, and not just in music. One would wonder about it…

  • Megan Morgan
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 11:51

    This is very interesting! I didn’t realize the songs had messages in them. Great post!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 12:15

      Thanks Megan. Happy you liked it 🙂
      I’m going over to your post, can’t wait to start reading you ‘very badly written’ story 😉

  • Mimesis Heidi Dahlsveen
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 12:41

    How brilliant to read!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 14:57

      Thanks 🙂
      Your story which opens your challenge gave me the chills.

  • Roshan Radhakrishnan
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 13:05

    Thanks. This was something I did not know and frankly, would love to read more on. As many mentioned above, the spiritual part I could have guessed but the holler aspect was new info.
    Will be returning for the remaining days of the challenge to see more 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 14:59

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Roshan. Happy you liked my post. Will visit you soon 🙂

  • Pam Margolis
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 14:02

    My gram used to play the piano at church. she couldnt read music but she could pick up ANY tune and start jamming her butt off! she could play a negro spiritual or a good old fashioned classical music piece. all by ear. she sang with a deep voice and her call and response voice could rouse the dead. I’d like to think that some of that came from the slave history of our ancestors.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 15:00

      In so many ways, I think music is the most universal of arts 🙂

  • Stephanie Bird
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 14:34

    Negro Spirituals, Prison Songs and Hollers give me the chills. I have tried to incorporate them into my novel that’s in its second draft form. They are such an inspiration to me as an African American woman and they can be inspirational to all that open their hearts to these deeply felt messages.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 15:02

      I think writing about our own culture is easier for soem aspect, but so much more
      difficult for other.
      What is your story about, Stephanie? I’d love to know more.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 15:42

    I am glad you are doing this 🙂 It is a very informative theme. When I teach American culture, my students are often very interested in musical genres and their origins.
    Happy A to Z! 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:30

      What has fascinated me the most about researching jazz is that it wasn’t just a matter of music. It was a social movement in so many respects. I hope I’ll be able to let this across 🙂

  • Debbie D
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 16:03

    I’ve learned a lot from this post. Thanks for the education! I didn’t know about the hidden messages or the field hollers.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:32

      Hi Debbie and thanks so much for stopping by. I’m happy you liked my openign post 🙂

  • Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 16:40

    Very interesting, especially the part about hidden messages.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:34

      A lot of people seem to be fascinated with that part of history. Secret languages are always intriguing, aren’t they?

  • Modern Gypsy
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 16:43

    Something so profoundly beautiful emerged from something so horrific! Loved the history lesson. Looking forward to the rest of your posts!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:35

      I hope you’ll like it. I found the history of jazz fascinating 🙂

  • Robin Rivera
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 16:46

    It’s always interesting to learn more about how cultures mix and influence each other. Learning Jazz has it’s roots in field songs isn’t too surprising, but I didn’t know it. It’s going to be a great experience watching the history of Jazz unfold this month.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:36

      It was a great experience fro me to research it. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride 🙂

  • Shilpa Garg
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 17:08

    This made for such a fascinating and an insightful read! Wow!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:37

      Happy you liked it, Shilpa 🙂
      Thansk so much for stopping by.

  • melanie schulz
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 17:27

    I think I’m going to have to get that CD–the music is so stirring.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 1, 2016 at 19:38

      It’s beautiful, isn’t it? When I was looking for a song to include in my post, I listened to this and I thought, Ok this is the one 🙂

  • Carol
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 21:15

    Fascinating stuff!

  • Jeffrey Scott
    Posted April 1, 2016 at 21:38

    Great introduction into the world of jazz age jazz.
    I never realized some of the roots of jazz and that many other roots have been obscured over time.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 06:49

      Happy you liked it, Jeffrey. History has so much to reveal to us, if we are willing to listen 😉

  • Laura Roberts
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 02:04

    What about the blues connection? I always think of jazz and blues being close companions, since they’ve influenced each other and came about around the same time, both from that Mississippi region near New Orleans and the delta of the Mississippi River.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 07:10

      Have you seen my post about B, yet? 😉
      Loved your fist post about Chicago. All those pics. Lovely!

  • L. Moon
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 00:33

    Music really does define and bond people doesnt it? Jazz speaks from the heart all the way to the toes.
    A well written article that I enjoyed and learned from.
    Thanks and happy A to Z challenge to you.
    I’m A to Zing from: Fill the Cracks and Moondustwriter’s Blog

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 07:08

      Happy you enjoyed it. I loved your post about Africa 🙂

  • Molly
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 00:35

    I know precious little about Jazz… although I do enjoy listening to the music.
    I can see where Jazz did originate from African Spirituals, though (which I also enjoy)
    I look forward to learning more throughout the month.

    Molly @MyCozyBookNook
    My Cozy Book Nook
    Revising Life after 50

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 07:05

      Thanks for stopping by, Molly.
      I’m enjoying your theme too. Never been to Paris, so your theme will also teach something to me 🙂

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 03:42

    Jazz is very much something you know it when you hear it, but extremely hard to define. Actually, I think defining it would detract from it.

    Very insightful post on the roots of jazz in the African slave population.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 07:11

      Like Louis Armstrong used to say, if you need to ask what it is, you’ll never know 😉

  • Sheena-kay Graham
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 03:47

    Work songs definitely helped slaves get through hard forced labor. Your posts are very informative and thought provoking. Thanks for taking part in the challenge.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 07:16

      It’s a pleasure. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Zeljka
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 11:27

    Great post and very informative, too. Looking forward to the following ones! All the best

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 18:44

      Thanks Zeljka. I’m enjoying your photos too 🙂

  • Pat R
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 13:01

    Again, (just finished reading about the Blues) very informative. I see where you made a comment that you knew very little about jazz before you started digging. Nice work digging then!!:) And thanks for taking us along for the ride.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 18:45

      It’s been a very good journay indeed. I leanred so many things. And because I feel enriched by the journey, I want to share it.

      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Shalini R
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 15:35

    Thanks for sharing this. Such an insightful read!

  • Yolanda Renee
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 00:58

    Love the history, thank you.!

    Happy Second Day of the A to Z!
    Ninga Minion @YolandaRenee from
    Defending The Pen
    Parallels
    Murderous Imaginings

  • Anna Tan
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 08:51

    I knew bits of this, but it’s nice to get a bigger picture on the origins of jazz.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 14:11

      Glad you liked it. And thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Claire Noland
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 15:05

    A is for Amazing which describes this post. You are off to a great start and I’m looking forward to following you through the alphabet.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 17:08

      Oh, thanks so much, Claire. I’m happy you find my post interesting 🙂

  • Wicked Goodies
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 09:39

    Great post! Have you seen the Ken Burns series? It’s excellent.
    – Fellow A-Z-er

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 13:51

      Happy you liked it 🙂
      I’ve seen only the first episodes of Burns’s “Jazz” (the time I’m interested in) and “Last Call” about Prohibition. These are all great documentaries.

  • Tawnya
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 17:00

    Awesome post! I loved learning this part of musical history!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 19:52

      So happy you liked it. Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Trackback: Field Notes on the A to Z Blog Challenge
  • Alexis
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 19:58

    Jazz has such a deep history. Great post, taking it all the way back to the beginning. Important to discuss where it started.

    Creative Staycation

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 20:01

      Researching jazz was such an interesting journey.
      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Alex Daw
    Posted April 16, 2016 at 04:17

    Wow! I loved that historical recording. Great theme for the A to Z challenge. Thank you for sharing the knowledge. Alex from
    Family Tree Frog

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 16, 2016 at 06:27

      And thanks you for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  • Kristin
    Posted September 5, 2020 at 14:46

    I guess I had not found you when this was first posted. I did know this about jazz and black music, bit great to see you spreading the information.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted September 5, 2020 at 18:32

      It’s been four years since I first posted this series. Can’t believe it’s already that long.
      This is one of my favourites, though. I enjoyed learning about the social impact of jazz and I loved searching and listening to all the videos.

Leave a comment

0