Although pinpointing where exactly jazz originated is quite a difficult undertaking, it is generally accepted that early jazz appeared as recognizable music in and around New Orleans at the turn of the XX century.
New Orleans was the ideal place to produce the kind of multi-influenced music that jazz is. At the turn of the XX century, New Orleans was home to many different cultures that clashed, but also met in a multicultural environment. Many languages were spoken in the city, French, Spanish and English being prominent. There was a strong Caribbean influence that prompted a high tolerance toward the black community, which allowed slaves to retain much of their culture. Each of these different cultures brought something to the table of music, but the Creoles in particular
united in themselves most of these characteristics.
Hig-brow music and low-class music coexisted in New Orleans and sometimes crossed paths. It was an extraordinarily ripe mix of oral music techniques of lower-class origins that by merging with a more formal concept of music adapted itself to the new demands of the professional dance halls.
Jazz, this new music, came of age in New Orleans, and when jazzmen left the South and moved North on the tracks of the Great Migration, this music became known as Dixieland.
Dixieland instrumentation and band size could be very flexible but primarily consisted of a “front line” (trumpets or cornet, trombone and a clarinet) and a “rhythm section” (guitar or banjo, bass or tuba, piano and drums). It very much resembled the organization of marching bands in New Orleans, which were probably the firsts to perform Dixieland.
The defining Dixieland sound is the “collective improvisation”. This happens when one instrument – usually the trumpet – plays the melody or a recognizable paraphrase or variation of it and the other instruments of the “front line” improvise around that melody.
It creates music that is always evolving and may even sound chaotic at first. In fact, in the 1920s, many people didn’t even consider jazz to be proper music. Thomas Edison famously commented that it sounds better when played backwards.
Still, a lot of people did get the gist of it. In the 1920s, Dixieland was probably the most popular form of jazz.
About Entertainment – What is Early Jazz?
Prezi – Dixieland
Gonola – Dixieland Jazz: Innovator in New Orleans music history
New World Encyclopedia – Dixieland