The importance of jazz in American culture.

The origins of jazz may lie in the blues rhythms that developed in the period immediately following the American Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. The distinctive element of the blues is that through the performance of a solo artist, an attempt is made to translate emotions into music through humming, moaning, and soundless effects added to the actual words of the song (Halim, No Date). Jazz developed from the blues, but it differed from the blues in that it had a more cheerful, uplifting note within it. In the words of Stanley Crouch, jazz historian and critic, the love for the music felt by both white and black communities helped to make jazz “a futuristic social force in which one was finally judged purely on the basis of ones individual ability. Jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art in America.” (Hentoff, 2009). It was in essence a tool to reach out to people everywhere, irrespective of their color and therefore a tool that could function as a means to break down segregation and lead to the development of a non-segregated society.

Lewine (1992) has described how jazz slowly became synonymous with popular culture. America emerged into the 20th century as a society where culture was necessarily associated with the high brow, more genteel sections of society. But jazz entered this cultural arena as a vital new element that was so distinctive that it appeared to be “the new product of a new age”, while culture appeared to be traditional, having developed over the centuries (Lewine, 1992:7). Yet, culture and jazz appeared to define each other, because the emergence of this new form of music which was (a) spontaneous (b) raucous and (c) participatory in that the audiences joined in vigorously, and its enormous popularity redefined the entire element of what constituted culture.

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