The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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only since the early 1940s, when most of the original performers were dead, or at an age that enabled them to take credit for contributions they may not in fact have made. The quantity of wishful thinking, deliberate misstatement and contradiction in the stories that have been readily accepted by historians makes it impossible to determine who the real progenitors of jazz were and what the quality of their contribution was. To cite one example, though Bunk Johnson has been widely publicized as Louis Armstrong's mentor and as a member of Buddy Bolden's band, much of the information he supplied was contradicted by other New Orleans musicians; Louis Armstrong has con­sistently maintained that his sole musical influence was Joe "King" Oliver. Since there was no phonograph recording of any jazz until 1917, and no substantial recording of Negro jazz until about 1922, the accuracy of these early values will never be determined.
It is thus equally difficult to decide when the stage was reached at which music was being played that could be called jazz. It seems improbable that anything thus definable was heard before the late 1890s, but here one is hampered both by the lack of recorded evidence and by the lack of a stable defini­tion of the term itself. The music we recognize today as jazz is a synthesis drawn originally from six principal sources: rhythms from West Africa; harmonic structure from European classical music; melodic and harmonic qualities from nineteenth-century American folk music; religious music; work songs and minstrel shows.
Dr. Marshall Stearns, in his absorbing study of what he calls the "pre-history of jazz", poses and answers one major question: "What is the connection between jazz and West African music? Perhaps the most obvious similarity is the rhythm . . . take a tribal ceremony in Dahomey ... the main instrument , , . is the drum—usually a set of three drums ... At its peak, the sound may seem like a combination of disordered pneumatic drills. The music is polyrhythmic ... A common foundation for West African music is a combination of 3/4, 6/8 and 4/4 time signatures . . . something of this engaging rhythm that identifies a lot of jazz for us came from West Africa. Ifs a