The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

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

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African and American music does not yield clear parallels. For one thing, jazz is a measured music, the structure of which de­pends upon fixed beats, occurring in rhythmic patterns as un­mistakable and immediately identifiable as the pulse of a metronome. African drumming, submitted to the most painstak­ing of auditions, simply does not break down into a structured rhythmic music; there are shifts of time and points and counter­points of rhythm that make accurate notation impossible. As for the melodic qualities and quantities of African music, these too are shaped by a tonal and rhythmic conception entirely outside the Western diatonic tradition. To speak of the blue notes— the flatted third and seventh—as they are inflected against their natural position within a fixed key, or the alterations of pitch of jazz singers or instrumentalists, or their swooping glissandos, as American developments of African music is to talk unlettered nonsense. The basic chordal and melodic and rhythmic struc­ture of the blues and of the jazz that has developed out of the blues is firmly within the orbit of Western folk music. There is far more of the sound of jazz in Middle-European gypsy fiddling than there is in a corps of African drummers."3
One fusion that apparently took place with the importation of slaves from Africa to the new world was the blending of Spanish folk music with the West African songs. Cuba gave birth to the habanera; to the rhumba, supposedly named after a West African dance step; and to the bolero, the tango and other forms, while calypso, conga and beguine rhythms sprang up in Trinidad and other islands. Many of these folk music developments that had originated in the mid-nineteenth century were ultimately to impinge upon ragtime, early blues and jazz, all of which showed occasional French and Spanish influences.
While the slave ships from Africa brought with them some of the Negro cultural patterns, there were developing in many parts of the United States songs that had the melodic and harmonic characteristic of what was known much later as rag­time, jazz and/or the blues. Frankie and Johnny, a song of obscure origin, was known in St. Louis in the 1880s, according to one source; originated in 1850 and was sung at the siege of Vicksburg, according to a second historian: a third writer