Jazz Music and Race Relationship


Jazz music, one of the most popular and widespread kinds of music, has been attracting a lot of attention from both contemporary and cultural historians. The trend in appreciation of music has led most people to review their view of the music. In the past, this kind of music was considered as African American music used to champion the plight of black people. Most of the messages spread by this king of music were considers racial. This music was mostly listened to by Blacks while is it was assumed to be the music identity of Blacks. In consequence, most Whites avoided the music and rarely related to it. However, today this kind of music has been receiving appreciation and acceptance by White listeners. This trend leaves most people with questions over the music that they considered as racial.

Overview of the history of Jazz music

Jazz music has a long history; some of the documents trace the music to have been in use in the late 1800s. However, the word ‘jazz’ was not widely known until the 1920s when it had developed as a musical genre. Despite this, jazz has been very influential in the development of American culture and music in the past century. The origins of this kind of music are less clear than the impact and popularity of the music today. It is believed that jazz developed from two other kinds of music: ragtime and the blue (W.E.B. Dubois, 1903, p56). It is taken that jazz music evolved as musicians experimented on the combination of these two kinds of music. The exact place of origin is also questioned as some historians asserting that process of evolution occurred in different parts of the nation at different periods. However, most historians differ with the simultaneous development of the music in different regions but maintain that it originated from New Orleans and then spread to another part of the country.

Jazz and Black Americans

Jazz music is usually associated with black Americans and is sometimes considered to be African American music. The origin of jazz relates it to African Americans’ way of expressing themselves. Most of the popular musicians in the history of jazz have an African origin. Some of the popular innovators in jazz music such as Louse Armstrong, Mile Davis, Charlie Parker, and others have a black origin. This, and other related issues make jazz music to be considered music for Blacks.

The historical perspective of jazz music relates its origin to the earlier slave trade. The pre-jazz era relates jazz music with music sung by African black as they were taken to America for the slave trade. Looking at these earlier events, the influence of jazz music seems to have originated from different directions. From one perspective is the African musical practice. Africans that were taken for slave trade maintained most of their musical and other practices (W.E.B. Dubois, 1903, p33).

Music has played an important role in the African American community for many centuries. African Americans have used music as another form of communication within their community as a way to comfort each other through the depression and sorrow that they faced from society. For them, it was another form of psychology because they used music to express the emotions that were built up from the struggle that they faced on a daily basis (Ward, Geoffrey, C., 2000, p113). Jazz music is considered the most beautiful expression of human experience because of the meaning that it contains and the history that it has gone through. Jazz music can be seen in many shapes and forms throughout history and because of this, it has gotten African Americans through the hard times in slavery, post-slavery, the civil rights movement, and many more hard eras.

During the Great Depression and the broken promises from the government, jazz was the music that eased the pain of many sufferers.

Jazz clubs were the place to go to forget about all of the pains and sorrow that the Great Depression was causing.

It was the place to go to relax, to ease their minds, talk to their friends, and do the jitterbug all day.

These nightclubs were a place that African Americans could go and not have to worry about being judged by white people or having to represent their race by being absolutely perfect at their jobs because they did not want the white people to think that the stereotypes of black people were right. Being at the nightclubs where their friends were there to understand exactly what they went through on a daily basis gave African Americans a sense of relief for two hours out of their day. At these nightclubs, they only had to be their selves and not an American and Negro as Dubois stated (Martin W., 1983, p56). Duke Ellington was the Duke of jazz and was right in the midst of this great period that was also known as the rolling ’20s.

African Americans needed to be relieved from the sorrow that they experienced on a daily basis: jazz and Duke Ellington did exactly this for them.

Music expressed the deepest feelings that slaves had for more than two and a half centuries (Peretti, Burton, W., 1994, p137). In their music, rhythms that were passed on through generations from Africa could be heard in the songs that were sung.

Using the African rhythms, they transformed western melodies and hymns that had originated from Western Europe (Ward, Geoffrey, C., 2000, p76). From this, jazz and other African American melodies were created and brought together in New Orleans because of the voodoo drums and French band music that were taken from other countries.

During the late nineteenth century, New Orleans was seen as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America because of the slave and cotton trade. Because New Orleans was founded by France, ruled by Spain, and finally controlled by America it had an interesting blend of cultures that produced the unique music and dance that was heard and seen through African American music (W.E.B. Dubois, 1903, p113). Until the end of the First World War, jazz music had not been given a name but the melody was very popular among people. The new kind of music integrated African rhythms and European ideas to form a melody that was very much appealing to people. After the war, many southerners moved up north to find work in the expanding industries to support their families. The migration caused African melodies to follow north. During this time, segregation was very high and nightclubs were also racially segregated. Due to segregation, Blacks and Whites competed with each other in street corner contests designed to attract customers to competing nightclubs. The competitions between different African melodies and the two groups also contributed to the growth of jazz music. Thus, Jazz can be viewed as a combination of ragtime, blues and religious spirituals.

Many pioneers like Louis Armstrong of jazz came out of Stormville and eventually migrated up North to Chicago, Illinois. However, the migration caused jazz to lose its exuberance and spontaneity. The reason for this was because the performers had to perform to the liking of its crowds and listeners and Northerners did not like the excitement and liveliness that jazz originally sounded like (Gunther, S., 1968, p77). Jazz eventually became more disciplined and predictable that made jazz more danceable. On the other hand, the change of jazz in the north did not change the fact that it was still very original because it still carried its great beauty when it came to the melodies that it contained.

Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the black community was trying to make its place in America. There was a lot of planning and deceiving that were happening to the black community and specifically the black man. Because of this, the uplifting of black males was needed and encouraged throughout the community. Black males were bombarded with discouraging messages from society and needed to be uplifted. For example, they were told that education was a privilege of white men white it whiles a danger and delusion of black men. Thus, the black community’s goal was to take the veil off the black male to make him stronger and more confident.

Dubois and many other black leaders knew this would be a challenge, but they were determined to uplift the black male because, without the strength of the black man, the black community would not survive long in America.

Education would give the black community confidence because they would be able to learn exactly what their history was; they would be taught by other black professors and be surrounded by black people every day in their classes (Peretti, Burton, W., 1994, p137). This would also be another way for black males to communicate with each other. By constantly being surrounded by black people, students were able to vent their frustrations with society and the world (Gunther, S., 1968, p84). Because of this, they knew that they were not alone in the world when it came to the segregation and stereotypes that they faced on a daily basis.

Jazz was popularized during a unique and difficult era. It helped many people through the great depression, the World War, and the segregation that was going on. Jazz was most important to black people because it helped them recognize the importance of their culture by hearing the different African instruments and the spirituality that was also heard (Finkelstein, S., 1948, p89). Night clubs were also an escape for black people because they were able to be their selves and not American and African American. These nightclubs were the place to go to see Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington bop and jive on stage. Because of jazz and its artists, black people had a place to escape to just be their selves, see their family and friends, and not have to worry about the stereotypes. There were no such thing as black people being separated by music. From viewing photographs that were taken from Duke Ellington’s era, there were a lot of family connections and encouragement that could be seen on and off stage. Everyone was a family and shared the same love for jazz.

The trend of Jazz music today

There are various non-African Americans who have contributed and left a mark in jazz music. Musicians such as Artie Shaw, Frank Brubeck, and Gerry Mulligan have contributed significantly to jazz music (Garcia, Antonio, J., 1997, par 4-5). From this backdrop, African American dominance in jazz music can be viewed as a creative expression of their experience during the dark days. Thus, jazz music can be viewed as a way of expressing personal experience regardless of an individual’s race or origin (Tucker, M., 2000, p91). The use of jazz music by African Americans was a way of expressing their experience but not an identity.

Although popular jazz music has declined, this kind of music is being accepted across all races. Today the jazz music id listened to and enjoyed across races. In small jazz music clubs, attendance of usually distributed across both blacks and whites and other races.


For a long time, jazz was viewed as African American music. The origin of jazz rhythm can be traced as a combination of African and Western European melodies. The major founders of jazz such as Louis Armstrong were Blacks. This makes jazz music to be viewed as African American music. Despite this jazz music can be viewed as a means for expressing personal experience. At its origin, jazz was used to express African experiences during the slave trade. It was also an important tool to fight against segregation and in uplifting the spirit of downtrodden Blacks. Acceptance of jazz music by whites is a sign of maturity in music. Today, jazz melodies and message is separated from race leading it to be enjoyed across races.

Reference List

Garcia, Antonio, J. (1997). Jazz; A multicultural, Interdisciplinary Music. Web.

Gunther, S. (1968). Early Jazz: its Roots and Musical Development. Oxford: OUP.

Finkelstein, S. (1948). Jazz: A People’s Music. New York: The Citadel Press 1948 19.

Martin W. (1983). The Jazz Tradition. Oxford: OUP.

Peretti, Burton, W. (1994).The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Ramsey, Guthrie, P. (2004). Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop. New York: University of California Press.

Tucker, M. (2000). Jazz’ in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan.

Ward, Geoffrey, C. (2000). Jazz: a history of America’s music. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

W.E.B. Dubois (1903). The Souls of Black Folks. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co.

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