Jazz:  An Overview of Its Evolution


During the "Gay Nineties," ragtime music swept the country and even made a considerable impression in Europe.  It rose rapidly to an immense popularity -- became a sort of craze -- was taken over for commercial exploitation by tin-pan alley -- degenerated into unimaginative manipulation of clichés -- and fizzled out like a wet firecracker about the time the United States went into WWI.


The cakewalk was originally a plantation dance -- just a happy movement the slaves did to banjo music.  (Cakes were sometimes given by the "master" to the best dancers.)  They called their clog dancing "ragging" and the dance a "rag."  It is a sort of frenzy with frequent yelps of delight from the dancer and spectators and was accompanied by the latter with hand clapping and stomping of feet.  Banjo figuration is very noticeable in ragtime music and the division of one of the beats into two short notes is traceable to the hand clapping.

"Coon songs"

These published songs of the 1880s and 90s were revivals of earlier plantation songs with syncopated melodies which used the banjo as their primary instrument.  Ragtime frequently appeared in a few isolated measures of these songs until in 1897 full-fledged ragtime piano numbers began to be published.

Scott Joplin

"Jelly Roll" Morton

New Orleans

The Blues

The spirituals are the manifestation of Afro-American folk music in choral singing.  The blues are the manifestation of Afro-American folk music in solo singing.

W. C. Handy

Blues Singers

Piano blues and "boogiewoogie"


The music that came to be called "jazz" was rooted in the cultural, social, and racial conditions of the South.  No single city -- not even New Orleans -- can legitimately claim to have been its exclusive birthplace.  African survivals in American folk music, the hot rhythms of the camp-meeting spirituals and gospel songs, the form and inflection of the blues, the improvised "washboard" bands, the marching brass bands that played for funerals, parades, and picnics, were common to wide sections of the South and played a role in the development of jazz.

Joseph "King" Oliver

"Jelly Roll" Morton


New York and Swing

Big Band


Third Stream Jazz