In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, music is described as “sweet airs,” dreamlike and magical but also full of dark powers. Jazz music could very well be these “sweet airs” of strange complexity. Jazz music is sometimes described as the first truly American musical form, and most people nowadays are familiar with jazz– at least recognizing Louis Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World” or tapping their feet to Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”
But here are a few facts you might not know about jazz:
1. Jelly Roll Morton
This New Orleans pianist claimed to have invented jazz, although he died penniless. He did not actually invent jazz, but was one of the first to notate jazz music. Songs like “Dead Man Blues” mark the creativity and technique of this egocentric, erratic genius. (Word of warning: the term “jelly roll” should not be used in polite company.)
2. St. John Coltrane Church
Fans can be downright religious when it comes to following their idols. The worshippers at St. John Coltrane Church take their fervor one step farther: their church is named after saxophonist John Coltrane.
Speaking of Mr. Coltrane and saxophones, today, the sax is an instrument synonymous with jazz. However, the instrument was not used in jazz until the 1920s, when Coleman Hawkins made tenor saxophone mainstream by recording the now-legendary “Body and Soul.”
The term “jazz” has always been debated. Where did it come from? What did it originally mean? At first, “jazz” was spelled “jass.” According to legend, kids would black out the ‘j’ in “jass,” leaving a word that had no place in respectable communities, so the music became “jazz.”
5. Paul Whiteman
This so-called “King of Jazz” was popular during the 1920s. He is known for “making a lady out of jazz,” or, in other words, orchestrating jazz so that it can be played with a larger, more orderly ensemble.
6. Hot Club of Japan
Jazz flourished in Japan, especially during the 1950s. Gypsy Jazz, most commonly associated with Django Reinhardt, is now incredibly common in Tokyo. For instance, the Swing Niglots follow the example of Django’s Hot Club Quintet.
7. Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn was Duke Ellington’s co-composer for nearly three decades. Ellington is often heralded as a genius composer, but some of his most famous work, such as “Take the A Train,” was actually composed by Strayhorn, whose insecurities about being homosexual and doubts about his talent kept him from the spotlight.
8. Blossom Dearie
There weren’t many female instrumentalists in jazz, but Blossom Dearie was able to perform both as singer and pianist during the 1950s. She was known for her girlish voice and bebop arrangements.