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New Orleans Jazz Music: A Critical Review

Traditional jazz, also known as Dixieland, originated from the African-American communities in New Orleans. Music was the only form of entertainment allowed to the slaves in America, and their convergence to participate in it led to the development of jazz music. The formation of the music included the works of artists from different ethnic backgrounds and social status (Bonsaver, 2018). The success of the music led to the incorporation of jazz styles in the modern forms of music (Dicpetris, 2016). However, this integration posed a significant challenge to the genre with the emergence of technologies that favored large and modern bands. Despite the possible threats to the survival of jazz music, the traditional styles are still alive and are continually incorporated in contemporary world music.

History of Jazz Music

Jazz music emerged in New Orleans, precisely in the Congo Square. Slaves from different ethnic groups were allowed to meet and engage in dances, singing, and playing drums at the square during their free Sundays. Such gathering led to the sharing of African dance styles and rhythms that were integrated into the American popular culture. Moreover, the diversity arising from the presence of other cultures in New Orleans, including Spanish, French, Asian, and Caribbean ones, also shaped the nature and style of the music (Bonsaver, 2018). The emergence of diversity in the region and the resulting cultural integration through songs led to the birth or the genre.

Jazz music styles underwent significant changes at the beginning of the 19th century. During this time, a shift from the fair and polite dance moves to more aggressive and all-purpose steps suited the newly formed genre. Further nurturing of the music was observed in the 20th century where it was performed in different places and functions including churches, lawn parties, trains, carnivals, benevolent parades, funerals, and sporting events (Raeburn, n.d.). Jazz music became highly connected and expanded into different settings in America. It was anticipated that the issue of racial segregation would damage the development of music in New Orleans; however, no significant problems were reported. In fact, Jazz music availed opportunities for the people of different ethnicities to be connected, leading to its rapid spread.

Instrumentation and Style

Traditional jazz is band music that utilizes different instruments including a trumpet, trombone, and clarinet at the frontline. The band is also driven by a music session from a piano or a guitar. Drums and tubas are used to deliver a syncopated rhythm required in dancing. In the beginning, violins were used in initiating the lead melody; however, this practice changed in 1900 to the use of cornet. Later on, the bands were overly reliant on the trumpet for the lead tune.

The clarinet played a significant role in the band. It was considered an obbligato in the band with arpeggiated runs. It was essentially indispensable during any performance. The trombone was used to avail different rhythmic slurs and growls in the songs (White, 2017). The instrument added occasional harmonic variations to the different baselines. Similarly, the guitar and the piano were essential in reinforcing the rhythm by eliminating any form of breaks or pick-ups. To improve the quality of the rhythm, drums were introduced to allow for the consolidation and intensification of the beats. Later developments saw the entry of other instruments and forms of music including saxophones that further enhanced the quality of the music. The use of all the instrument of New Orleans jazz promises the attainment of a quality music.

Adaptation and Emergence of Technology 

It was the invention of cheap and popular recording equipment that saw the popularity of the genre soar. Traditional jazz was first incorporated into American music in the year 1917 (Raeburn, n.d). Through recordings, the music entered the American entertainment sector. The most notable entry route was therecording by Ory’s Orleans in Chicago that also contributed to the spread of the genre. Jazz was adopted by many musicians both from within and without New Orleans. In their process of imitating the genre, musicians also acknowledged and accorded respects to the cultures of the communities that were involved in the creation of jazz. As much as the music was incorporated in American cultural landscape, its styles and instrumentations remained preserved.

The multiplicity of jazz made it vulnerable to possible extinction or damage. Different factors in the 1930s led to a decline in the popularity of the music genre (Raeburn, n.d). The collapse of phonograph recording that had sustained the genre contributed to its implosion during the period. Moreover, the emergence of technological devices such as radio provided an opportunity for bigger bands and other types of music. The Great Depression also affected the competitiveness of smaller bands and gave an upper hand to the large musical collectives with more contemporary styles of music. Most jazz musicians were plunged by their labels, further justifying the collapse of the genre.

Revival and Survival of the Genre 

Despite the poor performance of jazz music in the 1930s, efforts for its restoration and survival were imminent. A significant number of New Orleans jazz bands managed to restore their music styles and flourish regardless of the competition observed. The adaptation strategy employed by these bands enabled them to survive the intense rivalry. Their approach was to adopt new styles of music while preserving the New Orleans jazz flavor. For instance, the Bob Crosby Orchestra and Luis Russell Orchestra are some of the bands that managed to escape the extinction of the music genre. The revival of jazz made previously unknown musicians famous. This phenomenon contributed to the expansion of the genre to other regions of the world. The integration of contemporary music styles into jazz bands led to its revival and survival in society.


While traditional New Orleans jazz music faced a significant threat of extinction, different music styles and instruments initiated during the era are still eminent in contemporary music. The styles have been able to survive following their preservation and reinvention in the modern world. The integration of technology into jazz and adoption of modern and fashionable music styles have led to the preservation of the music genre. Jazz styles are likely to coexist with the modern music genres if the musicians engaged in innovation and adaptions keep up with the changes in the environment and always ensure that their music remains attractive.

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