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Will McFarland (1)

Jazz music is a style that was developed by the black American slave population. When

jazz later became a popular form of music, it attracted not only blacks but also whites. For the

first time white people were seeking entertainment from blacks. This change did not create

equality in any way, but it was a good push in that direction, that would eventually cause a major

change in racial boundaries. How jazz was created impacted how it would eventually affect

racial boundaries. These changes made by jazz also still affect us today.

When jazz was originally born remains unknown, but what is known is that it was

created by black slaves in America1. The slaves created music as a way of entertainment. Their

music combined African and Caribbean styles of music brought by the slaves that came from

those different areas. This music was not what we would think if as being jazz today, in fact we

would probably describe it as having a tribal sound2, but over time it would evolve into the

musical form called jazz.

When American slavery was abolished in 1865, blacks began to gain freedom; by 1868

they gained citizenship and black men were able to vote by 1870. It only took a short amount of

time, however, before their rights were restricted by the Jim Crow laws and groups like the Ku

Klux Klan. Blacks soon found their “freedom” was not freedom at all, since they were being

treated with such inequality3. Eventually the music created by black musicians would help

shrink this inequality.

In 1895 the first step in shrinking this inequality was taken when Charles “Buddy”

Bolden started a band that played a form of improvised music. At this time this music didn’t

have a name, but eventually it would be called Jazz. Bolden’s band and its style of music

increased in popularity in New Orleans. Unfortunately Bolden became mentally unstable in

1 Ted Giora, The History of Jazz, 3
2 Ibid
3 Melvin, Sylvester. "Long Island University." The African American: A Journey from Slavery to Freedom.
Available from Internet;
Will McFarland (2)

1907 and was placed in an asylum for the rest of his life. His band still continued for another ten

years, however, under the leadership of Frankie Dusen, a trombonist. Bolden’s band led the way

for many jazz bands in the future and even acted as a starting point for some players, like Sidney

Bechet, who played with them on occasion.4

In the early twentieth century jazz players from New Orleans began to move and play

other places. By the middle of the nineteen teens jazz players had moved into Chicago and New

York City. It was in this period of time that is believed the term jazz was first used in describing

the music 5. By 1917, the Dixieland Jazz Band made the first commercial recording of jazz

music. At this point jazz had spread its popularity throughout most of the United States.

Much of the spreading of Jazz in the United States occurred during World War I. After

the war ended in 1918, many jazz musicians decided to take their music to Europe because the

hostile environment was gone. By the 1920’s, jazz music in Europe had become popular. Even

though it would never reach the level of popularity in Europe that it did in the United States, jazz

had still become an internationally popular form of music6.

The popularity of jazz created an opportunity for blacks to create a better reputation for

themselves. Even though there were still major inequalities, with the creation of Jazz, some

whites would begin to see blacks as more human than before. This is because whites would

listen to the music performed by blacks and, for the first time, black and white musicians would

play together. Jazz also gave American musicians the opportunity to move to Europe, a

continent that had less racism against blacks than America had. The spread of musicians to

4 "Red Hot Jazz Archive." Charles "Buddy" Bolden. Available from
5 "Jazz History." Available from Internet;
accessed 11 January 2010.
6 Ibid
Will McFarland (3)

Europe also caused globalization which pushed Americans to change their inequalities in their


Jazz was the first style of music that was primarily performed by black musicians, and

accepted by an audience of mixed races.7 Whites were being entertained by blacks, and it

became obvious to many that blacks had a place other than extremely low-end jobs. Not all

whites viewed the situation this way, however, since many whites viewed jazz as dirty and low

class because it was created and performed by blacks. Even most of the whites that did

appreciate jazz still looked down upon blacks. Still, the minor shift, even though it was so small,

would eventually lead to more major changes.

This shift was also helped by the mixing of musicians of different races into one group.

For the first time whites and blacks would play together side by side. When the musicians would

play together there wasn’t a separation or inequality between the different players, they were

working together to create music8. Unfortunately this was not true when they were not playing

together. The hatred between the two racial groups still existed in everyday life. In fact, many

whites viewed white musicians that played with blacks as dirty and useless, and many blacks saw

the white musicians as unnecessary and felt that they were trying to take over their music.

Again, inequality and racism still existed, but there was a minor shift created.

Although there was large inequality between blacks and whites in America, the inequality

in Europe was much less.9 Blacks were still inferior in Europe, but they were given more

respect than blacks in America. Jazz gave many black musicians the opportunity to go to Europe

and escape the harsh racism of the United States10. America was still the heart of jazz, but jazz

7 Charles Hersch, Subversive Sounds, 4

8 Ibid, 6
9 " Racism in Europe and U.S.." PBS. Available from
Internet; accessed 11 January 2010.
10 Rhapsody Films, Jazz in Exile
Will McFarland (4)

was growing tremendously big in Europe as well. In fact, many jazz musicians felt that being

successful as a musician was much easier in Europe than it was in America. Even though the

racial structure in America was only being shifted slightly, blacks were given the choice to travel

to a place where the racial boundaries were already different.

The spread of musicians into Europe also helped the racial structure in America change.

When jazz musicians traveled internationally their music caught on and became popular. Over

time jazz became an internationally popular music. Jazz was shrinking the world as everyone

was listening to the same music. With this shrinking Americans could see the racial structure in

other countries and compare them to their own, the discrepancy was obvious. Americans would

feel pressured into changing their system. Of course, not all Americans would feel this way, and

some wouldn’t even realize the differences of the two systems. As English writer, William

Hazlitt said, “Prejudice is the child of ignorance.”11 So once again the change was small.

The most important thing jazz did for race is that it made blacks a part of popular culture.

The music played black musicians had never been popular before Jazz, but after the creation of

jazz this was no longer true. This led the way for black musicians to strongly influence the

music styles of rock & roll, R & B, hip-hop, and rap.

Rock & roll music was influenced by many things, but two prominent factors were jazz

and blues, both styles of music that were created by blacks. In addition, many of the early rock

& roll stars were black. The music’s immense popularity has a similar effect on racial divisions

as jazz, except now the inequality was not nearly as great. The Civil Rights Act of 1964

occurred in America during the rock & roll era and was largely due to black rock & roll stars

speaking their opinions. Of course if it wasn’t for jazz, rock & roll would never have existed at

11 "William Hazlitt quotes." Think Exist. Available from Prejudice is the child of ignorance.. Internet; accessed 11
January 2010.
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In more present times black musicians have performed musical styles such as rap and

hip-hop. Even though presently, most rap and hip-hop songs do not communicate political

messages, in the early days of rap many songs spoke against the regressions against the black

community. For example, the 1989 hit Fight the Power by rap group Public Enemies speaks

against the racist powers that still exist. This song was only one of many songs speaking against

the same problems. These songs were popular and they spread, opening the eyes of many to the

racial problems that still existed, even though the laws had changed. Without the jazz musicians

that placed themselves in popular culture almost a century before them, the rap artists would not

have been able to communicate their message.

In conclusion, jazz music created a shift in the racial structure. This shift was small but

over time it would grow. Jazz also led the way for new styles if music that would be led by

black musicians. The music they created not only brought black musicians higher in society, but

it also allowed them to communicate a message to the rest of the world, a message that would

open the eyes of the unknowing. The race system we have today is not perfect, but it is much

better than the one we had a hundred years ago. It is safe to say that jazz played a major role in

changing the system, and that our world would be much different if it wasn’t for its creation.