What is Jazz?

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

― Louis Armstrong

I’ve been meaning to get around to doing a series of posts on jazz artists but unfortunately, life happens.

Ironically though, the recent events surrounding Donald Sterling have reinvigorated my interest in doing so.

Jazz – it is not a genre that one can define. Just check out Mr. Armstrong’s quote above. But it is something that we have been able to identify as a core part of African American culture. True, it has grown into a part of American culture too…but from the King of Ragtime to the Empress of Blues and the inventors of bebop – Blacks have defined jazz, invented jazz, and used it as a means of getting up when they’ve felt the world’s weight pressing down. Frederick Douglass wrote in his biography that “Slaves sing most when they are unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”

Negro spirituals, jazz, hip hop, etc. have all sang the sorrows (and the joy) for African Americans.

What better time than now then, to look back in time and reflect on the most influential African Americans that have shaped jazz, used it as a means of expression, and have ultimately led us to where we are today?

But does jazz even exist anymore? It’s a question our generation has to wonder everyday and a question that we may eventually answer on this journey. After all, sometimes we move so fast, that we forget where we even began. By the way, while I hate to acknowledge it, I’m sure I will miss many of the names that jazz enthusiasts hold dear to their hearts. My purpose though is not to identify every single African American that influenced jazz, for we’d be reading these posts for the rest of our lives. Rather, I hope to start a conversation, trigger some intellectual thoughts, and learn about the legends we’ve missed along the way.


So check back here on May 3rd**, where we’ll begin our journey in the 1800s, and take a look at some of the ‘pre-jazz’ African American artists who started paving the road.



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