Everybody knows jazz as “the great American art form” or “America’s classical music.” The synthesis of styles and ideas in its creation and development are understood as a byproduct of America’s “melting pot.” But where does it come from? Most people will parrot the oft-repeated phrase that “New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz.” But the real story is much more expansive, complicated, and inclusive.
It’s true that in the early days of the colonization of the New World, the port city of New Orleans was a relatively safe harbor for the preservation of African ideas. Established in the mid-eighteenth century, New Orleans’ Congo Square was a thriving hub of Africanism, a weekly marketplace that hosted hundreds of the city’s enslaved and free black people. A hundred and fifty years later, the sounds of Congo Square spread throughout the community via street parades in the Tremé and Central City neighborhoods, and the 6th through 9th Wards. At the same time, there was a new musical craze sweeping the nation called “ragtime,” birthed in Missouri and adopted in New Orleans and elsewhere. Meanwhile, blues music was taking shape in the Mississippi Delta and throughout the rural south.
With The Great Migration beginning in 1915, hundreds of thousands of black citizens moved northward, bringing all of these musical traditions along and concentrating them in places like Kansas City’s 18th and Vine district, Chicago’s Bronzeville, Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods, Philadelphia’s Golden Strip, and of course, New York’s San Juan Hill neighborhood, Harlem, and 52nd Street. Each of these played a role in combining the elements of traditional jazz, blues, and ragtime, developing their own unique identities and artists, all of which continue to inform jazz music today.
We’re calling attention to these communities in honor of Black History Month, celebrating not only iconic jazz artists, but the people and communities behind them that shaped the music. Find out where your favorite jazz artists hail from and let us know! On Jazz 93.5, we are uniquely positioned and fortunate to celebrate black history every month, all year long. We invite you to join in the celebration of jazz every day on Jazz 93.5.