THE CHURCH AND MUSIC
In colonial times, when the majority of the population was Protestant, most serious music was in the form of hymns because the Puritans always put religion first, even in their music. Although they did enjoy such entertainment as folk songs outside the church, most of the music in their lives was in the form of the psalms they sang at services.
Meanwhile, Negro slaves were allowed some religious expression and much of their music came out of their hymns. So black churches were developing their own gospel songs, blending African rhythms with religious texts.
More and more religious verses were sung to popular melodies, patriotic airs, and dance tunes. Such were the hymns sung at camp meetings in the late 1800s and early 1900s in isolated areas where there were no churches.
Those meetings, which went on for 4 or 5 days, featured rousing evangelical preaching, praying, and singing. The songs were revival hymns – simple, folklike, repetitious pieces that were often called spiritual songs and, later, spirituals. Negro religious songs, which blended African musical traditions with Christian themes, became known as spirituals, too, because of their similar use of repetition.
PURELY AMERICAN CREATIONS
After the Civil War, as black musicians began to play European instruments previously unavailable to them, Negroes created many minstrel songs and transported the minstrel style to the piano. Negro talent, influenced by minstrel sounds applied to European-style melodies, ultimately produced a new form called ragtime. The term probably derived from the ragged, uneven sound of this syncopated piano music, which mixed Afro-Caribbean dance rhythms with the accents of the quadrille, the polka, the schottische, and the march.
Ragtime faded during World War I but won a new audience in the 1960s and 1970s television shows and in personal appearances.
Along with ragtime, another new kind of music, also played mostly by blacks, was gradually taking shape. It was not yet called jazz in the mid-1890s when musicians were playing it at outdoor dances. Indoors the new sound was heard on piano. Bands played music derived from African melodies and rhythms mixed with hymns, blues, quadrilles, funeral marches, ragtime, and even operatic arias. The rough-hewn, self-taught approach of onetime slaves or descendants of slaves blowing brass instruments and woodwinds was leavened by the technical precision and pure, warm tones of “Creoles of Color”, many of whom were trained musicians.
The exciting effect of “singing horns”, so called because the instrumentalists tried to reproduce the slurs and blue intonations of black singing, was not lost on white musicians. But when they tried to copy it, the emphasis shifted from the relaxed, blue tonality that came so naturally to the black musicians to a more staccato style of stricter tempo. This created the basis for the line of jazz still known as Dixieland, named after Tom Brown’s Band from Dixieland, which, in 1915, was the first white band to take the music north to Chicago.
“Jass”, a slang word, was applied to this new music by disgruntled musicians who could neither play nor understand it. But this connotation was soon lost.
Jazz became so popular that it became established in the national consciousness. The word “jazz” was so firmly planted in the public mind that the decade of the 1920s was known as the Jazz Age. Louis Armstrong and Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington have become jazz classics.
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