• Myths About Jazz: Part Two

    May 19, 2011. Posted by Alex Rodriguez.

    The first jazz instruments? Not so fast.

    This is the fourth post in a biweekly blog feature, You Don't Know Jazz! With Dr. Lewis Porter.

    Series Introduction

    Episode 1: A Blues Recording From the Congo -- In 1906!

    Episode 2: The Origins of the Word "Jazz"

    Episode 3: Myths About Jazz, Part One

    (PLEASE NOTE: If the reader uses any of the material from this series, no matter how brief, this article and its web address must be cited as the source. Thank you for respecting the intellectual property of Dr. Porter.)

    Debunking the Myths: Can you believe what you read about jazz?

    This week I continue our series discussing common statements about jazz and its history. These are so common on the web, in books, and in interviews that I’m sure you’ve heard them before. (For some of them I have included links to show how they are being used even in reputable sites.) Actually, as you’ll hear on the podcasts, not all are really “myths.” Some are totally wrong, but others are only partly wrong. In some cases they don't make logical sense; and when they do make sense, some are so misleading and simplistic that they might as well be totally wrong.

    For example, you'll often read that "Jazz was born in the 1890s, or around 1900."

    This statement can easily be found all over the internet: eHow, jazz history blogs (another example here), and elsewhere.

    But the jazz musicians-to-be were still children then, so that can't be true! For more on this myth, have a listen below:

    Another myth is the common statement, "Jazz started in New Orleans and went up the Mississippi River to Chicago."

    Really? Have you looked at a map lately!?

    Still, the Mississippi did play an important role in early jazz -- listen to the audio to understand the distinction:

    A lot of people make the claim, "The blues is a very old song form." (Examples of this can be found here and here.) But As you'll hear below, the blues actually has a lot more to do with modern times:

    Finally, there is the myth that I touched on in the first episode of this series: "Jazz has its roots in African drumming." Here is one example of that myth (complete with the stereotyped image of Africans drumming at the top!) As I mentioned before, African melodic instruments have had just as much to say about jazz. Listen below for more on the origins of this misunderstanding:

    For further reading:

    Redhotjazz.com is a great site on the first jazz recordings. You can even listen to them for free!

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