• Myths About Jazz: Part One

    April 28, 2011. Posted by Alex Rodriguez.

    Did jazz really come from work songs and field hollers?

    This is the third post in a new 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"

    (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 really believe what you hear about jazz?

    This week, I begin a series that discusses common (mis-)statements about jazz and its history. These are so pervasive on the web, in books, and in interviews that I’m sure you’ve heard them before. (For some, 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 completely false.

    Let's start with one of the most common: "Jazz is the only truly American art form."

    This has become so ubiquitous that it's considered a cliche, showing up everywhere from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Thelonious Monk Institute. But as you'll hear in the explanation below, just because a lot of people say it doesn't make it true:

    Another common myth is that "Jazz is unique in its emphasis on improvisation." But perhaps there is a better way to think about the meaning of that statement:

    Finally, one of the most widely-circulated myths about jazz is that its musical origins lie in work songs and field hollers. This PBS documentary on slavery is just one example. Work songs and field hollers are certainly an important part of African American musical history, but other African American musics were the direct predecessors of jazz:

    Unrelated trivia:

    The excellent trumpeter Nat Adderley recorded his tune "Work Song" in 1960 and it became a hit for him as well as for the group in which he played alongside his brother, alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley.

    Click here for the next batch of jazz myths, the next episode of our series.

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