Analysis Of W. C. Handy's Memphis Blues

Better Essays
What exactly is jazz? According to Virgil Thomson, the American critic and composer, “Jazz, in brief, is a compound of (a) the fox-trot rhythm, and (b) a syncopated melody over this rhythm” [1]. An understanding of the elements of jazz allows the listeners to further appreciate the very art that has defined American culture for generations. Critical to the development of jazz are African and European music, brought by the foreigners who sought a better life in the New World and who were sold to into slavery, respectively. Originally from New Orleans around the 1890s, Jazz remains today as a remarkable type of art form that is crucial to American culture and history. It primarily came from two musical predecessors: the blues and ragtime. A major …show more content…
The blues possessed an easier form, in which harmonies were not changed often and there were as little as three chords in a piece at once. This three-chord format proved to be extremely influential in the structure of future jazz compositions. One of the most notable pieces was W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues”, which was made up of simply twelve measures. Handy, notable known as “the daddy of all blues”, perfectly demonstrated the development of jazz from blues: “We didn’t call it jazz before the ‘Memphis Blues’, but that blues is remembered by many musicians allowing each musician to ‘do his stuff’ at the break in the last strain – the first jazzing [1].” In addition to three chord structure, chord progression and blue notes were also elements that influenced jazz. In Tirro’s “Jazz: A History”, he further captures the power of Blues as one of the principal elements of jazz: “On the 1920s and 1930s, when jazz developed so rapidly, the blues mode became dominant in the performance of all the music adapted by jazz musicians to their purposes, and the slurred thirds, fifths, and sevenths (the seeking and failing) characterized jazz improvisation [3]”. It is noticeable to see the progression of the blue notes, with its characteristic slurred notes, in the development of many jazz …show more content…
Ragtime, like the blues, was extremely popular around 100 years ago and was only disliked by people of high society, due to its mixed background. To put it simply, the rhythm of ragtime was “black or African, the harmony and melody was white or European, and the ending result was American [2].” Also, rag was heavily in whorehouses, saloons, and eventually concert halls; the very definition of the word rag was slang for “dance” [2].” Therefore, ragtime and blues came from very different cultural backgrounds with dissimilar purposes. People played and listened to ragtime for entertainment. Unlike the blues, the common folk listened to ragtime to “put on a happy face, not to feel your pain [2].” One of the most famous musicians of ragtime was James Reese Europe, a band leader who achieved great heights during ragtime’s peak in popularity. His band, “the Hellfighters”, was acclaimed for their songs of “agility, variability of tone, odd intervals, and widened tone range; the French called Europe’s music jazz [5].” This was the reason why Europe was deemed the “Father of Jazz,” it was his music that was first called by that name [5]. Ragtime remains as an integral part of the development of jazz, and various elements of rag are still distinguishable in jazz music. The next generation of jazz legends, such as Duke Ellington, was influenced

Related Documents

  • Decent Essays

    “Through his clear, warm sound, unbelievable sense of swing, perfect grasp of harmony, and supremely intelligent and melodic improvisations, he taught us all to play jazz” (“History of Jazz”). In this quote, Wynton Marsalis was talking about Louis Armstrong. Jazz music has impacted the world and cultures, it shares in so many ways. Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. Now, jazz is exported to the world.…

    • 1353 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    Another noteworthy ragtime musician was Jelly Roll Morton. He is special, because he performed both ragtime and jazz style music. His famous songs, King Porter Stomp or Jelly Roll Blues are evidences of the contribution of ragtime to jazz. As the name of the genre says, ragtime passed on the “ragging” feature to jazz. Ragging is meant to embellish and decorate melodies.…

    • 1577 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    Since New Orleans style jazz known to man, it was one of the broadest genres of jazz. One of the first many New Orleans style jazz artists is Jelly Roll Morton. He wrote songs such as “The Pearls,” “Millenburg Joys,” “Mr. Jelly Roll,” “Doctor Jazz,” “Original Jelly Roll Blues,” and many other famous pieces. Jelly Roll Morton was a great pianist and arranger from New Orleans.…

    • 1027 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    (Berg) The smooth music from New Orleans was a big part of why African American culture was “accepted and promoted in the American culture at large by the 1920’s.” (Berg 7). Jazz was one of, if not the key part of the harlem renaissance. The rise of jazz music helped promote African-American culture. Just like Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors took America by surprise with their instant and unexpected success, Jazz music became…

    • 1003 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    Free Jazz Analysis

    • 1628 Words
    • 7 Pages

    It developed shortly after hard bop using blues, gospel and rhythm and blues as its main influences. As an oppose to hard bop, soul jazz generally emphasized repetition of catching phrases and melodic lines, and the improvisation was a lot simpler then the other jazz styles in this time period. Horace Silver had a large influence on the soul jazz style playing songs with funky, often gospel based piano vamps. A great example of this is his piece “Song for my Father” released in 1964. The other form of jazz that occurred during this decade was Post Bob.…

    • 1628 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    The Elements Of Jazz

    • 1069 Words
    • 5 Pages

    The most common version of the blues has three chords in a twelve-bar form, a distinctive chord progression. Compared with the then-widespread European or Western styles of music, blues musicians began to vary the length of a song form, violating the traditional view that “a song must have a predetermined length.” This innovative style was increasingly incorporated in early jazz music, and eventually became coined as improvisation. In fact, blues musicians often focused on personal expression, without being limited by the need for precision and methodical technique. A multitude of potential variations in the notes allowed musicians to popularize the blues. In time, blues gained rapid popularity as a form of “mass entertainment,” selling millions of records every year by the 1920’s.…

    • 1069 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    American’s public interest in ragtime, which was created by black heritage, is perceived as a great shock because white American middle class was dominant at that time. At first, ragtime was not welcomed by American high society. However, it became internationally famous after Sousa’s band gained fame in Europe. At the end of the nineteenth century, ragtime is found in the performance of honky-tonk pianists near the Mississippi River, also influenced by the black banjo music and cakewalk rhythms. In addition, origin of ragtime is also found in British popular dance, jig rhythms, and marching songs in the sixteenth century.…

    • 1779 Words
    • 8 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    African Influence On Jazz

    • 1376 Words
    • 6 Pages

    The primary factor was the importation of African slaves to a world dominated by warring European colonists-- particularly the French, Spanish, and English. In striving to keep African musical traditions alive, the slaves eventually found ways to blend them with the abiding traditions of Europe, producing hybrid in North and South America unlike anything in the old world.” In 1987, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution declaring jazz a “Valuable National American treasure,” but the full text summarizes the confusion distributed by the music’s contradictory qualities. Jazz is an “art form” brought to the American people through well-funded classes and art programs, but it is also a “people’s music” that came upward from the desires of ordinary people. It is “an indigenous American music,” but also international, having been “adopted by musicians around the world.” People may never know where exactly jazz came from, but why worry about that. People should enjoy listening to the engaging music or maybe even learn how to play it…

    • 1376 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    Syncopation is a “rhythmic phenomenon most easily understood as accents that don’t occur on a main beat,” (Gridley, 45) and is a characteristic that is widely associated with Jazz. This characteristic takes its roots in both Africa and Europe, but it is predominately known in Africa. While the highly rhythmic nature of Jazz comes from ragtime and the blues (and therefore African in origin), other characteristics are European in origin. Improvisation is a major part of Jazz and “it has been an important element of music since the beginning of time, and only recently in history was it difficult to find in European concert music” (Gridley, 44). Another feature of Jazz is harmony.…

    • 825 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Decent Essays
  • Decent Essays

    The 1920’s were an exciting time for the people of the United States of America. With technological advancements, the development and occurrence of flappers, and the number of people trying to achieve the American Dream, it is no wonder why this decade is so often referred to as “The Roaring Twenties” (History Learning Site). One of the most relevant characteristics of the twenties was the newly popular jazz music, which took everyone by storm. Through the popularity and influence of jazz, Americans of all different ethnicities and cultures were brought together. The roots of jazz music are typically accredited to African Americans of the 1700’s, who sang work songs while in slavery.…

    • 1221 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Decent Essays

Related Topics