Timeline of African American Music
Secular Instrumental

Soul Jazz

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Horace Silver at the Northsea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, 1985

Photograph by Rob Bogaerts
Horace Silver
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley
Wade in the Water
Ramsey Lewis
The “In” Crowd
Ramsey Lewis Trio
The Sidewinder
Lee Morgan
Got My Mojo Workin’
Jimmy Smith
The Sermon
Jimmy Smith


  • Black Power/Pride
  • Entertainment
  • Political Issues/Activism

Musical Features

  • Syncopation
  • Repetition
  • Rhythms
  • Vocals


  • Organ
  • Piano

The highly charged, gospel vocal stylings of Aretha Franklin, the driving rhythms of James Brown, and the mellow harmonies of the Impressions inspired new expressions in jazz, labeled “soul jazz.” Extending its roots from hard bop, soul jazz digs deeply into the spirit and flavor of gospel through its offspring, soul. Organists Jimmy Smith, with “Respect” and “Funky Broadway,” and Brother Jack McDuff with “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Wade in the Water,” recorded many such songs that blend aspects of soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, and other African American folk traditions. At the same time, they and other soul jazz musicians remained anchored in the tradition of hard bop, performing that repertoire as well as their own compositions.

Context and History

The Black Power movement in the 1960s, in concert with the Civil Rights Movement, galvanized African American communities to social and political action. Jazz musicians contributed to this process, developing soul jazz out of hard bop. Songs by jazz musicians such as Ramsey Lewis with “The “In” Crowd” and “Wade in the Water,” “Cannonball” Adderley with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and Brother Jack McDuff with “Let My People Go,” could be heard blaring from car radios, stereo and 8-track recorders, and jukeboxes in public venues. The music was danceable and evoked a familiar sound.

Musical Features/Performance Style

Soul jazz, in contrast to hard bop, emphasizes melodic hooks and repetitive rhythmic grooves, including a bass line played in the syncopated tradition of rhythm and blues, as heard in “Cannonball” Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (1966). As in hard bop, soloists follow the chord progressions, and the bass line—often played by an organist/pianist—maintains a strict four-to-the-bar walking bass line pattern. The musicians build their accompaniment around the bass line that flows under strong melodies played with a soul-inspired feeling.


Soul jazz is primarily an instrumental style. Although some soul jazz musicians include vocals in their repertoire, they assume a secondary place in the broader tradition.

Horace Silver
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley
Freddie Hubbard
Stanley Turrentine
Jimmy Smith
Wes Montgomery
Horace Silver


  1. Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
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The Timeline of African American Music by Portia K. Maultsby, Ph.D. presents the remarkable diversity of African American music, revealing the unique characteristics of each genre and style, from the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music.

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Jessye Norman

Carnegie Hall’s interactive Timeline of African American Music is dedicated to the loving memory of the late soprano and recitalist Jessye Norman.

© 2008 Richard Termine

Special thanks to Dr. Portia K. Maultsby and to the Advisory Scholars for their commitment and thought-provoking contributions to this resource.

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The Timeline of African American Music has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. The project is also supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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