Timeline of African American Music
Sérgio and Odair Assad with special guest Paquito D'Rivera

Global Jazz

By Douglas Henry Daniels, Ph.D.

The influence of jazz, along with rock and roll and reggae, is extensive and profound, as witnessed in the formation of jazz bands around the globe that imitated, reinterpreted and localized the jazz style. Created and performed primarily by African Americans, jazz nonetheless has been international since its early years. In fact, the roots of this music—spirituals, minstrel songs, and ragtime—influenced European and South American musicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Context and History

Bandleader James Reese Europe is often credited with introducing the new music, including ragtime and early jazz, to the French during the First World War. Perhaps as a result, the French are well-known for their enthusiastic embrace of jazz. Over the years, first sheet music, then ragtime music rolls, then Original Dixieland Jazz Band records, and subsequently other recordings as well as touring bands, including musicians such as Sidney Bechet, introduced Europeans to this distinctive art form. Dances accompanying the music—the cakewalk and Charleston for example—became the rage in elite European circles.

James Reese Europe with the 15th Regiment, late 1910sCourtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The Japanese are another group known for their love of jazz. During the World War I years, Japanese musicians, who performed on the Transpacific ocean liners, brought back from San Francisco the latest songs from the US, some of them ragtime and jazz. The music appeared in Asian countries and the Philippines during the 1920s and flourished thereafter. Black singers, dancers, and musicians such as Teddy Weatherford performed in Asia, the Pacific Isles, and, in particular, the cities of Yokohama, Shanghai, and Bombay during the 1930s. The rage was such in Yokohama that at taxi dance halls such as the Florida Ballroom, jazz dance bands alternated with Afro-Latin bands before World War II.

While it was banned in Japan during the Second World War, jazz resurfaced during the US occupation, and Japanese musicians, as well as G.I.’s such as pianist Hampton Hawes, performed, introducing the music of Charlie Parker, for example. Pianist and composer Toshiko Akiyoshi was one of the first Japanese musicians to lead a successful career in the US. Jazz at the Philharmonic, a traveling assembly of legendary jazz musicians, visited Japan in the 1950s, and by the next decade, the nation was frequently toured by American artists, who marveled at the first-class receptions they received. By the late 20th century the music was widely popular and widespread in Japan, as evidenced by the Yokohama Jazz Promenade, the world’s largest jazz festival, held the first weekend in October every year, and by the number of musicians who played in the US. Hammond organist and keyboardist Toshihiko Kankawa, who studied under Jimmy Smith, and Benisuke (“Benny”) Sakai, said to be pianist Hank Jones’s favorite bassist, were among the numerous Japanese musicians who dedicated their lives to composing and performing New Orleans, swing, bebop, fusion, and avant-garde repertoires, not to mention their own compositions.

Toshiko Akiyoshi© Stephanie Berger 2011

Relatedly, in North America, jazz musicians turned to the vernacular traditions in Japan, China, and India for creative inspiration. Pianist McCoy Tyner, for example, was among the first to do so, playing the Japanese koto on “Sahara” (1972). Since the late 1980s, Asian American jazz musicians have combined Asian music and jazz, as do pianists Jon Jang and Vijay Iyer, saxophonists Fred Ho and Francis Wong, and Afro-Asian percussionist Anthony Brown.

In the Americas, foreign audiences accepted the songs and music of Caribbean singers and musicians in the 20th century, and after these musicians heard early jazz, they combined it with local traditions, producing Afro-Cuban and other forms of Afro-Caribbean jazz in the music of Machito (Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo), Mario Bauzá (“Tanga”), Chano Pozo (Luciano Pozo González) (“Manteca”), and John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. Brazilian jazz, the dance known as the chacha, and salsa were subsequent developments in this evolution of Afro-Latin music. Contemporary artists drawing from Cuban and Caribbean traditions include Puerto Rican David Sánchez and Panamanian Danilo Pérez (both mentored by Gillespie), and Cuban Paquito D’Rivera.

In central Africa, Congolese jazz, as it was termed, popularized by François (Franco) Luambo Luanzo Makiadi in “Azda” (1973) and members of his orchestra, OK Jazz, drew upon Afro-Caribbean traditions—the rumba, for example—and combined them with African dance music at midcentury. Sometimes, Franco and OK Jazz were controversial as they focused upon Congolese politics in “Lumumba, Heros National” (1967). The music’s call and response, polyrhythms, and lengthy guitar solos are reminiscent of Afro-Caribbean jazz, and it was extremely popular in Central and East Africa from the 1950s, and then in Europe.

Explore Related Genres

Specific attributes: Improvisation, Instrumentals, Call and Response, Polyrhythms, Solo, Bass, Drums, Saxophone, Piano, Organ, Other Percussion, Travel, Cultural Influences, War

South Africans listened to jazz and eventually incorporated it with their own traditions. Hugh Masekela, trumpet player from South Africa, first tried to play like Miles Davis, but after his mother asked why he did not play their South African music, he changed. He had a hit with one of the first examples of this new approach, “Grazing in the Grass” (1968). He also criticized South Africa’s oppressive apartheid regime in “Stimela—the Coal Train” (1993) during the decades he was exiled. About this time, Nigerian band leader, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Olufela Anikulapo Kuti (Fela) in “Sorrow Tears and Blood” (1977) began his orchestra launching Afrobeat, as it was known, utilizing African instruments and rhythms, big band arrangements, dazzling solos, and women dancing. Besides incorporating elements of Yoruba religion, Fela’s music was also politically explosive and extremely critical of the Nigerian government’s corruption, resulting in his arrest more than 200 times.

"Stimela Sase Zola" - Hugh Masekela

Across the Atlantic in North America, jazz musicians turned to Africa for creative inspiration. Sun Ra incorporated African percussion instruments in The Nubians of Plutonia (recorded in 1959 and released in 1966). Max Roach’s “All Africa” from We Insist! Max Roachs Freedom Now Suite (1960) draws from African call and response singing and drumming styles, the latter highlighting a battery of percussion instruments that produce complex polyrhythmic structures.

Jazz is extremely popular in England, Sweden, Norway, Australia, and Russia, as well as in Tijuana, where a famous radio station broadcast the music to both sides of the border in the late 20th century. With its highly charged rhythmic elements, jazz standards, popular songs, and emphasis on soloing and other forms of creativity, the music known as jazz has spread and continued to develop throughout the world along with other Black genres, such as soul, reggae, and hip-hop or rap, which together comprise one of the richest musical traditions the world has known.

Musical Features/Performance Style

Global jazz combines the forms and improvisatory and other aesthetic qualities of jazz with elements from international local traditions, including instruments, rhythms, and timbral qualities.

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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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