Timeline of African American Music
Wynton Marsalis

Mid-20th Century Transitions in Jazz

By Douglas Henry Daniels, Ph.D.

Context and History

In the mid-20th century, numerous styles were popular, including hard bop, soul jazz, and cool. Some compositions marked a return to the blues, gospel, and soul roots of jazz, such as Bobby Timmons’s “Moanin’” and Horace Silver’s compositions (including “The Preacher”). At the same time, stylists such as Erroll Garner, Hazel Scott, and Ahmad Jamal popularized the music, treating popular songs as jazz compositions with subtle variations on the melody and extended improvisations at the core. The accomplished Trinidadian pianist Scott, furthermore, was known for “swinging the classics.”

"Misty" - Erroll Garner

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Specific attributes: Improvisation, Instrumentals, Melody, Form, Vocals, Saxophone, Piano, Travel, Cultural Influences

Notably, whites such as the English pianists Marian McPartland and George Shearing, tenor saxophonists Stan Getz and John “Zoot” Sims, and the most successful of the time, pianist Dave Brubeck, popularized the music and enriched and broadened the range of choice. The advent of white-American, Canadian, West Indian, and Japanese musicians indicated the extent to which the music had become internationally famous, attracting artists from throughout the world. The US State Department capitalized on the music’s popularity by sending jazz bands to foreign capitals of Europe and Asia to promote US culture and to advertise the nation’s democratic values.

WLIB-FM First Annual Jazz Concert, May 16, 1966Courtesy of Carnegie Hall Rose Archives
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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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