Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll

An extraordinary offshoot of the otherwise horrific institution of slavery was the synthesis of African and European music in the melting pot of the Americas.  In North America, this synthesis created a dazzling array of unique musical genres, among them: Spiritual, Blues, Ragtime, Jazz, and Rock & Roll.

This session explores the combination of African and European musical elements that together created Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll.  Initially, we will explore the rhythmic, melodic and textural aspects of West African music that set it apart from European music.  We will then observe how these aspects of African music, when combined with the European musical instruments and harmonic language of Anglo-America, created a variety of music the likes of which had never been heard before.  Starting with the African-American Spiritual, we will observe the development and evolution of Blues; the emergence of Ragtime; the beginnings and evolution of Jazz from New Orleans through Bebop; post-WWII youth culture, media, and the advent of Rock & Roll.

Along the way we will listen to a vast variety of music, including West African drum music; Spirituals; Blues performed by Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Jimmie Rogers, and Muddy Waters; the Ragtime of Scott Joplin; and performances by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Marvin Gaye, and Elvis Presley, among many others.

GOALS: To become aware of the synthesis of African and European music that together created Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll and to realize that the worldwide popularity of Blues, Jazz and Rock & Roll is a metaphor for the globalization we are witness to in late twentieth/early twenty-first century.

Session length: 75 – 90 minutes.  Can be followed sequentially by “Composers Without Wigs”.

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