The Birth of Jazz
New Orleans was an ideal place for the emergence of jazz because it was a crucial point of commerce along the Mississippi. It was a “prosperous, cosmopolitan environment that few cities in the New World could match” (Gioia, 27). This wealth of industry attracted a melting pot of people, which created a lively and diverse culture that welcomed music in all forms. Jazz flourished in the Saturday night fish fries and the lawn parties, private events that gave musicians a chance to play for the locals. One source of this outgrowth was due to the city’s high mortality rate; according to Gioia, the “average life span for a black native of New Orleans in 1880 was only thirty-six years” (Gioia, 28). Such high mortality rates created an obsession with death that manifested itself in raucous merrymaking, which allowed people to distance themselves from their suffering. This was especially evident in the New Orleans parade for the dead, which was a paradoxical combination of both funeral and festival. Despite accusations that jazz originated from sin and licentiousness, Gioia maintains that in reality it was derived from the Baptist rhythms of the church. Musicians such as Bolden that would later become well known listened to religious music to get ideas for their own creations. Perhaps more influential still were the brass bands that became central to the social fabric of New Orleans; they played at nearly every type of social event and had a highly varied repertoire.
In terms of the Mexican contribution to New Orleans Jazz, there is substantial evidence that many black musicians were strongly influenced by the Mexicano style of music. New Orleans was a major center of commerce between the United States and Latin America, which attracted much international interest and immigration. When the Mexican government sent a national military band to New Orleans for the Cotton Exposition in 1884, many mexican musicians remained in the city after it ended. They in turn collaborated with many aspiring black artists, who integrated classical and latin influences such as wind instruments into their music (Johnson). Due to the strong Mexicano presence in the borderlands and their close association with black jazz artists, I believe that the mexican contribution was very important to the evolution of jazz.
The most important factor that strongly brought about the emergence of jazz in New Orleans was the remarkable amount of tolerance that its citizens displayed. Not only were there multitudes of different people and cultures, the city council even established an official site for slave dances. This shows an unprecedented and “exemplary degree of tolerance” (Gioia, 7) that allowed everyone to express themselves through art. By allowing slaves to practice and assimilate their music into European culture, African styles of art and dance began to emerge; without this influence, jazz would likely never have been born. Due to this rare acceptance, “music of all types permeated New Orleans social life; whether high or low, imported or indigenous, it found a receptive audience” (Gioia,32). In such a collaborative and welcoming environment, the African sense of rhythm was integrated into Western styles; an emphasis was placed on improvisation and spontaneity, which gave birth to the lively and spirited jazz culture that emerged from New Orleans.