Outline of Jazz History

Jazz history is a fascinating and frustrating subject.  Since the first writings appeared, many of the the books and articles have been problematical.  This is because the authors of these texts have had many hidden (and not so hidden) agendas.  These agendas have included personal agendas (with many conflicts of interest), political agendas and racial agendas.  Sorting this out is an interesting hobby.  I do not think that a definitive jazz history has been written.  Much of the work in this area has been long on fan adulation and short on scholarship.  Much like Washington Irving's statement that the majority of people thought the world was flat in Columbus' time, factual errors and legends are repeated without checking basic sources.

The outline of jazz styles included was prepared  for the lectures and short courses that I give on the music. I deliberately left the instruments that most of the musicians play out because: 1) the document would be much longer, and; 2) the readers can look up recordings or reference material themselves with the names as a starting point.

The outline represents over 50 years of record (and now CD) collecting and study, along with some interviews that I've done. Some of it may not quite fit the standard jazz history that you read. It also reflects my prejudices as to what is or is not important (and why).

Mainly, you learn about the history of this music by concentrated, focused listening.

Early Roots

The early roots of the music come from musical styles that developed as a result of the collision of African traditions and European forms. The music developed in spite of and as a result of this collision.

-Purely African characteristics: pitch bending, rigid tempo, few changes in dynamics, prominent percussion role.

-African-European blend: "blue" notes, methods of producing tones, "swing."

-Characteristics of both cultures: improvisation, syncopation, poly-rhythms, antiphony (call and response).

-Purely European: harmony, counterpoint, band instruments.

-These musical styles were originally known as:

        Ragtime: written music for piano and other instruments that began during the 1880-1900 period.

        Blues and Spirituals: a rural vocal and instrumental music tradition directly descended from African sources using European hymns and popular ballads for the original literary sources.

        Marching music as popularized by Sousa.

New Orleans

In New Orleans, several ethnic groups (French, Spanish, English and African) spawned a culture where social activity was always accompanied by music in some form. Black music making had less interference here than in any other part of the South.

-A very high percentage of the early jazzmen (black and white) came from New Orleans.

-The most important are: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Leon Rappolo (New Orleans Rhythm Kings), the Original Dixieland "Jass" Band, Joe "King" Oliver, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, Jimmy Noone, Zutty Singleton.

-The style was an offshoot of ragtime that featured collective improvised counterpoint and was played mainly in 4/4 time.

New York

In New York, music developed on piano that was derived from ragtime which featured a more syncopated bass line played in 10ths. The style was called stride piano (pre-1920).

-The important stride pianists are: James P. Johnson, Willie "the Lion" Smith, Fats Waller.

-The "blues craze" (or race records) provided work for the early jazzmen who migrated here.

-New York musicians were among the first to try to codify New Orleans and stride styles with written arrangements for large ensembles.

-Musicians of importance are: Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, Miff Mole, Red Nichols.


Many southern blacks migrated to Chicago during and after World War I and the musicians migrated with them. White Chicagoans developed a style based on what they heard the blacks play.

-The music was based on New Orleans music but was mainly played in 2 instead of 4.

-The important musicians of the Chicago style were: Frank Teschemacher, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Bud Freeman.

-Before the Stock Market crash of 1929, Chicago was the center of a burgeoning recording industry. Most of the important early jazz recordings were made in the area.

-These records include those of the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band, the Jelly Roll Morton Red Hot Peppers, The Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, Johnny Dodds and the New Orleans Wanderers, Jimmy Noone and the Apex Club orchestra, Earl Hines, and Bix Beiderbecke.

Big Band Conventions

Big Bands developed in two directions from New York, Chicago and Detroit

-Antiphony between sections was codified in the work of Fletcher Henderson and his arrangers (including Don Redman) and was the predominant style during the period 1929-48. This style was also developed in the Casa Loma orchestra, the McKinney's Cotton Pickers (Redman, Benny Carter and John Nesbitt, arrangements) and the Gene Goldkette Orchestra (Bill Challis, arrangements).

-This style remains the predominant mode of big band arranging up to today.

-Antiphony between groups of different instruments came from the work of Duke Ellington, one of the premier composers of the 20th century.

Kansas City and the Southwest

In Kansas City during the 1920's to late 1930's another style developed from ragtime, stride piano, boogie woogie (a piano style that developed in the South and Southwest independently of ragtime), Southwestern blues and cowboy songs.

-Many Southwestern and Midwestern Territory bands such as the Oklahoma Blue Devils, Alphonso Trent Orchestra, Troy Floyd Orchestra and the Nat Towles Orchestra contributed to the development of the Kansas City Style.

-The important musicians of the Kansas City style were: Benny Moten, Andy Kirk, Mary Lou Williams, Harlan Leonard, Count Basie, Lester Young, Jay McShann, Buster Smith, Tommy Douglas, Walter Page, Jesse Stone, George E. Lee, Buddy Anderson.

-The Kansas City period lasted until about 1940 and was the impetus for modern jazz as we know it today. It was also one of the birthplaces of early 1950's rhythm and blues.

Big Bands and the Swing Era

During the "Swing Era," (ca. 1935-45), soloists and large and small ensembles perfected the style that came from the New York bands of the 1920's. Much of the music was jazz influenced pop music.

-Some important jazz bands and musicians of the "Swing Era" were: Benny Goodman, Jimmy Lunceford, Chick Webb, Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnet, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Ben Webster, Willie Smith, Vic Dickenson, Dickie Wells, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson and Mary Lou Williams.

-By the end of the 1930's, both traditionalists (players who played in both the New Orleans and Chicago styles) and experimentalists were beginning to believe that the "Swing Era" music had reached a dead end. The music of Count Basie, Harlan Leonard and Jay McShann (all from Kansas City) revitalized the music somewhat because of their emphasis on Afro-American values in their music.

-Pianist Stan Kenton tried to turn this music into a European Concert music by the late 1940's.  He called his music "Progressive Jazz."

-The New Orleans Revival came from this belief. This style remains in much of the amateur Dixieland groups heard today.

-The style of jazz known as bebop also came from this belief.


The style known as "bebop" developed as an underground movement in New York in the period 1940-45 out of ideas initially developed independently in Kansas City and New York. Players in this style listened heavily to Art Tatum and Duke Ellington.  This style has heavily influenced much of western 20th century music from the late 1940's until today. It flowered in the small clubs on 52nd Street in New York from 1945 to about 1949.

-Charlie Parker (from Kansas City), Dizzy Gillespie (from South Carolina and Philadelphia) and Thelonious Monk (from New York) were the architects of the style.  Charlie Christian (from the Southwest via the Benny Goodman band), Jimmy Blanton (from St. Louis and the Ellington band), Allen Tinney, Vic Coulson, John Carisi and others also contributed ideas.

-It is very clear that whites were involved in bebop from the beginning.

-Bebop used rhythm differently, with accents at unexpected places. The bassist, and not the drummer, became the principal timekeeper. Harmony was built on the upper partials of chords, with a common language of substitute chords that could be used at will.

-Other important musicians who came up in this period are: Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, Oscar Pettiford, Al Haig, George Wallington, Milt Jackson, J. J. Johnson, Don Byas, Clyde Hart, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae.

-Eventually Thelonious Monk's music evolved into his own personal style that had little to do with bop rhythms.

Cool and West Coast Styles

Bebop was codified by the "Cool" and "West Coast" styles. The players were mainly white.

-Bop harmony was used over a rhythm that was smoother and less frantic.

        The "cool" style derived from a band led by Miles Davis in 1949, the Claude Thornhill band, an octet led by Dave Brubeck and pianist Lennie Tristano and his students.

        Players of these styles whose music is still heard today are: Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Paul Desmond.

        The Modern Jazz Quartet and the Dave Brubeck Quartet were the most successful of the groups that were formed during this period.

-Most of the music that was overtly European sunk without a trace by the late 1950's.

Stan Kenton and Jazz Studies

By the early 1950's Stan Kenton had incorporated bebop and cool elements into his music. He was accepted by academics. Kenton's efforts led to jazz studies programs that are heard in many colleges and universities today. He continued to make sporadic attempts to forge a new concert music throughout his career.

Norman Granz and Jazz At the Philharmonic

Empresario Norman Granz presented many of the great "Swing Era," Kansas City and bebop soloists in an amalgam of styles in concerts called "Jazz At the Philharmonic" from the mid 1940's through 1967. A style developed from these players known today as "Mainstream Jazz."

The 1950's and Hard Bop

During the 1950's, bop never died. Its harmonies and jagged phrasing developed into a style that overtly incorporated blues and church music and was known as "Hard Bop." A later, more popular form, "Soul Jazz" developed from hard bop.

-Important "hard bop" players were: Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers, Bobby Timmons, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Hank Mobley, Curtis Fuller, Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery.

Third Stream Music

Players such as Charles Mingus and John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet used Afro-American styles and devices along with some European forms in an early attempt at a fusion of the two cultures called "Third Stream Music" that succeeded only when-Afro American roots were not lost.

-Others of importance in the "Third Stream" experiments were: Stan Kenton, Gunther Schuller, Gil Evans and George Russell.

-The "Third Stream" movement did not succeed until the 1970's when Europeans became skilled enough at playing jazz so that they could make a significant contribution.

The Great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra

Thad Jones and Mel Lewis led an orchestra from around 1966 to 1980 that incorporated many devices from the bebop, hard bop and Kansas City styles that maintained the big band tradition in jazz through some lean years.

Modal Jazz

Miles Davis, arranger/orchestra leader Gil Evans, pianist Bill Evans and others began improvising on scales or modes instead of chords in the 1957-59 period. This became the chief method of improvising during the 1960's for players who were not free improvisers.

-John Coltrane developed from this period into one of the most influential musicians of the last half of the 20th century. His playing led directly to much high energy rock of the late 1960's and 1970's and remains the standard by which saxophone technique is judged today.

Free Jazz

-Ornette Coleman, independently of Davis, developed his own modal style based on Southwestern blues. The style of playing did away with bar lines and meters and was more free-flowing. The style came to be known as "Free Jazz." In addition, other "Free Jazz" players arose who did not base their playing on the blues.

-Among the early innovators in this style are: Albert Ayler, Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Sunny Murray.

Free Bop

The groups led by Miles Davis from 1963-1969 played in a style derived heavily from Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. The players in these groups were George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. This style eventually became known as "Free Bop" and is one of the major styles played today.

Charles Lloyd

A very popular musician, playing out of a Coleman/Coltrane style was Charles Lloyd who led a quartet featuring Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. The latter three musicians have been major innovators in a variety of styles since 1967.

Jazz Rock Fusion

The groups of Miles Davis from the mid-1960's spawned musicians who developed the "Jazz Rock" fusion style of the 1970's which featured electrical amplification, modal playing and rock rhythms.

-The important players are: John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and the groups known as the Fourth Way, Weather Report, Return to Forever, Tony Williams' Lifetime and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

-This music quickly reached a dead end due to the endless rapid streams of unaccented eighth notes. It remains the basis for "lite jazz" today.

Romantic acoustic Music

A group of romantics who played strictly acoustic music developed at this time in response to jazz-rock. The music developed from Ornette Coleman's theories. It dates from ca. 1969, and eventually was watered down into "New Age" music by others.

-Important musicians of this style are: Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Gary Burton.

Jazz Styles Today

Today, nearly all styles can be heard, because the musicians are, for the first time, aware of the entire tradition that goes back to the turn of the century. This has led to a situation in which the majority of the new players since 1980 have based their playing on styles such as hard bop and free bop. There has been little expansion of the language in those styles by these players. Much of the music is of the "jazz repertory" variety, even that label is not stated as such. An uninformed public has been led to believe that what these players are playing is the latest innovation.

The prevalent styles today are the Free Bop, Hard Bop, and Mainstream styles.

-The Mainstream style is derived from an amalgam of music from the Kansas City, Swing and early bebop eras and may be the only style whose younger practitioners have continued to develop and expand the musical language. Many of the younger practitioners of this style are accepted by the older players, in contrast to the behavior of the older players in some of the other styles prevalent today. Many of the older players playing in this style were employed by Norman Granz and Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1945 to about 1970 and recorded with Verve and Pablo records.

-Some of the important players and groups in the Mainstream style are Oscar Peterson, Benny Carter, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Ray Brown, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, J. J. Johnson, AL Grey, Ernie Watts, Gene Harris, Clark Terry, Scott Hamilton, Phil Woods, Hank Jones, John Clayton, Warren Vache, Flip Phillips, Cyrus Chestnut, Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Lew Tabackin, George Gruntz, Adam Makowicz, Hal Galper, Ahmad Jamal, Benny Green, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Herb Ellis, Jeff Hamilton, Benny Green.

-Some of the contemporary musicians and groups who continue to contribute and expand the jazz language in other styles are: McCoy Tyner, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Wynton Marsalis (early in his career), Lester Bowie, the World Saxophone Quartet, Anthony Davis, David Murray, Roy Hargrove, Oliver Lake, Hamiett Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, John Hicks, Joanne Brackeen, Jane Ira Bloom, Jay Hoggard, Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard, James Carter, James Newton, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Max Roach, Jacky Terrasson, Charles Gayle, Marty Ehrlich, David Douglass, David S. Ware, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Charlie Haden, Don Pullen, George Adams, Joe Lovano, Anthony Cox, Jerome Harris, John Abercrombie, Jerome Harris, the Vienna Art Orchestra, the Willem Breuker Kollektif, Jan Garbarek, Carla Bley, Paul Bley, Steve Swallow, Myra Mehlford, Marilyn Crispell, Paul Motian, Joey Barron, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Ornette Coleman, Geri Allen, Steve Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Werner, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Greg Osby.


All text and images in this web site are copyright, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Dennis C. and Rosa B. Owsley and 2009, 2010 , 2011 and 2012  by Dennis C. Owsley.  No material can be used without permission.