“Music of Black Americans”: honoring black history through jazz music


SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Shortly after black Americans found themselves freed from the shackles of slavery in the late 19th century, the labor songs that echoed among the estates worked by slaves turned into what we now call jazz and blues.

The history of jazz is long and complex but its impact on modern music and culture is still felt today according to jazz historians. A new three-part series from Augustana University and the Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Society hopes to educate people about the history of jazz music and shine a light on the African-American musicians who were instrumental in shaping the genre.

Dr. Peter Folliard, dean of the Augustana School of Music, said the opportunity for the series arose after Alex Gilbert-Schrag, executive director of Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues (SFJB), advanced the idea of ​​creating a project in partnership with the university’s multimedia entrepreneurship program. Folliard said it made sense to partner because the university and SFJB both share a passion for jazz education and performance.

“Augustana is very committed to teaching jazz both in the classroom and in the rehearsal room,” Dr. Folliard said.

Jazz and the African-American experience

While it can be difficult to attribute the creation of jazz to a specific time and place, Augustana Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Brian Hanegan says it’s clear that jazz dates back to the region. of the Mississippi Delta between 1895 and 1915. Dr. Hanegan says that being a port city, New Orleans, Louisiana attracted people from all over the world and that, combined with the surplus brass and percussion instruments left behind by the Civil War, they made the perfect ingredients to create jazz.

The first part of the “Origins of Jazz” series focuses on the idea that jazz music is uniquely American. This is because the music itself originated from the work songs and cries of the fields that the slaves used to sing while working in the plantations and fields. The call-and-response nature and use of the pentatonic scale that was present in pitch songs became the basis of jazz music as a whole.

These songs morphed into blues and eventually jazz, Hanegan explained.

“The music was expressive and told the stories of the problems, the pain and the daily life that these African Americans lived. Music provided a platform and a voice for African Americans in mainstream society.

Dr. Brian Hanegan, Associate Professor of Music

While jazz originated in the Mississippi Delta, the Great Migration of the mid-20th century saw millions of black Americans leave the South and settle in northern cities, bringing jazz and blues with them. With migration, jazz music evolved in style and form while reaching out to black audiences.

As big bands become more popular, jazz music has reached white audiences, Hanegan said. While segregation was still prevalent at this time, dance halls allowed black musicians to gain prominence and upward mobility in the industry.

“There were also white bandleaders at the time, like Benny Goodman, who employed black musicians, because they were the best talent, and spoke out to promote the end of color barriers and divisions. racial lines in the United States,” Hanegan said.

The video series focuses heavily on the impact black artists such as Louis Armstrong have had on the genre. It even includes a story of Duke Ellington performing in Dell Rapids, South Dakota, and a local jazz musician’s unique connection to this historic visit.

While musicians of all races have contributed to jazz music, the genre is uniquely African-American according to Dr. Folliard.

“Jazz music is black American music,” Folliard said.

At a time when black Americans faced lynching, segregation, and the disenfranchisement of other Americans, jazz music provided a venue for artists to express themselves. Both Folliard and Hanegan talked about jazz being an individualistic expression within a composition and for black Americans they were able to connect with other people through this art form.

For non-black artists, it extends the invitation to express themselves through jazz music.

“There’s an opportunity there to take historical context and play it with that awareness, but also, damn it, I can’t help but, as a creator, have my own influence and voice in this. “, said Folliard.

As a collaborative art form, Folliard said you can see black and white artists working together and learning from each other as they push the genre forward and even into new areas of music like rock and roll. roll, soul and pop.

“That’s also when you start to see integration instead of segregation, it’s first on stage. Oh if it can exist with music, maybe it can exist in dance halls…. This is where the beautiful mix of culture starts to happen.

Dr. Peter Folliard, Dean of the Augustana School of Music

While jazz music remains its own genre of music that is still evolving today, the fundamentals of jazz music have shaped the music we listen to today, according to Folliard. From electric instruments to harmony, Folliard says, it influenced music as early as the 1920s.

“Jazz broadened our harmonic palette. It influenced rock and pop music, it influenced classical music,” Folliard said.

When Dr. Folliard moved to Sioux Falls in 2017, he said there wasn’t much of a live jazz music scene beyond college and high school performances. But in the 5 years since he arrived, he’s seen this scene grow tremendously.

From live jazz performances at the Levitt in the summer to weekly jazz nights at the R Wine Bar & Kitchen, Folliard and Hanegan are pleased to see local businesses offering jazz musicians the opportunity to perform and the public the chance to experience this live music.

“There’s clearly a support and love for jazz here and I think it will continue to grow as long as we have people to run it and people to come and listen,” Folliard said. “Without jazz music, I don’t want to be here.”

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Henry R. Wright