MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – There is one genre of music we wouldn’t have today if it weren’t for contributions of Black musicians.
“It’s so unique because it really is an original American artform,” said Dr. Mark Flaherty, Department Head and Professor of Music, Jazz Band Director, Northern Michigan University.
Dr. Flaherty is directs the jazz bands at NMU and with that, has a wealth of knowledge behind the history of the genre.
“This is music that comes directly out of the experience of early African Americans in this country,” said Dr. Flaherty.
Dr. Flaherty says the music is a combination of both African and European components.
“Slaves that came to this country took African, elements of African music,” said Dr. Flaherty. “Things like polyrhythms and call and response, sort of tempo variation and basically superimposed those elements on top of things that they came across in European forms. So, they end up blending in European harmony and notation for example.”
Besides the creators of the music, many of the innovators who have paved the way for this genre were also Black musicians.
“Louis Armstrong for example or Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane,” said Dr. Flaherty. “These musicians really took what was essentially a popular music that developed around the turn of the 20th century in New Orleans and elevated it to really an artform.”
Dr. Flaherty shared who some of his favorite jazz musicians are.
“You know, certainly as a trumpet player, I have to say Louis Armstrong,” said Dr. Flaherty. “Really, arguably, one could say is the most important musician in American music and I would even say not just in jazz. His influence both as a trumpet player and as a vocalist as well was tremendous. That influence has sort of trickled down way beyond the 1920s when he started off and into all different styles of music to the point where singers you hear today, one way or another were influenced by Armstrong. Certainly as a trumpet player, you can’t get away from that. People like Chet Baker and Miles Davis of course as a trumpet player. I’ve always enjoyed listening to Ella Fitzgerald for example.”
It’s music that people can learn a lot from Dr. Flaherty says.
“It really shows us the importance of listening to one another,” said Dr. Flaherty. “The importance of diversity. The importance of being able to sort of take in a lot different view points that work together as a team. When you see a jazz combo for example playing on stage, to a certain extent that’s kind of how our democratic society can or should hopefully work. So it’s a great style of music and I guess if folks haven’t spent time listening to it, I encourage them to do so. It can really change your life.”