As the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans has long been preserving the classical art and subverting the genre to encompass a greater inclusion of blues, roots, country, and pop music.
With cheekily entitled events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Louisiana’s community is self-aware when it comes to its penchant for creating a musical genre and then challenging the constructs of that genre. While some American jazz singers have stuck to their purist guns by adhering to classical jazz constructs, that idea itself may just be an oxymoron, and this traditional approach is not something you often see in New Orleans.
Did French Descendants Invent Jazz?
An argument could be made that this is a dichotomy between American and European tastes and styles. Most jazz protectionist arguments are European; more specifically, French. Historically, France’s protectionist laws and scarcity of ‘Americanized’ jazz music meant that they were distanced from the culture of jazz and American jazz singers until the end of the first World War. With the arrival of Josephine Baker and La Revue Negre, it became evident that what the French considered to be jazz music, and what jazz music actually was, were two different things. Initially thought of as a scourge on France’s cultural borders, jazz has since been a significantly heavy influence on France’s music, books, and even paintings. Ever since World War I, French purists have been arguing that jazz would not exist without Louisiana’s plantations and the French speaking African slaves who worked there.
While there are few French purists who maintain the notion that classical jazz belongs to them, this doesn’t stop American jazz singers from continuing to reinvent their genre with vigor. There is no doubt in the minds of New Orleans citizens that jazz music was born there, and amongst the long line of successful and famous jazz singers, many are American.
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