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The African Experience on American Shores: Influence of Native American Contact on the Development of Jazz Essay

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THE AFRICAN EXPERIENCE ON AMERICAN SHORES: INFLUENCE OF NATIVE AMERICAN CONTACT ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF JAZZ

Morgen Stiegler

A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate College of Bowling Green State University in partial requirement of the requirements for the degree of

MASTER OF MUSIC August 2009 Committee: David Harnish, Advisor Chris Buzzelli

© 2009 Morgen L. Stiegler All Rights Reserved

iii ABSTRACT

David Harnish, Advisor

Over the past century, musicians and researchers alike have argued how specifically “African” or “European” jazz is. Some camps stand by a clearly African origin of Jazz with its common elements of syncopation, polyphony, and presence of “blue” notes and raspy timbre elements that cannot be traced to Western music, while others who attribute jazz a more Western parentage often cite non-African elements such as a written music tradition and the use of Western harmonic structure. An inconsistency in these arguments, however, emerges in some styles of jazz; for example, early jazz, blues, and ragtime were not always “swung.” This inconsistency, among others, might be attributable to European music, to some styles of African music, or even to Native American music, a possibility that has been largely overlooked by jazz scholars. Jazz is often characterized by the “African” elements of oral transmission, repetition, and the centrality of rhythm; these elements, however, are also characteristic of most Native American musics. Despite the debates above, the exact origins of jazz remain obscure. One point that scholars most often agree on is that, regardless of where jazz’s musical roots lie, the very beginnings of this American music were synthesized by the “African experience on American shores” (Gerard 136), which involved cultural contact with both Europeans and Native Americans during and after slavery and into the period when jazz started to develop in cities such as New Orleans and Chicago. The living experience of Africans in...

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