Evolution of Female Jazz Musicians and Vocalists through the Past Century

Every generation is often characterized by its own recording artists. Recording artists and other musicians speak the language of music, which tells much about the world affairs, everyday living, hardships and inspirations, beliefs, and ambitions of the times straddled. Jazz music has changed with differing perspectives, from upbeat to relaxing to emotional, throughout the 20th century, but many elements stayed until today.

Jazz is probably well-known as cousin to the blues. Jazz music started as an offshoot of the combined ragtime, blues, African ritual beats and European harmonies. Together, the first recording musicians were big bands in the 1920s that entertained ballroom dancers and steamship crowds until the 50s.The first well-known big band is probably the Original Dixieland Jass Band. Their sound echoed the numerous bands of the time, and they were the first to produce sell-out jazz records.

Big band jazz eventually turned into hot jazz, which featured a “hot” climax following improvised solos. Louis Armstrong was the most creative genius of the time. In the 1930s, it was the time of swing jazz, where big bands produced upbeat dance music for the crowds. The great female jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Rosemary Clooney started out as vocalists to bands, but made a legacy from prolific individual jazz careers.

By the time of the Second World War, a new kind of jazz came to be, which would form basis to the jazz we know today. The 1940s introduced female jazz recording artists that belted out bebop jazz like Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee. Bebop jazz artists moved from big band to smaller bands. Instead of dancing, bebop or bop music was geared for listening. It was this form of jazz that was exported internationally. By this time, scat singing also became popular, and so was the rise of Betty Carter.

Cool jazz was an important offshoot of bebop. Whereas bebop was speedy, cool jazz was calm and smooth. Dianne Schuur was a known smooth jazz vocalist. Incorporating Brazilian music, cool jazz produced bossa nova. During this, rhythm and blues and free jazz also took off. Popular R&B-jazz crossover artists are Nancy Wilson and Etta Jones.

Following globalisation, different worldwide music influenced the formation of regional and fusion jazz music. During the 60s, jazz came under attack from the Beatles’ era of Rock and Roll music. But, jazz artists survived until today through revivals and innovation through the likes of Carmen McRae, a jazz pianist and singer, Ernestine Anderson, who came back from retirement, and greats like Fitzgerald and Vaughan.

Female Jazz recording artists throughout the American music scene produced many heartfelt and emotionally-moving songs. Many different composers created jazz music that eventually became jazz standards and parts of the Great American Songbook legacy today. Some of the greatest jazz songs garnering countless interpretations are ‘What a Wonderful World’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Strange Fruit’, ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘So What’, ‘Mack the Knife’, ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, ‘Harlem Nocturne’, ‘Cry Me a River’ and ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’.

Jazz is vibrant as ever with new forms that appeal to many. Hear wonderful music from contemporary female jazz recording artists, who wonderfully interpret or innovate from classical jazz music. Visit www.sylviabrooks.net

 

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