Historic Timelines



Freed slaves move from Mississippi and Louisiana plantations to New Orleans. They bring their worship music, work songs, and blues, all starkly different from the music of the mixed race Creoles who view themselves as neither African nor American because their presence in New Orleans predates the Louisiana Purchase. Defying tensions between African Americans and Creoles, musicians from the two groups eventually begin playing together. Creoles often play with European precision; African Americans with more spontaneity and vigor, deviating from standard pitch and intonation.

Late 1800s

The Spanish Tinge. Fruit companies, running daily ships between Havana and New Orleans, bring Afro Caribbean music to New Orleans. Tresillo and Habanera rhythms soon underpin some of the music played in New Orleans. (Local African American composer Basile Barès bases his late 19th century piece “Los Campanillos” on the habanera; New Orleans-born white composer Louis Gottschalk employs Cuban rhythms as well).

Late 1800s

Brass bands. Using cast-off Spanish American War instruments, African American musicians in New Orleans form brass bands playing European dance music and dirges. African Americans in New Orleans adopt the custom of burying the dead with pseudo full military honors, keeping the brass bands busy.


Birth of Ragtime. Syncopated or “ragged” rhythms from Afro Caribbean music merge with pop and minstrel-type melodies to create Ragtime. New Orleans and St. Louis are its likely birthplaces. Tom Turpin, an African American saloon keeper born in Savannah, Georgia, and living in St. Louis, writes “Harlem Rag,” the first known Ragtime song by an African American. In St. Louis, Scott Joplin publishes his first two rags in 1895. In New Orleans, cornetist Buddy Bolden forms a band blending Ragtime and Blues.


Storyville sanctioned. An era of legally-sanctioned prostitution begins in New Orleans. The red-light district, named Storyville for the city alderman who proposed restricting prostitution, is adjacent to the French Quarter, bounded by Basin, Iberville, North Robertson, and St. Louis Streets. Ragtime flourishes in Storyville and in the many dance halls catering to African Americans.

Around 1900

Jazz coalesces from Ragtime, Blues, brass band music and Afro Caribbean music. Early Jazz musicians in New Orleans call their music Ragtime, but only in New Orleans does Ragtime merge with blues, brass band music, and Afro-Caribbean music. The brass bands that improvise on Ragtime music are dubbed “ratty” or “barrel-house.”


First Ragtime recording. Charles Booth’s performance of Danish-born J. Bodewalt Lampe’s “Creole Belles” is recorded for the newly launched Victor label. Meanwhile, the American Federation of Musicians votes to suppress Ragtime.


Louis Armstrong born in New Orleans.


Jelly Roll Morton claims to have invented Jazz. A “Creole of Color,” Morton played piano in brothels in the late 1800s. If he didn’t invent Jazz in 1902 as he claimed, his music embodies what he calls the “Spanish tinge” (the habanera and tresillo rhythms), and he’s the first to successfully arrange Jazz, keeping its character and spirit intact. Some of his compositions, like “Black Bottom Stomp,” “Wolverine Blues,” “King Porter Stomp,” and “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say,” are among the earliest copyrighted Jazz songs and are still played.


Buddy Bolden committed to a mental institution. Although credited with a pivotal role in creating Jazz, Bolden never records.


Jelly Roll Morton is in Chicago and New York. His work influences local Ragtime pianists.


The earliest 12-bar blues by African American composers are published. Among the first is W.C. Handy’sMemphis Blues.” Two years later, Handy publishes his best-known work, “St. Louis Blues,” employing the Habanera bass line.


The word “Jazz” first appears in print. In the San Francisco Bulletin of March 6, 1913, it reads: “The team which speeded into town this morning comes pretty close to representing the pick of the army. Its members have trained on ragtime and ‘jazz.’”


Louis Armstrong enters the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. There, he learns musical theory and intonation. He leaves in 1914, and soon joins a band led by Joe “King” Oliver—locally recognized as the greatest blues cornetist since Buddy Bolden.


Jelly Roll Morton’sJelly Roll Blues” published. By most accounts, it’s the first published Jazz composition.


First record with “Jazz” in the title. A white Chicago-based vaudeville act, Collins and Harlan, record “That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland.” Several more vaudeville artists record songs with “Jazz” in the title shortly before the advent of Jazz on record. No one has ever come up with a convincing explanation of where the word “Jazz,” “Jass,” or “Jas” came from.


The Victor recording of the Original Dixieland Jass Band’sLivery Stable Blues” becomes the acknowledged first Jazz record. It outsells many of Victor’s top popular and classical artists. The ODJB is white. When W. C. Handy’s orchestra covers it a few months later, it’s the first Jazz record by an African American artist. Both are recorded in New York.


Storyville is closed, hastening the dispersal of Jazz musicians from New Orleans. King Oliver leaves the following year for Chicago.


Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet publishes the first long-form journalism about Jazz in a Swiss magazine Revue Romande. After watching New Orleans clarinetist Sidney Bechet with the Syncopated Southern Orchestra, Ansermet writes: “They play generally without written music, and even when they have it, the score only serves to indicate the general line for there are very few numbers I have heard them execute twice with exactly the same effects. I imagine that, knowing the voice attributed to them in the harmonic ensemble and conscious of the role their instrument is to play, they can let themselves go in a certain direction and within certain limits, as their hearts desire. They are so entirely possessed by the music, they can’t stop themselves from dancing inwardly in such a way that their playing is a real show.”


Duke Ellington, raised in Washington, D.C., hears Sidney Bechet. “I had never heard anything like it. It was a completely new sound and conception to me,” he writes later. The music of those who grew up around the Blues in the South will, for many years, be different from those who grow up elsewhere.


Louis Armstrong leaves New Orleans to join King Oliver in Chicago. They begin recording the following year.


The Jazz Age. The years between 1922 and the onset of the Great Depression are later dubbed the Jazz Age. Played on newly launched radio stations, Jazz is as polarizing as Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s. With Prohibition in effect, Jazz also becomes the music of illicit drinking clubs, dubbed speakeasies.


Louis Armstrong revolutionizes Jazz. He makes the first Hot Five/ Seven recordings, creating a role for the soloist in Jazz. To this point, Jazz has been ensemble music. Armstrong broadens Jazz by improvising on chords rather than melody. His tone, attack, and solo skills make him the first genius of Jazz.


Jazz pianist James P. Johnson records “Charleston.” The dance named after the song becomes the defining motif of the Jazz Age.

Mid 1920s

Kansas City Jazz. Using a 4/4—instead of 2/4—beat, Kansas City musicians develop a more fluid, less jumpy, sound rooted in the Blues. Musicians often play one song for an hour or more, pioneering extended solos even if those solos can’t be recorded because 78 RPM discs hold little more than three minutes. K.C. Jazz is riff based. Count Basie and others develop melodies based on riffs. Charlie Parker, who later revolutionizes Jazz, begins his career in Kansas City beerjoints.


Louis Armstrong pioneers Jazz singing. His recording of “Heebie Jeebies” is the first “scat” singing solo.


The Jazz Singer released. Although the movie’s star, Al Jolson, isn’t a Jazz singer, this movie—the first “talkie”—symbolizes the fact that Jazz is the era’s defining music.


Boogie Woogie. Clarence “Pinetop” Smith records the tune that jump-starts the boogie woogie craze, “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.” From Troy, Alabama, Smith dies of a gunshot wound the following year, and doesn’t see his song become a hit for Tommy Dorsey ten years later.

Late 1920s

The Big Band era. Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, as well as neo-symphonic white orchestra leaders build on Jelly Roll Morton’s work in orchestrating Jazz. By 1930, New Orleans-style Jazz is out of favor.


Buddy Bolden dies. He has never left the mental institution to which he was confined in 1907.


It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing).” Duke Ellington’s composition is the first to have “Swing” in the title. Jazz is now played for dancing. The Big Band pioneers are soon joined by white popularizers like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and the Dorsey brothers.


Blues singer Bessie Smith makes her last recordings, and Billie Holiday makes her first. The introduction of the microphone makes full-throated singers like Smith increasingly obsolete, while those who can sing intimately into a microphone, like Holiday and Bing Crosby, become more popular.


Django Reinhardt makes his first recordings. Guitarist Reinhardt, a gypsy born in Belgium, makes the first enduring, innovative European Jazz recordings.


Benny Goodman records with a racially integrated trio. Pianist Teddy Wilson and later vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and guitarist Charlie Christian join Goodman’s band.


Jelly Roll Morton records extensive reminiscences and vocal-piano sides for Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress. This is probably the first detailed oral history of Jazz’s early years.


Blue Note Records launched. The preeminent Jazz label is started in New York by two German émigrés, and continues to this day as a division of the Universal Music Group.


New Orleans/Dixieland revival. Henry “Kid” Rena’s New Orleans recordings for Circle Records are generally reckoned to be the first of the Dixieland Revival. The revival’s originators see it as a backlash against the increasing commercialization of Jazz as Swing.

Early 1940s

Be-Bop. In New York, pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker, and drummer Kenny Clarke begin experimenting with harmonically adventurous small group Jazz, soon known as Be-Bop. This too is a reaction against the increasing sterility and commercialism of Big Band Jazz.


Charlie Parker begins recording. Still working in Kansas City, Parker makes his first records with Jay McShann’s Jazz-R&B band. Within a year, he is in New York experimenting with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others.


Lionel Hampton’s big band records “Flying Home.” After leaving Benny Goodman in 1940, Hampton starts his own orchestra and his riff-driven recording of “Flying Home,” arranged by Milt Buckner and featuring Illinois Jacquet’s honking tenor saxophone, anticipates Rhythm ‘n’ Blues.


Jazz at the Philharmonic. Promoter Norman Granz stages the first JATP concert. He employs the brand until 1983, recording many of the concerts and issuing them, eventually on his own Verve Records. Granz always insists that he will not stage a concert to segregated audiences.


Miles Davis leaves Juilliard. Complaining of the Euro-centric curriculum, Davis quits after a few months, joining Charlie Parker.


Be-Bop on Record. Dizzy Gillespie’s sessions with Charlie Parker are generally acknowledged as the first Be-Bop recordings.


Round Midnight. Pianist Bud Powell, an early adopter of Be-Bop, persuades big band leader Cootie Williams to record Thelonious Monk’sRound Midnight,” the first of several hundred recordings of this Jazz standard.


Afro-Cuban Jazz. Dizzy Gillespie’sManteca” fuses Jazz with one of its forebears, Afro-Caribbean music.


The LP. Columbia Records’ introduction of the LP allows Jazz improvisers to stretch out beyond the three-minute limit of 78 RPM records.


Birth of the Cool. Trumpeter Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans record the first “cool” Jazz sessions. Departing from the standard Be-Bop quintet, Evans and Davis write arrangements for a nonet with a French horn and tuba. The nonet isn’t successful and the sessions aren’t even released in their entirety until Cool Jazz becomes a fad in the mid-1950s.


The end of the Big Band era. Many of the most popular big bands of the 1940s are scaled down or begin to disband.


Charlie Parker dies.


Free-Form Jazz. Charles Mingus’s Pithecanthropus Erectus LP is the first to feature collective improvisation.


Hard Bop. A synthesis of Be-Bop and R&B, Hard Bop is pioneered by drummer Art Blakey, whose 1957 album, Hard Bop, names the genre. Primarily played by African American musicians, it defies the Cool school of predominantly West Coast white musicians, notably Stan Getz and Chet Baker, who take their cue from Miles Davis’s 1949 sessions.


Modal Jazz. Miles Davis records Milestones, the first modal Jazz album.


Kind of Blue. Miles Davis’s modal Jazz masterpiece eventually becomes the best-selling instrumental Jazz album of all time. Continuously in print since 1959, it has been certified quadruple platinum for sales exceeding four million.


Take Five. Dave Brubeck’s Quartet scores one of the biggest-ever Jazz hits with “Take Five,” employing the 5/4 time signature.


Free Jazz. Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz LP, a collectively improvised free-form work, extends over two sides of the LP.


Civil Rights. Drummer Max Roach, together with lyricist-activist Oscar Brown, Jr., conceive We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. Brown and Roach reference the African independence movement and the upcoming 100th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration.


In New Orleans, Preservation Hall is founded to present Jazz as it was originally played in New Orleans.


Jazz Samba. Saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd record an album fusing Jazz and Brazililan Bossa Nova rhythms. The following year, Getz and Astrud Gilberto score a pop hit with “The Girl from Ipanema.” Briefly, Brazilian rhythms pervade Jazz.


A Love Supreme. Saxophonist John Coltrane releases his four-part free-form devotional classic. The album sells half-a-million copies by 1970 and wins copious awards.


What a Wonderful World. Louis Armstrong’s last major recording becomes a No.1 hit in England, but sells few copies in the United States. In 1988, Armstrong’s record is featured in Good Morning, Vietnam and becomes a Top 40 U.S. pop hit.


Fusion. As Rock music becomes more harmonically complex, it blends with Jazz to create Fusion. Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew are among the first artistically successful Fusion LPs. Those following Davis’s lead include John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.


First New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazzfest). The line-up includes Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Meters, and Clifton Chenier. The festival has been held in late April-early May every year since 1970, even in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.


Louis Armstrong dies.


The Sting. The movie soundtrack features Scott Joplin’s ragtime compositions, briefly re-popularizing his music. The renewed interest in Ragtime gives a fillip to the career of Eubie Blake, who had played and composed Ragtime back in its heyday. A musical of his work, Eubie, opens on Broadway in 1978.


Jazz-Funk. Abandoning Swing rhythms in favor of Funk grooves like those played by James Brown, some Jazz musicians cross Jazz with Funk. Early adopters include Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, the Crusaders, and Miles Davis. In the 1990s and beyond, Jazz Funk (rechristened Acid Jazz) dominates the UK club scene.


Smooth Jazz. As the Jazz audience shrinks dramatically, the only successful artists are those playing Smooth Jazz. George Benson, Kenny G, Grover Washington, Jr., and David Sanborn are among the most successful.


Wynton Marsalis releases his first LP on Columbia Records. Born in New Orleans in 1961, Marsalis carries forward the city’s rich traditions, and flies the flag for the ideals of classic Jazz.


The record business decreases sharply. New Jazz recordings on major labels are curtailed and Jazz becomes the province of specialist labels.


Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest storms to hit the United States, devastates New Orleans and southern Mississippi. The Jazz Archive at Tulane University is severely damaged.

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