By Eric Porter

About Eric Porter

Eric Porter is Professor of History and History of Consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz. His most recent book, coauthored with the photographer Lewis Watts, is New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition (2013).


“Jazz” and early variants “jaz” and “jas” have uncertain and contested roots. The term may or may not have origins in Chicago, New Orleans, Africa, baseball, or sex, although all would make sense given subsequent associations. We do know that the word “jazz” was, during the 1910s, increasingly used to describe a musical orientation (if not quite a genre) being developed by composers, solo pianists, and ensembles of various size. This music was hybrid, incorporating elements of African American blues and religious song, Caribbean dance genres, U.S. popular dance and folk music, marching band music, European classical music, ragtime piano, and the transplanted, modified West African rhythms that shaped some of these and other constituent forms. The music’s hybridity plotted its emergence at a particular set of coordinates in Black diasporic time and space. It sounded a contradictory postemancipation experience defined by movement across regions, from country to city and …

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