African Influences

The Bamboula and Calinda Slave Dance

The African-American influences on jazz have been taken more seriously during the 1990s than any preceding it. Influences from elements such as work songs, field hollers, and traditional dances have been examined closely; elements such as melodic shape, the use of “blue” notes, and rhythmic structure have been traced to early and modern jazz. The “blue” notes in jazz—the flatted third, fifth and seventh scale degrees—are a direct attempt by the earliest jazz musicians to reconcile the western diatonic scale to a more traditional African pentatonic scale. Rhythmic qualities of African music, especially those related to dance, were preserved in New Orleans due to cultural tolerance. This tolerance helped to keep quasi-African rituals and traditions alive. Where South Carolina and Georgia had banned the use of drums by slaves, an after effect of the Stono Rebellion of 1739, New Orleans in 1817 established an official site for the Sunday slave dances.1 The music that was performed at these dances, which continued up until the 1870s (with a brief hiatus during the Civil war), helped to preserve and develop an element that would become a key component to jazz.

  1. Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) 7.