Imagine anatomists had said "fuck it," and instead of learning the difference between, say, the kidney and the heart, they had called both "organs" and went off to have sex with a test tube. Today, we are those scientists, and jazz is organs. Yeah.
We're going to use our imaginations again, OK? Pretend you're taking one of your customary walks through Central Park, minding your own business and also the business of that person next to you with the enormous [sexual organ of your choice], when suddenly you're kidnapped by South American drug lords. You're taken to their enormous weed farm where you're forced to toil in the sun for hours on end, every day, forever. Also you probably get sick and die from the foreign environment (South America, man). Do you:
a) Cry into your bug-infested burlap sleeping sack every night until you drft off to sleep?
b) Slit your wrists using the farming equipment?
or c) Start a musical revolution to pass the time?
If you picked (c), then congratulations, you are stronger than most. Also, you chose what black slaves in 19th-century America chose; that is, black slaves in 19th-century America started a musical revolution. They took everything they learned from their local musicians and applied these tenets of music theory to Western instruments. They then did one of the ballsiest things ever: they used this music to make fun of the white man (who, by the way, was still technically enslaving them).
The white man responded the one and only thing he knew how to do: steal the effort of the African-Americans for great financial gain. But that was only the beginning...
In the 1860s, something called the Civil War ended slavery. It's not clear what happened next, but there were probably numerous opportunities for newly emancipated blacks to demonstrate their skills, music being no exception.
Life was good
Oh wait, that's not what happened at all. Racist Americans, some pissed that slavery was over, others just pissed that blacks were so darn black, didn't really afford the freed men (who, oddly enough, hadn't earned a single cent from their work as unpaid laborers) much opportunity at all. The best job black musicians could get was as Billy Joels for their local night clubs and such. In this way, ragtime developed. At the same time, a version of jazz less concerned with writing music down and more concerned with sick solos from big band instruments was developing in New Orleans. This was called Dixieland.
Together, these two types of music combined to create the jazz we all know and tolerate. This happened just in time for...
Sometime in the early 1900s, stuffy women such as Susan B. Anthony, Frances E. Willard, and Carry A. Nation (who should have ostensibly been a tough-as-nails commando who singlehandedly won both world wars) seemingly had nothing better to do than be ugly and complain about how alcohol was bad and stuff.
You gotta fuck one, marry one, and kill one...
Stuffy religious types agreed and so did the government. They passed both the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act, and then did what the government does best: absolutely nothing. Let's take a spin over to Dictionary.com. "temperance (n) - abstinence from alcoholic drink." Apparently, nobody in Prohibition got the memo, because their definition read more like "temperance (n) - getting fucking smashed in the most irresponsible ways possible, all while looking extremely dapper."
The act fostered the growth of organized crime, flapper culture, and the excess which would eventually result in a certain Depression with which you may already be familiar. This era was a boon for both future filmmakers looking for an easy way to make an interesting period piece and jazz musicians, who at this point were playing what is now called swing music. These musicians provided the soundtrack to arguably the swingingest time in American history.
Prohibition came and went, and the Depression did likewise. Hitler was murdered by the Inglourious Basterds (never forget), and Japan was nuked. Still jazz held strong. It was a good time to be jazz. What could possibly fuck this up?
Remember how Dixieland was essentially a way for obscenely talented instrumentalists to show off their skills? Swing was less of that and more of the cantina song from Star Wars: impossibly catchy, fun to listen to, and apparently makes active people feel like dancing. After the war was over, however, people's energy was a little bit spent. That dancing shit went out the window faster than you could say "gee whiz" and got replaced in part by a Dixieland revival, and mostly by bebop. Also along for the ride were:
- Hard bop
- Cool bop
- Post bop
Bebop was less concerned with trivialities such as "melody" and "enjoyability" and more intent on more useful endeavors, such as "sounding fucking terrible because we can." Although undoubtedly practiced by many talented individuals, this, the form of jazz with which the general term is largely synonymous, is why one can say to a musician "if you fuck up, just call it jazz." It was the final nail in the coffin for an increasingly irrelevant form of music. Blues music had been taken from black people by the whites for monetary gain just as jazz had over fifty years prior. And while jazz was going in new, ear-raping directions, blues was going in new, basis-of most-popular-music-for-the-rest-of-time directions.
Well, it's not really fair to say jazz died sometime during the 1960s. There's plenty of jazz out there today. It's just that it's mostly enjoyed by contrarian douchebags and people who suffer from insomnia or self-loathing.
Did you punch the computer screen? Good, it means you're alive.
Current music abounds with artists who rush to tell you just how much jazz influenced their compositions. The 1970s especially were filled with ____-jazz fusion, which was a fancy way of saying that their music had a couple of ill-fitting moments within otherwise conventional songs of the _____ genre. Progressive rock fans tend to claim to love the jazz influences in their favoritest music, but generally don't really like jazz (or much of anything else, really).
So, no, it's not exactly fair to say jazz died in the 1960s. But life's not fair, so fuck you. Jazz died in the 1960s.