Giant Steps: Jazz Greats

Photo Essay

Louis Armstrong

Writers have often portrayed the history of jazz as a narrative of progress. Their accounts show jazz evolving from a boisterous type of dance music into forms of increasing complexity, gradually rising in prestige to become an artistic tradition revered around the world. Certainly attitudes towards the music have changed dramatically. In 1924 an editorial writer for The New York Times called jazz "a return to the humming, hand-clapping, or tomtom beating of savages"; in 1987 the United States Congress passed a resolution designating jazz "an outstanding model of individual expression" and "a rare and valuable national American treasure." In keeping with this general theme of progress, historians have emphasized innovation as a primary force driving jazz forward, identifying new techniques, concepts and structures that presumably helped push the music to ever higher stages of development. Along with these forces, historians have focused on the instrumentalists and singers who have influenced the sounds and styles of jazz from its earliest beginnings in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Orleans to the present day throughout the world. In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, the editors at the African American Studies Center present a selected group of some of those men and women who have made giant steps forward in the development of jazz.

View photo essay

Featured Articles

The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about jazz and the individuals who developed and shaped the music. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

Subject Entries